What is it?
IRL is essentially a social media calendar that is meant to streamline the process of scheduling meets and events with friends. It was launched in 2018 but didn’t take off immediately, partly due to the initially clunky interface and glitch-prone haptics that made it a less than satisfactory user experience. However, in the last year the app has attracted a monster bit of backing of $170 million from Softbank – and as a result, a little a little bizarre given that lockdowns beget lockdowns and social engagements are off the cards – it’s seen a resurgence in popularity. The similarities the app shares to that of Instagram – it allows for followers, likes, posts, commentary and tagging – probably accounts for this newfound ‘It’ status, particularly amongst Gen Z, the demographic from which it is garnering the most downloads. The creators have chosen not to invest money in any kind of marketing but are instead catching new users from apps like snapchat, Roxblox and TikTok. TikTok is also working on product integration with IRL.
Once downloaded, the user needs register with a phone number, age, and location. Now set-up, it excavates your contact list and allows you to create events, invite friends and established groups, and then designate details like time, date, and location. From there you can create your own meet-ups or set up your own from a list of pre-existing categories including book club, besties, family, call of Duty Squad and more. It allows for commentary through event specific chats, and lets friends chime in with multiple choice polls. You are also able to track your real-life social events using the built-in map functionality. In addition, there is the chance to anonymously nominate friends for their unique attributes, such as who is a ‘mother f***ing legend’?
The excessive data harvesting is a little unnerving but nothing new. Similarly, the GPS tracking and built-in map functionality that can’t be disabled is intrusive, but again, not the end of the world. IRL is essentially a slack channel full of your mates, not work colleagues, that helps to plan events and keeps the group conversation ticking over until you are together IRL.
The app certainly has the potential to be an interesting and useful tool. The organizational power is a siren call to the pedant in us all, and the easily navigable, if somewhat still glitchy interface, is appealing. However, the real rub and point of concern for us is who this targeting?
The odd lexicon it has adopted is far from embodying youth vernacular, in fact, it’s a little embarrassing. Our recent think tanks with GenZers found that – across the board – their biggest turn off was brands unsuccessfully adopting ‘young’ language. If that is the case, then this app is ready for an immediate de-install.
In defence of IRL, though the language might be enough to diminish engagement from GenZers, the extreme lengths it has gone to in order to take care of its users and keep them safe, is worthy of recognition. As mental health concerns and physical security are foregrounded in today’s world of online meets and real-world tracking, the app has taken a step above most to ensure users safety and well-being. Everything is private by default and not visible to other users unless you explicitly opt to do so (Instagram is the inverse of this) users must be age 12+ (though admittedly impossible to regulate) and most impressive of all is the ‘in crisis, chat now’ feature that instantly connects you to crisis management help if you are in need.
This is where the app could become particularly promising. The huge amount of backing has given it legs, and enough interested parties to flog it into shape. It is currently experimenting with allowing groups to charge access for tutoring, lessons and other such activities. Eventually, the intention is to allow brands to promote events on the main discovery page, something that could hold real promise for marketeers in the future, especially if it grows as the backing would suggest it could.
Will it take-off in a big way?
It’s hard to say right now, but there is an increase in downloads – the Softbank app already has 12 Million users to date and has gained real traction in the US, with over 1 billion messages being facilitated in just over a year.
The language, and invasive harvesting of data is at odds with the general landscape of Gen Z, however the social appeal and potential for commentary and novel games, especially given everyone’s immediate isolation, may give it a tailwind that sees it through the pandemic. However, we’ve seen the rise and fall of Clubhouse, the success of which peaked mid-pandemic but quickly declined as people met in person. Arguably, with society exiting a pandemic and with parties, events and gatherings on the not-too-distant horizon, this might be the moment for such an app. Time will tell!
Ultimately, Facebook does the same, as do several of the ubiquitous social media apps, so the appeal of downloading something new, moving all your friends over onto it only to encounter mild glitches and invites to the faintly embarrassing ‘litty committee’ makes us a little sceptical of it’s reach. One to watch out for nonetheless – as they streamline the interface, language, and privacy settings, it could certainly have real potential.