Grindr app David Bachar
The Grindr iPhone app. Photo by David Bachar
Text size

A. was 18 when he discovered CheckMeOut, a dating website for gay Israelis. The year was 1998 and he had not yet come out of the closet.

"It was amazing," he recalled this week. "The feeling was as if a catalog of men was spread in front of you and you just had to choose. At the time there were maybe one or two gay bars, and for scared kids like me, it was a significant opportunity."

More than a decade later, sites like CheckMeOut and its successor, Atraf, are being outpaced, or at least complemented, by an iPhone application that reached these shores six months ago and is quickly gaining pace. Grindr uses GPS technology to locate gay men in close proximity to the user, displaying their photos and letting users know how far away their potential partners are located.

Today, A. is 30, works in high-tech and is open about being gay. He is looking for a relationship and was resistant to downloading Grindr when a friend first told him about it. But then he gave in - and found love.

The third or fourth time A. looked at Grindr, someone wrote to him from a few dozen meters away.

"We exchanged numbers, but I didn't call," said A. "What could actually happen with a guy I met on an iPhone application? For sure, he would end up having three ears or something. But something told me to meet him, and believe it or not, I found a treasure that is even hard to find in real life."

Y., a 25-year-old technology and cellular communication blogger, sees Grindr as "the best thing there ever was."

"It brings location-based technology to a new record," he said. "It's convenient, there is full anonymity, and there is no need to register. When I used Atraf I had to open an account. With Grindr, you can just enter and you're there. You choose someone nearby, write him a few words, exchange photos and if you're both interested, you meet."

Y. views the application as "a good and important solution for the gay community, where the rate of sexual activity is much higher than it is in the general public. A single gay guy, emotionally and sexually available, is constantly engaged in searching as a normal part of his everyday life. With Grindr, you can maintain this lifestyle with a single click, anywhere."

Grindr was created in Los Angeles by Joel Simkhai and was launched in March 2009. Over half a million people use it, and according to the company, around 1,000 new users join every day. The basic application is free, but there is also a paid version that has no ads. There is also a version that can be used with a Blackberry or the Android operating system, and Grindr versions for lesbians, bisexuals and straight people are in development.

S., 32, said the "end goal that is built in to the essence of the application" is readily available sex. But he also takes a peek at the available men during boring meetings, the way others might check their e-mail or surf through Facebook.

"It's light, it's entertaining. A friendly game to pass the time while doing something else," he said. "People of any age and from any background use it, even those in senior management positions."

Great for Muslims

Most Grindr and Atraf users live in the center of the country, but location-based software is actually more efficient for residents of the periphery.

"Using the location application in the periphery can be much more meaningful," says Nir Zadikario, Atraf's manager. "A surfer who lives in a town in the north will be much more excited to find another surfer who is 500 meters away from him, than a surfer in the heart of Tel Aviv, who will find several dozen surfers within a 50-meter radius."

On Grindr, A. saw gay people from outside the country, including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. "For gays in those countries, it's brilliant," he said. "There are no gay bars there and homosexuality is not legal. Here there are so many options."

However, even in Tel Aviv there are advantages to the location-based applications. "You don't have to stay at home and pore through a site," said Y. "It will leave you free to go out and remain available."