It happens to all of us. You meet someone, anyone —maybe by sitting in on a different section of one of your precepts or perhaps by bumping into someone while scooping ice cream in the servery. After introducing yourself, you enjoy a brief, but far too fleeting, conversation. For the next few weeks, you’ll smile in passing but soon even that minimal interaction fades.
You may never suspect you had much in common, but at this rate, you'll never found out that the two of you share a favorite word or have a similar childhood memory or serendipitously thought out nearly identical plans to dispose of a dead body in case of ... an emergency.
These haunting possibilities inspired Akshay Kumar ’14 and Dan Kang ’15to create Tigers Anonymous, an online chat forum for Princeton students that went live over Intersession.
“There are a lot of students that once they become upperclassmen or once they get involved in their extracurricular activities tend to form very rigid social groups and often complain that they find it difficult to branch out. So we wanted to make a way for people to branch out and meet people who they wouldn’t otherwise,” Kumar explained.
For those who haven’t tried using the website yet, getting started is simple. Students just click the go button on the website, and the service matches them with another student. Tigers Anonymous provides a prompt for the two anonymous chatters to discuss in the form of a question ranging from “What was the last thing you thought about last night?” to “If you only had one day left to live, what would you do?” After chatting for a certain amount of time, the option to reveal oneself appears, and if the two chatting mutually agree to swap information, their Facebook profiles are exchanged.
On the first day alone, the site hosted over 600 conversations and after the second the site had hosted 1,500. So far, Kumar and Kang have found that 33 percent of conversations result in the pair of anonymous students revealing their identities—far more than they had anticipated. “We thought people would be more reluctant to reveal who they are,” Kang said.
The creators of the site have implemented an algorithm that learns which questions produce the best conversations. As more Princeton students use the site, the algorithm will be able to curate questions that foster the most interesting and successful conversations.
When asked for their favorite question on the site, Kumar named, “Do you believe in destiny or free will?” while Kang thought the best conversation started with the question, “How would you dispose of a dead body?”
“There are some morbid people here. I remember there was someone who was like, ‘I would eat it,’ ”Kumar remarked.
So far, the two have been surprised to hear how many people have discovered that they had more in common with their casual acquaintances than they had imaginedthrough conversations facilitated by the site. “That was probably my most unexpected thing from using the site. I’d be talking to somebody … and be like, ‘Oh wow, I met you maybe a couple of months ago, and we’ve said hi a couple of times, but I didn’t know this about you,’”Kangexplained.
After a successful start, Kumar and Kang are looking forward. They hope to expand the website to include students from other schoolsand add more features to complement the basic chat functions the site currently hosts.
The pair have no immediate plans to change the website though. Right now, they've said their focus lies on getting more hits on Tigers Anonymous. They urge every student to log on. “Once they’ve given it one try, they’re hooked,” Kumar said.