Making new friends as an adult is hard, and it’s easy to find yourself relying on old college pals and work colleagues to bolster your social life, even if the former live on the other side of the country and the latter are, well, your work colleagues.
Many an app has tried and largely failed to address this problem, but as any woman who’s been brave enough to seek friends — genuine platonic friends — online will know, it’s not long before your inbox is inundated with dire pickup lines, weak attempts at ‘cheeky banter’ and, of course, the ubiquitous dick pic. Enter Patook. Launching globally on July 7 on iPhone and Android, the app claims to make finding new friends easier and less traumatic thanks to an algorithm which detects and blocks flirty language.
Using an AI method known as natural language processing, the ‘flirt detector’ has been trained on millions of creepy messages and pick-up lines circulating the internet, including a huge number submitted to Reddit (of course). It also responds to the behavioral activity of the user: who they message, how often, whether it’s a copy/paste job or if they’ve bothered to think of something original, and so on.
All of this combines into what Patook’s founders unsettlingly call a ‘magic sauce’, which determines whether a message is sent or not. “What kind of music do you like?” is fine. “Would you like to sit on my face?” is not. Break the rules, and you’re banned. In fact, upon the app’s beta release in 2016, five percent of users were banned before their first message was even delivered.
According to Patook CEO Antoine El Daher: “Initial feedback to the app has been extraordinary. People seeking friends and not romantic relationships have been left out in the cold until now. We anticipate rapid growth among all genders, and so far have seen approximately 40% women, 40% men, and 20% joining as couples.”
Romantic advances aside, Patook (which means ‘little hug’ in Armenian) operates in much the same way as a dating app. There’s an extensive set of privacy controls, and users build a profile and search for friends based on the usual criteria: location, interests, age range. The app also uses a points system to specifically identify and rate the value of the criteria they want in a friend. So if you’re into hiking, you might give five points to people who list ‘the great outdoors’ as an interest, or if you’re into Napalm Death, you might give points to other metalheads. Whatever floats your boat, as long as you keep it clean.