First published on 2 Jul 2012. Updated on 23 Aug 2012.
Sick of the ab-fest that is your Grndr home screen? Tired of being told you're too old, too Asian, too red-headed or too hirsuit? Well.. meet MISTER. The free app – created by Daddyhunt founder Carl Sandler – is a "meet market" for the more mature gay man looking for some geo-locator-assisted fun. It's designed mostly for over-thirties and for those who are sick of the games played on other apps, over the immaturity and offensive comments, but still want to get a little naughty. You can post more pics, there's more room to write about yourself and if you violate the MR code – an acrostic code no less ('M' is for maturity; 'I' for integrity) – you will get the boot. Time Out recently spoke with Chandler about this friendlier gay dating app and the nastiness of the modern day app twink.
You created MISTER as a kind of alternative to the shallow torso-focused Grindr. What gave you the idea to go down that path?
We’ve been managing a site called daddyhunt.com for about eight years. We started it in a small way to validate the experience of older guys; and to connect older and younger. But we didn’t really understand – at least at the time – that a lot of older people in the gay community weren’t really getting validation on other online dating sites. And so when the apps started coming on the scene we started thinking about how we take the message from there and kind of amplify it? A lot of people who used Daddyhunt didn’t identify with the “daddy” or “hunter” but they did identify with the message – the idea that I don’t have to have six-pack abs and go to the gym every day and be a douchebag online and just be focussed on sex. I can actually go online, make connections, date people and find other down-to-earth people. I think that when it comes to gay culture, a lot of us who live in big cities often have a very narrow view of what the real world really looks like – you know, “I think everybody looks like the people who go to my gym in Chelsea.” The reality is that gay people are everywhere.
Those other apps – the six-pack apps – are very focused on the sex and proximity. Is MISTER not about hookups?
I think that people use it for that, on the mobile in particular, and it’s somewhat transactional. That’s fine – I mean people are adults and they can use it any way they want to. But we design things that are part of our app to create the space that allows them to actually have conversations and get to know people in a different way. So, for instance, we really try to encourage people to upload multiple pics – not to have just one pic of a torso with everything else done privately. We want people to upload ten, or, in our new-ish version, twenty-five, pics.
One thing that I’m really big on is the idea that you can put a lot more in your profile. A lot of these other apps have very little space for you to say anything about who you are and what you’re looking for. And we have about 3,000 characters. We try to encourage people to really give a picture of themselves in a much more well rounded way. And I think that really helps to create a different tone, and a tone of respect. People are saying, “This is my whole self, not just one small sliver.”
What’s the worst thing about these other apps… the ones that can make you feel old if you’re 30-plus. I’ve seem your article on the Huffington Post, for example, where you compare that kind of community to the Mean Girls cafeteria.
I think there’s two levels. There’ some small percentage of people who are blatantly douche bags. They write things in their profile without any sensitivity and awareness of what they’re saying to other people who might see their profile. There’s a really big difference to saying I’m into redheads or whatever, and saying “Oh my god, don’t even think about contacting me if you’re X, Y or Z!” That’s very non-inclusive and something that, even on Daddyhunt back in the day, we would never allow. I wrote an article for our blog once about people saying they’re “clean” ’cos they’re negative – that implies you’re dirty if you’re positive, and people didn’t think about that.
The other part is that when you have something so transactional as these apps, everyone is very focussed on: “Who’s meeting my sexual goals and ideals?” There just isn’t space and time to consider other things. We may suffer from the same thing but we’re specifically making strides to help people with better matching, and better communications and connections, so that they don’t have to basically dismiss everyone who doesn’t meet their sexual criteria. It’s a different goal. Grndr works really great in terms of “I wanna hook up at this moment and here’s lots of people I can pick from” –it’s like shopping – but we have a little bit of a different goal. In part, because as you get older you may still want to get laid, but you recognise there’s a quality to your interaction, your time is valuable and you don’t want to waste your time. You don’t want to spend time reaching out to people who aren’t interested in you and you don’t want to go some place where you feel everywhere you look it’s “no one over 30!” On a site like Mister, I go on there and I get a feel a little bit like a king, and I’m 40 years old.
So is MISTER just for over 30-year-olds? What about those poor 29-year-olds with a thing for daddies?
We have a lot of people on MISTER who are in their twenties! Especially because the mobile world is so young. What’s interesting is that they’re responding to the MISTER message. They’re saying: “I consider myself down-to earth”; “I consider myself a good guy”; “I’m not in the scene”. These are the words that our members would use to describe themselves. They don’t identify as a party boy or a Chelsea boy. We said 30 because we wanted to convey that it’s for guys who are mature in the way they act.
Do you think dating apps have made people crueller?
In part it’s about efficiency. With the apps, you get into a screen – on Grindr, say – and you have so many people showing up that don’t really fit your criteria. They don’t have the kind of same search fields that you get on the web. So people are very specific in their profiles. That’s part of it. I also think that a lot of people using the phones are a lot younger – they’re in that kind of 18-25 year-old “I’m the shit” kind of mentality. That dominates and it creates a kind of culture that is very exclusive.
I think fundamentally I’m a big believer that gay people grow up with a tremendous amount of shame about sex in general, and that people’s sense of self is not fully developed. It takes some time before you really understand that “I am comfortable in this world, I’m secure, I know my place in my world and I know that looks are fleeting and I have to treat other people with respect.” When you’re young and you’re just coming out I think it’s a different kind of world. And I think there are just a lot of those people who are on the apps. The gay world has always been a lot about sex. And quick sex. And it’s just that the apps seem to be very conducive to a very harsh environment.
MISTER has already kicked thousands off for breaching its principals. How do you decide whom to boot?
It’s very simple: if someone is not following our code, if they’re writing things in their profile that are hateful, if they’re writing anything we would feel is intending to harm, we just don’t want them on MISTER. We’re not trying to make everyone have to respond to everyone, but we don’t want any profiles that say “Don’t contact me if you’re X, Y or Z.” We wanna create an environment that is mellow, relaxed, low-key, but allows people to use their phones to find the right matches, to connect with people who are otherwise good guys. We use the metaphor of a casual gay bar, not the coolest, latest nightclub.
MISTER is available from iTunes for iPhone and iPad and on the Android Market. Download at www.misterapp.com.