Hey bro, let’s get this app and categorise the crap out of each other

Are you a bro? Do you want a bro? Do you want to shag a bro? Am I a bro?

IMG_4118The world is a confusing place, and it’s made even more confusing by bloody weird apps that try to make it less confusing. BRO is one such app.

I downloaded it recently and have been playing around, trying to understand the app and its users. I think in London it’s essentially another gay dating/hookup app. That’s fine. There are plenty of them already, but queers looking for their heroes for a night or a lifetime can shift around easily, moving from one app to the other as functionality improves.

Except that BRO aims to be so much more than a hookup app. And maybe in some cities, it has managed to achieve that. Maybe San Francisco? Counter-intuitive, right? Well, maybe, but I just reckon that starry-eyed straight bros in the Bay Area are more likely to take to this kind of thing than cynical Europeans. But no, here where I live it seems not to be helping many men find friends to hang out with. Take a look at the profiles and you can tell that most people want to date or to fuck. One of the questions a user can choose to answer about himself as part of his profile is “What attributes are most important to you in a partner?” One user in my area, who I’ll call Jonah, has answered: “A cracking arse.” I wouldn’t challenge him on that, obviously (although I might wonder if he’s prone to using tautologies).

IMG_4116.PNGI feel bad for BRO. It has such high ambitions to be so much more than a gay hookup app. It’s trying to find a much bigger market—take a look at the app store description:

BRO for men that (sic) are interested in meeting other men. Fair play. How lovely. A homosocial app. Is there demand for this kind of thing? The market will decide of course. Are there guys out there who long to meet other guys for friendship? Are guys hard to come by? I have to take the developers’ word for it.





The app store description also says BRO goes beyond using labels. Oh, really?

Does anyone else thing these look like labels? Skin tone: label. Bro type: label. BRO is just like any other app in that it lets users filter themselves and others into distinct categories. I love data and I love technology and I love so much about how these things have enriched our lives (eg finding new music by algorithm based on what I’ve liked before). But this endless labelling for the sake of finding a lover—sorry, a bro-pal—is pretty tiresome. And of course it breeds divisions between people based on identity. “Oh, you’re not a hipster bro, bro, so I’m swiping left.”

I criticise people who state explicitly “I’m a masculine guy looking for a masculine guy”, or something equally as specious. So I guess I have to carry through my distaste to these labels that are in built into BRO and other apps of its kind. I know that categorisation is just something that humans love to do. Carl Linnaeus was well up for it. Anyone in a religion likes to know that their hat is different from the other religion’s hat. British people especially like to know whether a person is poor or posh before they can have a meaningful conversation. Classification is part of what we do, and apps like BRO just help that hobby along. But that doesn’t mean I have to feel comfortable about it. And it doesn’t mean that I can’t wonder how you could build an app that doesn’t use auto-taxonomy in the same way.

Oh, and I love the idea of the Brogrammer guy who made this app. “My functionality has improved,” he says when he meets up for a date after a weekend away. In the heat of the moment, he groans, “Mmm, cum on my user interface.” That kinda thing.


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