I was inspired to create ConnectOnCommute after experiencing my own new tribe moment moving out to Boston. I found it very challenging to break out and meet new people, make new friends, and really feel like I 'belonged' in my community here. After a few weeks of feeling increasingly disconnected from my environment, I decided to put on a namebadge that said "Ask me about tacos". Within the 4 hours I had been wearing the badge, 14 different people would jokingly walk up and.. well.. ask me about tacos. Before I knew it I was having a random conversation with almost each one of them.
After talking to some other people about my feelings at the beginning of my journey here, I found that I wasn't alone in feeling alone. It turns out 48% of Americans feel lonely most or all of the time, and 52% feel that no-one knows them well. Our brains have evolved to need social acceptance in much of the same way that we need food and oxygen- and it's because of this that many studies agree chronic loneliness can be more detrimental to our health than obesity and equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
When I got to #HackHarvard2019, I had spent a lot of time thinking about that experience and wanted to see how my team could use tech to help foster a world of more deep, meaningful connections. Social media does a great job maintaining friendships once they start, but there's somewhat of a gap in initializing that first conversation; ConnectOnCommute was designed specifically do promote serendipitous interactions with the people to the left and right of us, all across our community.
What it does
ConnectOnCommute acts as an initiator for new, random conversations in real life with different people all around you in your community. Sometimes all we need is an invitation; users turn their 'social mode' on when they want to connect with others. As they're walking around, if another person in social mode is within range, both users receive a 'nudge' that includes the other person's name and a topic of interest to ask them about. Once both people click 'connect', a new connect-record is added to each users personal log.
How we built it
The front-end was created with angular, typescript, and bootstrap; the back-end was developed using C#. ConnectOnCommute is hosted on an Azure server.
Challenges we ran into
The initial idea for the app involved using nfc or bluetooth to gage the range for the popup. Without the experience that would typically allow us to develop this kind of feature, we had to get creative with how to track location in a way that was accurate enough and allowed us to set parameters- this involved math... a lot of math... by pulling the gps longitude and latitude coordinates provided by every google chrome browser, we had to use trigonometry, conversion formulas, and advanced algebra to calculate the distance of any two coordinate points, and make it so that only people within 100 meters of each other would appear on each user's screen. It was challenging finding a new and creative way to get beyond this issue, however making it work felt really good when it was done.
We also ran into some other minor technical issues, with things such as asynchronous functions/operations, typical bugs, and of course our favorite: syntax errors.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
The biggest accomplishment was being able to roll out the completed, working, beta web-application within the 36 hour time period. At this moment, anyone can create an account, walk around, and find any other users that are also looking to converse. What would have normally taken us a few months to have professionally developed, we managed to accomplish in two nights.
What's next for ConnectOnCommute
The initial beta for ConnectOnCommute was a major success, that's not to say that there aren't even more places to take this! First tweaks will need to be graphics, getting an experienced graphic designer to help improve the UX design and make the overall experience more aesthetic. Currently the team is working on making the web-app responsive for mobile displays, and in the next few months we're hoping to roll-out a complete IOS and Android app.
The IOS and Android app would integrate bluetooth or NFC to allow users to connect on trains and planes and many other places without wifi or LTE connectivity!