In a digital landscape defined by hyperconnectivity and “friends” accumulated on social media platforms, we are still very much alone contrary to our Facebook or Twitter profiles. While these sites may encourage a connection of ideas they are limited to a life online. Alex Capecelatro CEO and Founder of At the Pool realized that “we are all connected, we are all on social media but we don’t know our neighbors and we don’t know anyone around us.” In September 2011 At the Pool was founded as a web destination to create an online community and move users offline to form relationships in a world beyond the computer screen. Installation spoke with Alex Capecelatro in At the Pool’s Santa Monica based offices as the team was putting the finishing touches on their iOS App. We walked to the beach and discussed the founding of At the Pool, the development of the iOS App and the future of connecting offline. Dive in, meet the team of At the Pool and download their brand new App for your iPhone. Who knows what creative connections you might make…
Installation Magazine: What inspired the creation of At the Pool? It’s been online for over a year and now you are preparing the release of the App on the iPhone.
Alex Capecelatro: I spent a lot of time working with technology. My background was building computers and websites during my middle school and high school years. I ended up leaving high school to work for the government, always serving at the frontier of science and technology. Over the years just being a user of social media and the internet I became a little bit fascinated and frustrated with the concept that as much as you surf the internet you really can’t connect with the world around you. I felt like there was this disconnect between your online and offline life. But it was not until I was living on the East Coast that I became truly depressed. I lived in upstate New York, about an hour north of Manhattan along the Hudson. I worked in an automotive garage in the winter during the worst winter they had in the last five or ten years. I was lonely, I didn’t know anyone, I was working a lot and I just wanted an easy way to find people to hang out with to go for a run, have coffee or go skiing. It just seemed really weird that I couldn’t do that on Facebook or on any social media network. Around that time I started talking to my sister who was living in New Hampshire and she was going through the exact same thing. We are all connected, we are all on social media but we don’t know our neighbors and we don’t know anyone around us.
Quite frankly we just wanted to build a dating website for friends, a way to find people around us to do stuff with. The initial interest of At the Pool was to launch “pools” around different interests- a biking pool, a running pool, a vegetarian pool to explore vegetarian restaurants. We have grown since then but our need and desire to use technology to do something that society needs has not changed.
What has been the greatest challenge while developing the App?
It’s been a great journey but it’s very much an experimental one, I realized it’s going to take us six months to build the App. The way that I look at technology, startups and companies in general, is that you’re creating an idea of what you think the future will look like. Where do I see the world going in 50 years? In five years, in one month? We are becoming more mobile and we will have our phones with us at all times. We haven’t’ changed our mission since we launched this company, we are trying to create a better future but the implementation of the product needs us to ask what do people want now? What will people want in six months? When we first built the product was that we only had a website, people would spend a lot of time in front of computers but that was two years ago. Now we’re not spending much time in front of a computer, we’re all mobile. We made a mistake and we didn’t prepare for the future. That’s something that we spent the summer working on as a constant experiment. We’re trying to figure it out. We’re trying to target where humanity is going to be and what products makes the most sense and try to intersect that in our product.
At the Pool is reconsidering the way the we engage with the world. At Installation our editorial mission is to connect people with art and encourage them to be a part of a community. At the Pool provides users with the tools to make meaningful social connections.
I think it’s a basic human instinct to connect with people around us, we’re intimidated and scared of rejection and yet informational awareness changes all day. A person in front of me might be a friend of my college roommate or a friend of my sister’s back home and I wouldn’t have known it without starting a conversation. What we’re finding is that information awareness makes it easy for people to connect, our basic premise is that there’s something worthwhile to connect with every single person that you come across with. The difficulty lies in how to find that information. We believe that by enabling you to know a little more about the person in front you at a restaurant or your co-workers who you might not talk to very much, you might realize you share interests. An element of the App is geotagging to strike a conversation in a spontaneous manner that mimics the way you make friends in real life.
What are your hopes for the future?
I am really excited about At the Pool, we’re moving from a model which was all about meeting new people, which I still an important element but we are moving towards a holistic model, learning how communities operate. We are not looking at relationships as binary where you have contact lists, friends and not friends. To me that system of social networking is broken because we have a relationship right now in this room. The understanding that we are connected in different ways to every person around us changes the entire dynamic of how we think about interacting and coming together. The At the Pool App understands that it’s both important to meet new people and also connect with people that you know well when they’re around. The App will will only show you contacts that are nearby. The entire concept is to acknowledge what’s going on around you. I’m really excited that when I travel I have the ability to see which of my existing contacts are nearby and those otherwise missed opportunities are lifechanging. We live in a world with people around us at all times and we want to provide an awareness that these relationships exist.
All images ©Rainer Hosch and Installation Magazine
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