By Matthew Turk
Stanford students launched Amigo, a social media app that matches potential friends by serving up randomized profiles of other users daily. The app was made available to Stanford students on Dec. 4 and now has hundreds of users and counting.
The app, founded by Sophia Huard ’17 and Paa Adu ’18 M.S. ’18, comes at a time when traditional avenues of socialization are on hold due to COVID-19, and many students across the country are facing isolation and difficulties making meaningful connections with their peers.
As opposed to class group chats, for instance, Amigo seeks to create new friendships in a less academic context. Amigo isn’t the first app to identify isolation as a pandemic-induced problem: The creation of this app coincides with several Stanford-founded social technologies, including Lighthouse, Sesame and Club Cardinal.
“How are students making friends today?” Adu said. “Due to COVID, there’s no good way, effectively.”
Huard added that she feels existing platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok aren’t sufficient: “These platforms are more to maintain relationships rather than build them,” she said.
To build the service, the two students spoke with multiple students. One observation Adu walked away with was that many students were mass following others in their classes on apps like Instagram and were creating large chats on GroupMe.
“That’s not really a great way to get to know somebody,” he said. “As the group size increases, you’re less likely to participate.”
The friendship between Huard and Adu traces back to 2014, when they were undergraduates living in Rinconada. They have been friends ever since. With the two of them spending more time inside this year, they ended up having virtual conversations about their common interest in startups. “We started brainstorming and one thing that just kept coming back just anecdotally was, ‘It must suck to be a Stanford student right now,’” Huard said.
Huard and Adu met most, if not all, of their best college friends during their frosh year. Huard said that while it’s possible to form acquaintances through classes and student organizations, “when you meet people through classes or through clubs, the intent really isn’t to develop friendship.”
“A very big difference and added value of Amigo is the intent behind it,” Huard added. “People go on there to make friends and to meet people, which I think is a much different mindset than you would have when you’re on Instagram or when you go on the GroupMe.”
According to the founders, a student makes a new connection within about 10 hours of signing up for the app, on average. Thousands of messages have been exchanged between students since the app launched on Nov. 25, and students are spending an average of 14 minutes on the app daily.
Previously, using apps to connect with others was looked down upon, according to Huard. However, she said that has changed, citing the wide use of dating apps as an example. She said that friend-making apps are not far behind, and “the pandemic really accelerated that.”
“What we would hope to see happen is that this kind of will reduce the stigma of using an app to meet people, to make friends,” Adu said.
Each evening, the user receives six profiles to review, according to Devin Green ’24, who was a beta tester starting in early October. “It doesn’t give you everybody to go through at one time,” he said, so there is no need for “brushing through everybody in one day.” His favorite feature of the app is also the one he considers to be most useful: randomization of one-on-one interactions. “I’m meeting people that I truly like don’t know and wouldn’t have met otherwise without Amigo. Especially since we’re not on campus and I can’t just run into somebody.”
Ben Fischer ’23, co-founder of Lighthouse, said in an interview with The Daily that it is fair to draw comparisons between Amigo and several other mobile apps from Stanford. “All of these apps are trying to address the same problem that we all felt today and that we felt like eight to 10 months ago, you know, where we just miss our friends,” he said. “It’s easy for two different companies, two different recent grads or current students to come to wildly different approaches about how to address that.”
While Amigo’s and Lighthouse’s use cases and functionalities might be different, Fischer said, “It’s all sort of revolving around this core of how do we replace this thing that’s been lost.”
As a frosh, Green has been looking for ways to start meaningful connections with other students. He decided against using Lighthouse after learning about data privacy concerns and eventually opted to be a campus ambassador for Amigo instead, spreading the word to other students. Currently, Amigo uses Firebase — Google’s cloud computing and development platform — to store data.
There are no known cases of breached data privacy in Amigo’s time, although claims have been leveraged against Google that users may be tracked without their knowledge.
“Our security measures are well above industry standards and more importantly, the safety of our users is at the core of everything we do,” Huard wrote in an email to The Daily, adding that these matters have been deeply important to both herself and Adu from the beginning.
Prior to Amigo, Huard worked for three years in the well-being, privacy and security division of Facebook. She specialized in the product development of features that protect users, such as end-to-end encryption and reporting.
“We designed Amigo to be a safe place for students and pride ourselves with keeping it that way,” they said.
Huard and Adu are self-funded and are currently focused on product development mainly: “We would rather spend our energy and time on providing students with the best possible experience.”
Stanford students can now download and use the Amigo app on iOS. The Android version is expected to release within a week. It is open to any school in the United States, and according to Adu, schools in Africa and Australia have also reached out to join.