You’re waiting in line at the deli when your phone buzzes. The new dating app you downloaded has arisen from slumber to alert you that somebody thinks you’re cute. They want to chat. But it’s not your pouty-faced avatar that caught their attention–it was the way you smiled at them in the snack aisle earlier.
Depending on whether or not the admiration is mutual, a scenario like this is either exciting or potentially creepy. But this is how things work with Happn, the latest Internet dating service. Never heard of it? It’s already bigger than you think.
Today, Happn is launching locally in San Francisco at Facebook’s F8 conference. While the app is already live in New York City and a few other U.S. markets, San Francisco’s hyper-connected, early adopter population should provide a sizable sample of single users on which Happn can test its core hypothesis: That people want to connect digitally with the people they encounter in the real world.
Happn, a one-year-old French startup founded by former Daily Motion COO Didier Rappaport, is already operational in Paris, London, Berlin, Barcelona, Sydney and a growing list of markets. In total, the app boasts 2.5 million users worldwide.
Think of it like Tinder meets Craigslist missed connections: You spot somebody out in the wild–or perhaps you didn’t even realize that you were just across the street from the potential love of your life– and if you’re both on Happn, you can tap the heart icon (akin to swiping right) to let them know you fancy them. Like Tinder and most other popular dating apps, Happn’s functionality relies on your location, but instead of surveying the surrounding neighborhood or city, it zooms in much more closely, to a 275-yard radius. The app’s purpose, according to the tag line that displays when you load the app, is to help you “find the people you’ve crossed paths with.” When you tap the profile of a nearby user, the app shows you a map of where you nearly encountered each other.
Happn offers users a form of digital flirtation called “charms.” If you haven’t matched up yet, you can send somebody a charm to get their attention. Every user gets 10 free charms. Once those are used up, you can purchase 10 more for $1.99. If the heart button-tap is mutual, you can chat. The close physical proximity between users could raise concerns that things could inch toward stalker territory, or at least result in harassment, especially considering that, by default, Happn has users list their job title and place of employment.
The app does have some protections in place: You can turn off geolocation whenever (and wherever) you’re not interested in meeting potential dates. And of course, it is easy enough to just block the weirdos.
For now, there probably aren’t enough users in Happn’s young U.S. markets to result in the kind of “missed connection” that the press coverage suggests is Happn’s chief use case. If the app takes off and its user base blows up, we may well see that change. And sure, in some cases, that could turn on-the-street cat-calling into unwelcome digital harassment, but it could facilitate some good first dates as well.