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Avatar dating - an interview with Anomo co-founder James Sun

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Would you prefer to hide behind a digital mask when you date? According to James Sun, co-founder of new dating app Anomo, avatars can help shy people overcome their dating fears. I had a chance to talk with him about how this app is taking off, and what it can do.

Can you explain how Anomo works?

Anomo helps you share content and meet people through a masked profile in order to keep the content/conversations very real, authentic, and safe. Oscar Wilde said "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." The anonymous avatar protects your personally identifiable information so you can be free to share whatever you want. As you get comfortable with someone, you can decide to reveal your private info (name, picture, job, etc) to that specific individual only. You control 100% of your privacy on a 1-to-1 format.

We are location-based in that we can help find people nearby. However, our users span all across the globe and United States. Users enjoy meeting people from all over the world and share content that's of common interest. As our user base grows, you will be able to find more and more people nearby. The ultimate vision is to succeed in giving privacy to users, something 4square and Facebook failed at. The masked profile gives you a more secure way of checking in and interacting with people.

I read that Anomo's user base is growing every month by 500%, which is incredibly successful in the crowded dating app market. Other avatar-based dating sites haven't really taken off. What sets Anomo apart?

I think the growth is due to the fact that we're not just a dating app. In a dating format, people tend to judge someone solely by their picture. Look at Tinder or most of the dating apps out there. Most users engage with someone only if the other person is physically attractive. In the Anomo world, the avatar is a simple "fun mask" to protect your identity, and the core interaction is to find people of common interests. The avatar mask actually takes away from the pure sexual or dating nature of many sites. A photo of you is not that emphasized compared to the quality interactions of common interests.

Anomo's user base is primarily 15-20 year-olds. Do you think older daters might gravitate to this app, too, or is the appeal really for teens?

Over the past 2 weeks, we have seen close to 10,000 new users that are in their mid-twenties to mid-forties. We also noticed that the older age group has more chats per session. They really talk about deeper conversations within a common interest. This has surprised us a bit too. The older demographic is definitely signing up in masses right now on Anomo. We also do a filtering so that you will interact only with people of your age. For example, if you are in your thirties, we will filter only people in their twenties, thirties, and forties to interact with. Likewise, if you are in your forties, we will only find people in their thirties, forties, and fifties.

I understand that people can be verified on Anomo through their Facebook pages, but is it a requirement?

This is currently not a requirement. However, all of our users will trust you more if you have the Facebook Verified badge more than someone who is not verified. We use intelligent algorithms to figure out if someone is truly their age, gender, etc. based on their Facebook profile. We look at the number of friends they have, history of posts, etc. to verify the authenticity of this information. Even if you verify your Facebook, we don't post on your wall or expose any of your personally identifiable Facebook information to anyone.

Security is a big issue in online dating, especially for women. If people remain anonymous by interacting through their avatars, is there potential for abuse? How do people protect themselves?

Actually, it's more secure to use a "masked profile" compared to your personally identifiable profile. On many dating sites, there is a vast majority of pictures that are fake anyways. It's much safer to define the rules that everyone has a masked profile, and you should only reveal pieces of yourself ONLY when you feel comfortable. Women are intuitive, and they are very adept at sensing if someone is a creep or not by the chat interactions. The chat interactions are more trustworthy than a simple photo of a guy who may be using a fake picture or profile anyway.

Also, in the Anomo world, you have the ability to report someone. In addition, because we have persistent profiles, you can see someone's generic reputation by seeing how many followers they have, the type of posts and comments they have made, etc. Our users have a "masked profile" coupled with a persistent profile. It is not 100% anonymous with zero historical actions. It's only anonymous on your personally identifiable information.

What's next for Anomo?

The next big move for Anomo is getting more and more intelligent about who you want to meet or interact with. Based on your posts, ice breaker games, and digital interactions, we will help you find people that are even more compatible. We are continuing to learn and build algorithms that are based on "behavioral data" rather than theories. For example, who is to say that you'll be compatible with someone just because both of you are democrats. Rather, you could tend to have better and more engaging conversations with people that are more conservative. This type of interaction is captured on Anomo as we get smarter about who you might want to meet in the future.

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