How might we decrease the feelings of loneliness that many young populations are experiencing today in a safe, meaningful, and effective way?
Loneliness has been a long-standing problem that has accompanied modernization and urbanization, and has only worsened since the onset of COVID-19. A survey conducted in 2021 found that 23% of Canadians aged 15-24, and 15% of Canadians aged 25-34, reported feeling lonely either often or always. This number is found to be even higher in urban areas, with 30% of people aged 18 to 24 (7% increase), and 23% of people aged 25 to 34 (8% increase) feeling lonely in Metro Vancouver. In Toronto, a survey completed in 2022 showed that people were now spending less time in person with friends and relatives, compared to a 2018 baseline. One alarming stat showed that the number of people who had not seen a close friend or relative within a span of one month had nearly doubled from 9% to 17% from 2018 to 2022
This problem of loneliness and isolation are certainly problems that the tech industry is aware of, with a huge boom in the increase of dating and friendship apps in the last few years.However, with the rise of these apps have also come new problems, such as lack of vulnerability and connection in online chatting, safety and security concerns, the phenomenon of ghosting, and more. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center on the experience of online daters showed that 50% of respondents were concerned about fake accounts used to scam others, and 71% of respondents believe that people lie about themselves on these platforms to seem more desirable. Furthermore, among women particularly, 57% reported being sent sexually explicit messages or images without consent, and 19% indicated receiving threats of physical harm. It’s clear then, that many users’ needs have not been met, and the market is in need of other solutions and products that are effective in fostering safe and meaningful connections among its users.
Research Summary – Things to note:
- 40 responses in total → 36 qualified responses (4 were out of the parameters of age range & living in an urban area)
- Age range of 18-35
- Urban city/area was defined as a place with a population of more than 100,000 people
User Pain Points
User pain points from survey data:
By studying the most vulnerable population of people susceptible to feeling lonely – youth from 18 to 35 years old living in urban cities - according to prior research done in this field, it provides us insight into some of the causes of loneliness.
- Out of 36 qualified responses, largest causes for feelings of loneliness were split fairly evenly between lack of regular social interactions & engagements (23%), lack of friendships / family relationships / personal relationships (23%), and life stages / transitions (31%).
- Similar to pre-existing data on this topic that showed rates between 20-30%, 23% of respondents indicated always feeling lonely, and 20% of respondents indicated often experiencing feelings of loneliness
- 43% of respondents indicated that mental health challenges were their largest barrier to seeking or maintaining connections with others
- 31% of respondents indicated that lack of energy and motivation was their largest barrier to seeking or maintaining connections with others
User pain points from user interviews:
Interviews were conducted around this central question - What do you think is lacking in current friendship & dating apps available on the market?
Snippets from answers:
- “Dating apps are just a game for a lot of people, not actually trying to make a connection”
- “Aligning values before preferences in physical appearance.”
- “The ability to really connect with people”
- “I firmly believe that concepts from apps be it ghosting, blocking have seeped their way into face to face interactions. We have become much more intolerant of one another as soon as there is something we don’t agree on.”
Over 50% of people interviewed indicated frustration and dissatisfaction around the central theme of lack of connection and incompatibility.
Supporting Survey Data
- 63% of respondents have used a mobile app before for the purposes of seeking out friendship or potential dating partners
- 65% of respondents agreed that using online platforms or apps can be an effective way to connect with others
- 60% of respondents indicated that lack of true connection or vulnerability and how conversations tend to be superficial / surface level as their biggest hesitation or worry when it comes to using online apps for seeking connection
- 97% of respondents agreed that having meaningful conversations helps decrease feelings of loneliness
- 77% of respondents would answer questions that require self reflection on an app
Our preliminary user research to validate this problem showed that loneliness indeed was a common phenomenon experienced by youth from 18-35 years of age living in urban areas. We also found that most of this group has tried using online applications before for seeking friendship or relationships, and that they agree it can be a good method to meet and connect with people. Lastly, the idea behind creating an app to facilitate meaningful conversation was validated as 50-60% of respondents via survey and interview indicated that a lack of true connection, and having shallow and superficial conversations was their current largest worry and hesitation towards using online social platforms. A surprising number of respondents, 77%, also indicated they would be happy to answer questions that require self-reflection on an app, so that wasn’t the deterrent that we thought it might be.
Landing on the Solution & Future Steps
The next step for the product would be to create a prototype application / platform. I imagine some of the key features would be verified profiles to enhance user safety, pictures that are unlocked only once one user accepts a chat request from someone, detailed profiles that include questions around interests, hobbies, and values, and a “discover” mode where one daily interesting meaningful values-based is posed by the app to users in a certain geographical area, and users can react to each others’ answers and start a private discussion from there.
Some additional problems to address would be clarifying the intention of the app and what users are hoping to find. Right now it is pretty open ended, as I don’t want to brand it as a dating-only app, however I can see this being a problem when users start interacting with each other and find that they are not seeking the same type of relationship dynamic. One feature that could rectify this is mandating users to fill out a “what I’m looking for” section, however the issue of ensuring honest answers is still a challenge.