Poor Facebook: The teens, they’re not so into it.
The world’s largest social network was “big” and “made sense” circa 2004 or 2005, according to Monkey cofounder Isaiah Turner, but no longer. He and Ben Pasternak, 18 and 17 respectively, have launched a new social network — one they believe the teens will actually want.
Monkey is an iOS app for people who have friends, and then they have “internet friends.” It’s a way to find more of the latter, the pair say, rather than connecting with people from school or your neighbourhood. Although, like every other app out there, Monkey still wants to mine your phone’s contacts.
Reminiscent of Omegle or Chatroulette, the app connects random users for a set period of time. For now, it sends you to Snapchat if you want to stay in touch, but will shortly add in-app chat as well as extra discovery features with filters based on age, gender, location and hashtags.
“The way I look at it is Snapchat’s for your real-life friends and Monkey is for your internet friends,” Pasternak told Mashable.
Turner and Pasternak were themselves internet friends first — they met in online hacker communities when Pasternak was still in Sydney, Australia and Turner lived in southern Maryland — so they get the appeal.
“I have groups of internet friends all over: I have people that I’ve connected with through YouTube … I have another group of people from doing technology stuff,” Turner said.
For him, internet friends have a specific type of charm. “If you say something to a friend in real-life, that carries over — you’re going to have rumours and drama,” he explained. “Whereas on the internet, that person may have no ties to your other friends, so you can tell them things you wouldn’t tell your friends at school.”
“With internet friends, you can be whoever you want to be, and I think Monkey is really pushing that,” Pasternak added.
How many internet friends are made on Monkey remains to be seen. The app has reached 215,000 users in about five weeks, Pasternak claims, and as of Jan. 16, it’s sitting at 25 in the top social networking apps in the App Store.
At 17, Pasternak is something of a veteran developer. He first attracted notice in 2015 after creating a popular iPhone game, and more recently, he dropped out of school, moved to New York and launched a teen e-commerce app, Flogg. For now, Turner is sleeping on Pasternak’s couch.
If Pasternak has any qualms about the fate of Flogg, he doesn’t share it. While it hasn’t closed down, he’s “paused on it” for the moment. “There wasn’t a clear vision,” he said. “[Monkey] blew up unexpectedly, so the most logical thing to do is focus my time on it right now.”
Turner, for his part, isn’t bothered. “I don’t know about Flogg, but not everything becomes the next Facebook.”
While they want to be seen as legitimate developers and not just teen whiz kids, the pair think it’s their youth that will make Monkey succeed.
“One of the big problems is that all the apps out right now are built by a bunch of adults,” Turner said. “We are both the creators of the project and the end user, which isn’t really the case with things like Snapchat.”
Pasternak said the average age on Monkey is 17, and they don’t pair adults and minors, although the app’s simple signup process makes it very easy to fake your age. “I feel like it’s an underground world to adults,” he said.
While Chatroutlette was notorious for serving up sexual content, Pasternak claims Monkey is so far “an extremely clean community.” The pair have a public Snapchat that users can contact to make the founders aware of any problems.
“We use our Snapchat as the only social media for connecting with our users,” Turner said. “So if we have a question, we just post it on Snapchat and hear from our users right away.”
The founders are realistic about how hard it will be to become a regular fixture for their fickle audience. Pasternak said Monkey has mostly spread via word of mouth, while acknowledging a small influencer push — “I’m talking about a couple of hundred dollars” — that earned them a few thousand users.
“It was really just to reach critical mass. When it first came out, obviously if you download the app and no one’s on it, it’s a pretty underwhelming app,” he said.
Either way, they’re clear: Monkey is not for olds.
“Say you’re building a house. If you tell an adult to build a fun house, they’re going to throw like a hot tub in there,” Turner explained. “And if you tell a kid to build a house, they’re going to put in, like, a waterslide and jet skis.”