Start-up

Wander aims to put 'social' back in social media

Developed by a team that included Miss Krystal Choo, Wander was officially launched last month. Using the app (below), users can search for chat channels by interests or keywords and join in the chats.
Developed by a team that included Miss Krystal Choo, Wander was officially launched last month. Using the app, users can search for chat channels by interests or keywords and join in the chats.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
Developed by a team that included Miss Krystal Choo, Wander was officially launched last month. Using the app (above), users can search for chat channels by interests or keywords and join in the chats.
Developed by a team that included Miss Krystal Choo, Wander was officially launched last month. Using the app (above), users can search for chat channels by interests or keywords and join in the chats.PHOTO: WANDER

Start-up switches gears from social travel app to group chat linking people by interests

Remember the good old days of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) where people chatted in discussion forums, known as channels, about everything under the sun?

With the rise of social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, IRC channels are becoming historical relics.

Wander (http://wander.chat), founded by 29-year-old Singaporean entrepreneur Krystal Choo, is a smartphone app that seeks to bring back these vibrant group chats.

After six months of development by a team of seven (including Miss Choo), Wander was officially launched last month on both Android and iOS platforms.

Miss Choo, who is also the chief executive officer of Wander, said that her company seeks to put the "social" back in social media.

"We might have, say, 500 friends, but how many of them do we really interact with?" she asked.

But you will want to interact with people of similar interests. Thus, the aim of Wander is to connect strangers who share common interests.

Anyone who registers and logs into the app can create his or her own chat channel of interests, and choose to keep the channel private or public.

Users can also search for chat channels by interests or keywords, such as #yogabeginners or #bestfoodcourt, and join in the chats.

"It is like the old IRC chats, but much more convenient and user-friendly," Miss Choo said.

Wander actually started life in 2015 as a social travel app for singles. It came about after Miss Choo wanted to find companions for her travels.

But it was commonly perceived as a dating app, and found itself lost in the midst of dating apps such as Tinder.

Furthermore, Miss Choo revealed that there was feedback from people who wanted to join Wander even though they were neither single nor travelling.

It also makes more business sense to open the app to a wider audience, as not everyone is travelling all the time. "Travel is a very niche market and the frequency is not there," said Miss Choo.

Thus, Wander was re-built from ground up and re-launched as a beta group chat app last September.

Others might have seen it as a failure, but Miss Choo thought otherwise. She pointed out that "sticking to one model is sure death".

"Personally, I don't see it as a failure - it is just a pivot," she said.

So far, she has been proved right, even though it is still early days. In just 1½ months after its official launch, Wander has generated more than 1,000 chat channels with around 10,000 unique users. Nearly a third of these users are active daily with an average of 51min spent chatting in Wander.

Wander's chat channels are generally moderated by the communities themselves - for instance, to check for abuses. Users can also flag spams and the Wander team will remove the messages in question.

There are also algorithms built into the app that will automatically flag illicit activities. "But so far, there are no such (illicit) incidents," said Miss Choo.

Comparisons with chat apps like WhatsApp or Telegram are inevitable. But Miss Choo pointed out that what sets Wander apart is its discoverability.

"You need to be invited to specific groups in Telegram or WhatsApp but, in Wander, you get to discover topics of your interest on your own," said Miss Choo.

Unlike apps such as Meet-Up that do not allow for any interactions until the real-life meet-ups, communities in Wander can move their discourses from real life to online or vice versa.

Miss Christina Teo, 53, who runs Startup Asia Women, a support group for women in the start-up community, and who is a community leader in Wander, said: "Wander enables our community to continue our conversations beyond events and enables us to form sub-groups to zoom into a specific focus of interests."

There are also plenty of instances where Wander followers meet up for barbecue or lunches. "I recently met up with a group of Wander users over barbecue one weekend," Miss Choo said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Wander aims to put 'social' back in social media'. Print Edition | Subscribe