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After being out of school for a while, I have learned quite a few things. Namely, it's increasingly difficult to get out and meet new people. Or course, the fact that I hit "old man" status not long after graduating high school could be part of the problem. So could the fact that I work from home and rarely get out and do things (press events aside) that would throw me in the midst of lively, new faces.

Every week, I go through the motions. I make my rounds, visit the very same places and see the same people every time. In a spread out city such a Charlotte, it's easy to fall into that sort of routine. None of that's do say life isn't great. But there's nothing quite like sharing old stories with new people and making new friends every once in a while.

That said, there is a tool almost everyone of us have that can be used just for that – discovering new places, people, events and other local happenings.

My smartphone goes everywhere I go. It's location-aware, always connected to the Internet and, thanks to services like Google Now, it knows more about what I like and what I want more than I do. Google Now, specifically, gives me new restaurants and other popular spots based on my location.

But this isn't a totally new concept. Using Poynt, a pocket concierge of sorts, you can discover restaurants by cuisine or location, events by different categories, various businesses, check movie times and even find gas prices. I've been using the Poynt app since my BlackBerry days. The only new feature is automation and smartphones being aware of the users' interests.

However, more and more people are turning to their smartphone for something a little more personal of late. Social discovery applications are on a steady rise, and, slowly, smartphone users are beginning to become a bit more comfortable with turning to the connected, online world to meet new people. But as our smartphones have advanced internally, so have the abilities of the applications we install on them.

These days, it's all about being location and context aware.

Last week, a friend and colleague of mine, Corey Herscu, came to me and threw two new applications my way: Jingu Friends and Introdooce.

Jingu Friends was originally available on BlackBerry, but was released last week to iOS. It allows users to participate in a public chat, find new people and take your conversation private through other popular chat applications.

Introdooce takes this one step further. You can find nearby people with similar interests. But this isn't just a discovery app. This is a platform that helps users to break the ice by sending actual gifts to recipients. One example listed on Introdooce's website is, "Surprise friends, family and colleagues with gifts from the place where they currently are." You could do the same to the cute girl across the bar, assuming she's also using the app and has checked-in.

These are only two of many. Zoosk, Skout+, Badoo, OkCupid, Tagged and eHarmony are some of the more popular dating or people discovery applications out there. And some of them are very neat and can take meeting new people to an entirely different level. But these things can go both ways. Apps like Introdooce and Jingu can help meet new people and break the ice, but they can also help turn you into a Class A creep.

No, seriously. Some of these apps are just plain creepy.

In April, I wrote a piece in response to John Brownlee's article on Cult of Mac, titled This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy. Brownlee detailed an application he was showing his friends, which was called, Girls Around Me. Essentially, the application took publicly available information from Facebook and Foursquare to plot nearby girls' locations on a map. The one girl Brownlee chose to reveal to his friends was named Zoe. Brownlee explained after checking out her profile and even seeing what she looks like in a bikini:

"So now I know everything to know about Zoe. I know where she is. I know what she looks like, both clothed and mostly disrobed. I know her full name, her parents’ full names, her brother’s full name. I know what she likes to drink. I know where she went to school. I know what she likes and dislikes. All I need to do now is go down to the Independent, ask her if she remembers me from Stoneham High, ask her how her brother Mike is doing, buy her a frosty margarita, and start waxing eloquently about that beautiful summer I spent in Roma."

Creepy is an understatement. That's downright scary.

I will admit. I have turned to online dating before, and it's not my bag. I gave OkCupid a go, skimmed a few profiles and forgot about it. Days later, my phone buzzed and told me a female user was "nearby right now!" It was then that I realized I really don't want to meet someone through an application or service like this.

The premise of Introdooce doesn't seem so bad, considering you could use it in person to simply break the ice in a fairly creative way. The problem, however, is that there are no supported locations in my area. (Most of the users appear to be in Toronto.) Either way, in my brief use, discovering people via social apps is awkward and, well … not my cup of tea.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, though. Some people find someone online, marry them and live happily ever after, like a few couples I know. Given the right touch and caution (read: if you're not a compulsive creep), online social discovery doesn't have to be creepy or awkward.

How do you feel about social discovery apps, folks? Would you consider meeting new people through an application? Or would you rather meet new people the traditional way?


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