My iPhone wants to know why I haven’t called my oldest friend lately.
I can’t remember the last time we spoke—it was sometime last year, I think—and now I’m being asked, via text message, whether something’s holding me back. Am I just busy? Do I not know what to say? Or should I set this friend aside and think about catching up with someone else instead?
This simple little reminder system comes from Call Your Friends, a $2 per month service whose only goal is to encourage closer relationships. You list out the people you want to contact, along with the frequency with which you’d like to contact them, and Call Your Friends sends out periodic text messages encouraging you to follow through. Once you’ve reconnected, you can send a quick confirmation message back to Call Your Friends, and the countdown for catching up again begins anew.
Tim Strother, the creator of Call Your Friends, says the service is an antidote to the surface-level connections that happen on social media, where we frequently exchange quick messages or share pictures, but seldom take time for deep conversation.
“I believe that many people are waking up to the reality that current social technologies are not serving us, and I’m interested in creating something completely different,” he says.
Call, or you’ll regret it
Strother, a Seattle-based software engineer, says he was inspired to build Call Your Friends a few years ago, after reading The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware. A former palliative care practitioner, Ware observed that one of the biggest regrets among people on their deathbeds was that they hadn’t kept in touch with their friends.
Strother didn’t want that to happen to him, so he created a spreadsheet-based system to help him stay in contact with friends and family. Along the way, he learned that one of his closest friends had gone through some serious personal struggles and had a near-death experience since they last spoke.
“Leaving that conversation, I really had a lot of clarity about why this work is so important to me personally,” Strother says.
Call Your Friends in its current form is more sophisticated than a spreadsheet, but for users, it’s supposed to be simple. Once you’ve created a friend list through the Call Your Friends website, you’ll interact with the service entirely via text message. There are no extra apps to download or push notifications to enable, and if you want to schedule a virtual hangout or take contemporaneous notes on your last conversation, you’ll have to rely on other apps.
Just as importantly, Call Your Friends will only message you about one contact at a time, only moving onto the next one when you’ve connected or decided to skip over that person.
Strother says those are all intentional decisions rather than temporary limitations. He’s wary of overwhelming users with things to do and data to input, and speaks with some disdain for “personal CRM” apps that try to manage friends and family in the same way that a business manages clients. (Plenty of those apps abound, including Dex, Clay, Fabriq, Garden, Hippo, and Nat.)
“The way that I see [those apps] is essentially augmenting a contacts list, and storing more data about your contacts,” he says. “By contrast, Call Your Friends is about depth and quality of your relationships, not just remembering more details, or having more notes, or endlessly scrolling through someone else’s highlight reel.”
Breaking the ice
Instead of piling on more friend management features, Strother says he’s focusing on lowering the barriers to picking up the phone in the first place. That means adding support for other messaging services such as WhatsApp or Signal and launching a “game-changing feature in the space of scheduling,” which he’s not yet ready to talk about.
One thing he is clear on, however, is that Call Your Friends isn’t in the business of advertising or selling customers’ data. The $2 per month subscription fee is enough to cover server and messaging costs, and eventually to make the service profitable. And while the service doesn’t currently have many users—he says it’s in the “thousands”—he’ll be happy if helps even a small number of people stay connected.
“We’ve all felt the power of entropy that’s pulling us apart,” he says, “and I’m really interested in creating some kind of gravity that brings connection, and brings people back together.”
There’s just one problem with all this: The initial act of getting back in touch with an old friend can feel awkward, especially if a piece of software is the impetus for doing so. That might explain why I haven’t yet caught up with my old friend yet. Strother acknowledges this reality, but says the alternative is worse.
“There is some sense of a stigma about having this automated system for essentially keeping contact with friends, and the thing I want to say about it is that serendipitous connection is a myth,” he says. “You can meet people serendipitously, but creating a relationship takes effort.”