From online to offline friends

Ms Eileen Seah and husband Lee Xian Yi became friends with husband-and-wife design team Eric Tan and Dolly Teo after meeting online, while Singapore Hokkien Language Meetup Group members (above, from left) Grace Goh, Michael Jow and Jene Tan meet for
Ms Eileen Seah and husband Lee Xian Yi became friends with husband-and-wife design team Eric Tan and Dolly Teo after meeting online, while Singapore Hokkien Language Meetup Group members (above, from left) Grace Goh, Michael Jow and Jene Tan meet for social activities. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Ms Eileen Seah and husband Lee Xian Yi (both above, left) became friends with husband-and-wife design team Eric Tan and Dolly Teo (both above, right) after meeting online, while Singapore Hokkien Language Meetup Group members Grace Goh, Michael Jow a
Ms Eileen Seah and husband Lee Xian Yi (both above, left) became friends with husband-and-wife design team Eric Tan and Dolly Teo (both above, right) after meeting online, while Singapore Hokkien Language Meetup Group members Grace Goh, Michael Jow and Jene Tan meet for social activities. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

People are finding it easy to become friends in real life with those they link up with virtually

Through an app, they got into a business relationship before ending up as friends.

Married couple Lee Xian Yi, 32, and his wife Eileen Seah, 27, were looking for an interior designer to do up their new flat and came across the portfolio of interior design and build company Space Factor while browsing on Qanvast, an app that connects homeowners with home professionals.

Space Factor is headed by husband-and-wife team Eric Tan and Dolly Teo, both 39. Impressed by some of their designs, Ms Seah sent an e-mail message and the four met for the first time last August.

"From the get-go, there was chemistry between us," says Mr Lee, a product manager in a machinery firm. "We ended up having a four-hour-long conversation with Eric and Dolly."

In those four hours, the Lees spent only one hour talking about what they envisioned for their new home and spent the rest of the time chatting with the Tans about their personal lives and artistic interests.

The Lees eventually engaged Space Factor. Renovation work ended in February, but the four remain in a WhatsApp group chat, where they continue to update one another about their lives and even exchange holiday pictures. Says Ms Seah, a civil servant: "We expected this to be just a working relationship, but it has turned out to be a 'friend-friend' one. There is no barrier between us."

With the proliferation of social-media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and apps that connect users directly with service providers, people are finding it easy to become friends in real life with those they link up with virtually.

This seems to be happening with members of Meetup groups here too. Meetup is an online social networking portal started in 2002 in New York. It now has more than 21 million members across 180 countries.

There are more than 1,000 such groups here, including the Singapore Hokkien Language Meetup Group, started in 2013 by businessman Michael Jow, 40. It has about 250 members and has organised more than 50 meetups. Beyond meetups, there have been other unofficial gatherings taking place among some of the group's core members.

Online bag boutique owner Jene Tan, 50, joined about a year ago and soon became fast friends with Mr Jow and music teacher Grace Goh, 42. Together with a few others, they have gone to watch movies, eat popiah, visit art exhibitions and have tea. Most of these activities have little to do with Hokkien, although they do speak the dialect on outings.

Says Ms Goh: "Learning Hokkien was the priority for me when I joined the group, but I've made friends too, which is way beyond my expectations."

A similar story is found among the regulars in the 5,000-strong Meetup group The Weekenderz, which organises social events.

Accountant Sean Chin, 32, joined the group because he wanted to do activities such as Systema, a Russian martial art, and check out abandoned places in Singapore - non-mainstream interests that most of his male friends were not keen on.

Through the group, he met and befriended bank executive Dylan Wong, 35. Both of them share similar interests, live in the west and work in finance.

They are among the 50 regulars of the group, which has had close to 500 meetups.

It was started by public relations consultant Suzy Sunari, 33, who says the regulars have met on their own to watch soccer matches, play escape room games and have meals. Freelance translator Edward Seah, 38, a regular in the group, says some of them have also gone on holidays together.

On Facebook, there are groups set up by flat owners of upcoming Build-To-Order projects that facilitate the creation of offline friendships.

Air freight operations manager Nor Sharizal, 35, joined the Punggol Waterway Woodcrest Facebook page last November and casually asked its members if any of them wanted to be in a WhatsApp group so he could organise a futsal game.

About 20 people responded.

Since then, futsal has led to meals together and now that they have moved into the same estate, even closer ties have been forged.

"Our children play together and we even held a pizza party downstairs once," says Mr Sharizal.

Online to offline friendships is a trend that is likely to continue, say those interviewed by SundayLife!.

Entrepreneur Jen Wei Qing, 33, says social media lowers the barriers of communication, especially for those who may find it easier to express themselves in the virtual world.

She is the co-founder of new app Sup, which has received an encouraging response since its release three weeks ago. Now in private beta stage, Sup is an app that allows users to find people around them for meals or meetups.

More than 2,000 SUPs (saying hello via the app) have been sent out and more than 200 conversations have begun via the app to date.

Ms Jen says: "We were told that Singaporeans don't like to say hello to strangers, but we've found that there are people who are open to new friendships and broadening their networks."

brynasim@sph.com.sg