4 App is part of my graduate thesis project at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP). This about page will go through my thesis project and how it leads to 4 App. 

Thesis Title: Experiments in Connecting Strangers and an App 4

Final Presentation @ ITP Thesis Week 2015 


One day last year, when I was waiting for the traffic light on the 8th Street to change, a lady on the other side of the street started looking at me and smiling at me. I had no idea why she was smiling at me, but her smile somehow reminded me my grandma, and it made my day, at least that day - even if I don't know why she did that. Today, I could not remember her face, but the smile lasts.

Faces fade, but smiles last.

There are so many other precious moments, instants of joy and warmness among the strangers all around us. Look at the people on the street, they are strangers to you. But at some point, have you ever been attracted by maybe a street performance, or even a dog, together? You both laughed, you had good time, you chatted and smiled to each other. Are you curious about who are they, and how to connect and start a conversation with them?

These problems are what I am aiming to solve in my thesis project, thus:

How to learn more about the strangers around you?

How to connect with them, and start a conversation,

In order to create some friendly, happy or joyful moments among strangers. 


I started my research from two surveys on Thumb (Thumb is an app that allows you to post questions and receive responses from real people instantly).

The first question I asked is: 

                                           " Do you have any stories of serendipity on the streets with strangers? "

The second question I asked is:

                                           " Have you ever met anyone you met online in person? "

Based on the number of votes, and conversations with more than 20 people who did the surveys, I learnt:

1) People share more stories with online strangers comparing with strangers in real life (online strangers > strangers in real life)

2) Moving from online to offline fast, and meeting in a public space, making people feel safe/friendly are essential for a good experience to meetup online strangers/friends

The result makes me more determined that I want to help connecting people to strangers around them in real life.


Experiment 001: Tinder On Dial

My project Tinder On Dial from my Redial class (2014 Fall, taught by Chris Kairalla) seemed to be the start of my journey to connect strangers.

It is a dating application for dumb phones, and it let you get to know people only through their voices rather than photos and appearances.

Tinder On Dial offer you an alternative dating solution in the 1990s fashion. It provides you a unique experience, in which you get to know different people only through their voices.

 Since it began operating from the end of last year, it received more than 150 calls, several connections and conversations are made.

What I've learnt from this experiment is - 

alternatives to checking profile photos are fun. We don't always need to look at photos - there are other ways or even better ways that can help us learn each other better.


Experiment 002: @BotMatch

In the era of internet, what about connecting random strangers online? This is my second experiment. 

It is a Twitter bot called @BotMatch - 

This Match Bot searches for tweets including #single every two hours, tweets and connects the last two people who just tweets about single. 

It will tweet something like this:

"Congrats, you two are my match of the day. Chat & Celebrate! @personA @personB"


"Single is simple, but double is not always trouble. Let me find you a date. I m just a #queerBot @personA @personB"

It received more than 50 Mentions, lots of Favorites, when it was up and running secretly for three weeks.

I did enjoy running this project a lot, because people's responses are so dynamic and funny:

(see screenshots on the left side)

There were people extremely angry about the Match Bot; lots of people were confused, but still they chatted to figure out what was happening, and connected (my ultimate goal); or even better - a few people actually understood what @BotMatch was doing, and they asked 

"Cupid, is that you?"


One quick lesson:

Connecting strangers with something random in common is fun.


Experiment 003: A Meetup

Besides connecting random strangers online, what about meet one in real life? I need to experience meeting a random stranger myself, and here comes my experiment 003, A Meet Up.

I hired a random girl from TaskRabbit, asked her to meet up with me using web GPS prototype (showing the location of whomever open the url on a map). Everything was fine before the scheduled meeting time - I waited for 30 minutes, but she didn't show up. 

Still I learned a free lesson while waiting -- I felt how it feels to expect someone I know nothing about, I don't know if he/she will show up or not, among the crowd of strangers on the street.

Expecting a meet up with online strangers offline is fun, but getting stood up is no fun.


Experiment 004: Pairmo

To experiment possible motivations for offline interactions between strangers, I did another experiment called Pairmo using iBeacons and an iOS app prototype. 

Pairmo, Pair strangers and share promos.

Pairmo beacons send out signals to close by users with a pairmo App on their phone - users will get a notification with a part of the promotion code - they'll have to talk to strangers in the store to figure out who else has the other part of the promotion code to share.

Things I learnt:

Having a specific goal for a meetup is cool, but I am more leaning towards casual interactions without a goal, just smile and be nice.



Based on the lessons I've learnt from all other experiments, I want to build a product that helps people learn strangers around them through alternative ways than profile photos. People will be connected for something they have in common, it will be hyper-local, so there will not be stood ups. The tone of interactions will be nothing complicated, casual interactions, not straightly for dating.

Here comes 4.

4 help users learn more about people they frequently encounter, and say hi in real life without prejudgment based on appearance.

There are some key features of 4 make it different from all the other hyper-local social apps.

For Casual Interactions

4 is an app for people living in metropolitan areas or who are new to a specific space to explore and start building connections in real life. There is no filtering system for gender, it is not for dating (at least it is not directly for dating), rather, it is for people to learn more about their weak or absent connections around them.

Anti Profile checking

4 works by connecting strangers through gradually revealing more information with each passive encounter. It will only reveal users' identities when they crossed path 3 times. It minimizes prejudgments based on appearance, and users buildup knowledges about each other constantly.

anti online chatting 

Most other apps for meeting new people create relationships that stay online. 4 encourages casual real life conversations between strangers. Upon the third cross paths, users are prompted to connect in real life. It is up to the users to interact at the level they prefer.

Again, users of 4 will learn more about each other gradually when they cross paths for the first two times without revealing name and pictures. This way, it minimize prejudgement base on appearance.

Users' identities will only be revealed after the third cross paths.

They are prompt to connect in real life casually, and friendly at any level they feel comfortable with.

4 Celsius is right above the freezing point. Breaking the ice and being nice to local strangers in real life is the goal of 4.


Projects/Theories I LOVE and inspired me:

Somebody App - Miranda July

Acting Strangers - Andrew Schneider

20DayStrangers - Kevin Slavin and his Playful System Group @MIT Media Lab

NYC Craigslist: Missed Connections & Strictly Platonic

Situationists International

The Happening - Allan Kaprow

Yo (App)

Happns (App)

&&&& If you give a little love, you can get a little love of your own &&&&

My lifeguards, people helped me, helped me make right decisions, helped me grow:

Chris Kairalla

Marina Zurkow

Zhenzhen Qi

Surya Mattu

Peiqi Su

Lauren McCarthy

Dan O'Sullivan

Salem Al-Mansoori

Lance Liu

Sarah Rothberg

Michael Allison

Evan Wu

Joy Li

Roddy Schrock

Shawn Van Every

Tom Igoe

Gregory Trefry

Gabriel Barcia-Colombo

Kyle MacDonald

Danqing Wang

Woonyung Choi

Batu Sayıcı

Kelly Saxton

Clio Davis

Ryan Erf

Josh Leibsly

Tianyu Wu

Rej Zhang

Solomon Billinkoff

Juo-Hsin Chen

Edward John Gordon