Adam Norrell likes the words "snazzy" and "sparky." He says them more than you'd expect from a 34-year-old software nerd from Castle Rock, especially when he's describing his new online dating site, the snazzily named Vlirty. Norrell came up with the idea for Vlirty, which allows users to video chat, after a long stretch of online dating fails. "I never met anybody who was really sparky," he explains.
Norrell lists the problems he found with other online dating sites, including eHarmony and Match.com. Some were too time-intensive, others were too selective, a few were sneaky and most were let-downs. In May 2010, he had an a-ha moment. "I said, why can't I just interact with these people in a way where we don't have to exchange phone numbers, but just see them and talk to them first?" he says. "Just smile and say, 'Hi,' and make sure they have most of their teeth, and just start with that?"
Vlirty's concept works like this: Users make a very detail-limited profile (e.g. age, zip code, height -- because women told Norrell a man's inches-and-feet was important) and then enter a series of "tags," which are things that the user is interested in. For example, Norrell's tags include independent film, Kindle, tacos, Tindersticks, camping, iambic pentameter and cheese. Users can search for other users' tags and if they find someone they like, they can invite them to "vlirt" a.k.a. video chat.
"It's a more engaging way to interact with people rather than typing something out," Norrell explains. Plus, he says, video chatting has the potential to be more honest. Users will never be tricked by a date's out-of-date photos. "I've been duped a few times," he admits, "and I probably duped a few people inadvertently."
There are a few possible snags in Vlirty's concept, including that some people might not feel comfortable video chatting. Norrell has considered that but says that with the rise of technologies like Skype and FaceTime, he expects it to become more mainstream (and less scary) in the near future. There's also the potential for things to get porny à la Chatroulette, and Norrell has already come up with the solution: face-tracking software that Vlirty calls "banana suppression." If the software recognizes something other than a face in the frame, it will flash a safety image.
Vlirty is still brand new, with just forty users testing the beta version of the website. Right now, it's free -- and Norrell hopes to keep it that way, though he says he's open to the idea of users paying for certain premium features down the line.
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While Norrell did much of the creative work, his friend Paul Tate did most of the coding with, as the website says, "his ninja-star coding skills." (Tate's tags include photography, bicycles, breweries, Leslie & the LYs, sailing, The League of Gentlemen and cheese snob.) The site has a very hipster craft-fair feel without, believe it or not, any of the pretension. "We really want to be the good guys in the neighborhood," Norrell says. "Sort of like sitting down in a comfy chair with a warm cup of cocoa."
But keep your banana to yourself.
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