Apps: A poke in the eye for social-network friends

One young programmer has harnessed the power of social networks to make sure no one can get near him. Hear, hear!

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The Independent Tech

Are you fed up with social networking and bored of people “checking in” every hour of the day with Foursquare at some location you really couldn't care less about? If so you're in luck because there's now a new anti-social network called Hell is Other People.

Most social networks are designed to help you connect with your friends (or online admirers) but Hell is Other People promises to keep you as far away from your pesky online friends (and genuine ones) as possible. To keep you off-grid, the app takes your friends' check-in data from your Foursquare account and then works out “optimally-distanced locations” to make sure you don't bump into any of them on your way around town.

Designed by developer Scott Garner, who describes it as “partially satire, partially a commentary on my disdain for 'social media',” it highlights various “safe zones” on a specially adapted Google Maps screen and gives you critical information on your friends' check-in so you, you know, don't have to actually see them.

Unsurprisingly Garner tells The Independent he has a “love/hate relationship with social media that's mostly hate.”

“Up until recently, this problem was mostly theoretical, but now I'm finding that my aversion to social media is actually affecting my life-not being on Facebook, for example, now means that nobody invites you to anything and nobody remembers your birthday.”

Paradoxically though Hell is Other People depends entirely on you and your friends using Foursquare and your mates checking in regularly enough throughout the day, but with more than 30 million people worldwide using the app there's obviously some potential there.

Garner is a masters student at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program and describes himself on his website as “basically unemployable in a conventional sense” but does seem to realise the biggest floor in his app is its users. In an online video tutorial for the site, he takes an afternoon stroll around New York - the only city it is currently available for - and says: “Most frustrating of all is that nobody is checking in today. I hate doing things that depend on other people because they are so unpredictable and unreliable.”

Perhaps that's why it's described as more of an art project than a functional app. Would Garner every try and make money from it? “As far as going commercial, it never occurs to me to try and make money from my work until it's already in the papers and I think, 'Man. I should have thought of a way to sell this.' Also, I'm much more focused on making beautiful (or at least interesting) things than useful things and maintaining websites is the absolute pits. Users are the worst kind of people.”

There's one awkward real-world conversation that Garner hasn't accounted for though. What happens when your best mate asks why he hasn't seen you in your local for months?

* Meanwhile in London... a new billboard campaign has kicked off in Shoreditch with the tagline: “You have no friends and no one likes you.” It’s promoting Rando, a random photo-sharing app which has ditched all social-media norms so there’s no sign-in process, no comments, no likes and, most importantly, no friends or followers to worry about. Is this the start of an anti-social networking backlash? Perhaps not. Ironically the billboard campaign has got lots of people talking… on Twitter. Sigh.