From 1987 to 2007, Americans spent 25% fewer hours out of doors, a figure that has gone down about 1% each year since then.
At the same time, the hours we spend online as a society have increased exponentially. Americans spent 121 billion minutes on social media in one month in 2012. The latest studies show we spend, on average, eight hours a week on Facebook alone.
Yet study after study has suggested that all the time spent interacting online has actually made us more isolated. Which makes one wonder; shouldn’t there be a social network that actually makes us more social?
That’s the idea behind Gociety, a new networking site for the “socially adventurous.”
The site, now in beta testing, lets users create and join groups centered around an activity — hiking, climbing, running, road cycling, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, motorcycle rides or the catch-all “fun in the sun” category, which covers everything from beer festivals and film premieres to paintball and pool parties.
The process is simple, designed to make sure users spend less time on the computer and more time doing the things they love. The visually-driven site posts upcoming happenings and group outings. Pick a time and activity that works for you, and then get up and go.
“I was really drawn to the … idea of using the online space to get offline and break the cycle that keeps us in front of screens all day,” said Rex Roberts, who handles public relations and marketing for the fledgling company. “One of the Gociety tenets is, ‘Life doesn’t happen in your phone, so pick your head up and head out!’”
The idea for a social network that gets you off the couch and out into the world came to founder Alex Witkowicz during a trip to Canada. Sitting on a lift in Whistler, Witkowicz noticed other solo skiers and thought how many people on the slopes that day would love to ski with another person, even a stranger. The only way that happened is if you were standing next to someone in line and struck up a conversation.
There has to be a better way, Witkowicz thought.
Out of that experience was born Gociety, an online network that gets you offline, which he first codenamed InstaBro. The catchy, official name came later, through what Roberts called a “very long, very thorough group effort.”
“We wanted something that really went along with the values we want to promote: being active, inclusive, supportive, and what we call ‘’socially adventurous,’” Roberts said. “We’re like a society, of go-ers … eureka! Gociety just clicked.”
Witkowicz teamed with Anna Thielke, a former coworker at Skiing magazine in Boulder, and got to work creating their vision of an activity-driven site. Roberts joined the team in January, and together, the three launched the beta version of Goceity in mid-September — following massive flooding in their test areas, Denver and Boulder.
That complicated things a bit, Roberts said. The team debated delaying the launch yet again — it had been postponed several times to work out technical bugs — but decided to go ahead.
“Denver and Boulder is the place to be doing it,” Roberts said. “There is an incredibly high percentage of transplants, and everyone is very motivated to be friendly and have new relationships.”
The Gociety team is hoping that the go-getter types they cater to will take an active role in shaping the future of the site.
Gociety has partnered with BetaEasy.com to create a platform where users can ask and answer question about the site’s function and design, report problems and propose ideas for new features. Gociety team members post questions and ideas of their own for testers to comment on, drawing them into the building process. That level of interaction makes the beta testing period more about refining the product than fixing glitches.
“I know people hide development under the guise of beta testing and use it to get away with bugs and things that shouldn’t be in there, but we have lots of big, open-ended questions that we don’t necessarily have an answer for,” Roberts said. That’s where the testers come in.
“They can help us create this community and this culture. Being socially adventurous. We are still early enough in development if you have a good idea and solid feedback, we’re absolutely listening.”
That isn’t the only thing that sets Gociety apart from other social media sites. The startup is seed-funded by angel investors, and Roberts said the team is “determined” that the site remain free for users — while also keeping ads off the site.
“Nobody likes ads,” he said.
That dedication to provide a zero-fee, ad-free service to users leaves many questions about the business model going forward. Roberts described it only as “complex.”
Still, the Gociety crew are already looking ahead, with eyes on markets that are “hubs of culture and influence” like startup-friendly San Francisco or Austin, , where competition to find — and finance — the next big company is fierce.“At some point,” Roberts said, “if we do it right, it’s going to grow itself.” To keep up with company updates, or to become a beta tester, go to gociety.com.