Mimicking the Geography of Distance with Letter Writing

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Recently I reached out to the team of the Slowly application, an interesting social network that reinstates the distance of geography when communicating with others. The founder, Kevin Wong, was able to answer my questions and provide insight as to his philosophy toward the app, and geographic communication as a whole.

Q: My first question regards the role geography plays in modern social networking applications. As Slowly offers incentive – through collecting stamps – to send letters to people in different locations, do you feel geography is becoming more / less important for social networking in general?

A: I think geography is very important. Although the internet connected people around the world, only a small part of things would raise the global attention.

For example, last week in Hong Kong we experienced the strongest typhoon in the past 35 years, which was the hottest topic here that everyone was talking about. However, it wouldn’t be that hot in your location because most of the platforms are providing a personalized experience. They only show you what they think you are interested, and geography takes a serious part in most of these formulae.

Q: Slowly relies on location technology and a mobile platform. How do you utilize this globalization of mobile devices, while still maintaining the “pen pal” feeling?

A: We created a delayed messaging system – message delivery time depends on the geographical distance between users.

Usually, when I got a mentioned post or tweet on social media, I wouldn’t notice where the users come from because everything is happening instantly. Even they are sending a message from really far away, there is no difference between those sending next to you – the sense of distance is lost.

Yet on Slowly, the delayed, location-based delivery time helps users to regain the sense of geographic distance; to realize the one you’re talking to is actually a thousand miles away, which in fact, is a very amazing experience we easily forgot in a fast-paced internet world.

Screenshot from the Slowly app.

Screenshot from the Slowly app.

Q: Social media is often a source of immediate gratification through likes, favorites and other interactions. What led to the decision on creating extended or decreased delivery times for letters based on location? How do you determine these times?

A: Simply put, I believe there’s beauty in waiting.

SLOWLY’s concept originated from our daily life – or something that’s lacking in it. The living pace in Hong Kong is extremely fast and almost suffocating. People are becoming more difficult to be patient. While smartphones brought us convenience, it also took away even more of our time to relax and let loose.

I used to have a few pen pals when I was young. I forgot what we shared in the letters and their names… but what stuck to me is the feeling of anticipation and the unknown.

I wanted to encourage people to pick up their pen and write something – but that’s nearly impossible. 🙂 So I turned to digital and designed SLOWLY in order to relive this excitement of waiting for letters.

Q: Regarding location privacy, your website states that Slowly adjusts a user’s location once per login session, and randomly shifts it by +/- 5-15km, to maintain privacy. Is there a reason this range was selected?

A: In the old time, if you wanted to make a pen pal, you had to expose your real address, which I understand would be a concern today. However, I still believe the postal address is a big part of the whole pen pal experience that the relationship would become less vivid if the app shows one’s country or city only.

Since it is not necessary to expose a user’s exact location to make the whole thing works, randomly shifting the location by a range of distance would be a good way to strike the balance between privacy and authenticity.

Q: Are there any upcoming plans for the application?

A: Yes! In-app Stamps Store, Avatar builder, Desktop / Web version, Language Exchange Centre, etc.

For those interested in trying the application out, it can be found on both Google Play and the App Store.

Images obtained from the Slowly website.