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What's Next? Portland-made app helps you keep in touch with friends, no strings or data-tracking attached

Popple was developed during the pandemic after the developer was shocked to learn a friend died of cancer, who never posted about the diagnosis on social media.

PORTLAND, Ore. — We're continuing our KGW series What's Next?, stories about the future of technology, innovation and what life will look like post-COVID.

A lot of people will agree, it can be hard to make friends as an adult. And the pandemic made it really hard to keep the ones we have, since we couldn't see them very much. A Portland man found himself in that spot, and made an app to help.

"You want to put this image, this façade on social media that, 'Look how great life is,'" said Ryan Rabideau. "Facebook wants to optimize for that, they want you to be engaged with the platform so they want to show you all the exciting, happy things and what's going on."

Rabideau was like many of us, keeping up with lifelong friends on social. The Portland man moved here from his native Maryland.

"I had a friend who I kind of thought I knew what was going on in his life, new jobs, watching him going out and enjoying friends and the next thing I noticed was his obituary online," Rabideau said. 

He came to find out that friend had been battling cancer but wasn't posting about it to his followers.

It was devastating for Rabideau.

"I realized you don't really know what's going on in people's lives when you're relying solely on the news feed and there's always tomorrow to reach out and get in touch," Rabideau said.

Credit: Popple

Popple does that for you. Rabideau, who is also the director of growth analytics for Portland-based Vacasa, and also a partner in the rentable adventure vehicle company Wandervans, came up with the idea for Popple during the pandemic.

It's not finding you new friends, it's keeping you in genuine touch with the ones you have, setting reminders to check in.

"Popple just layers on top of the existing tech that works well on the iPhone," he said. "It leverages the contacts on your phone, it leverages the reminder system, the calendar, the notification system, that way nothing ever has to leave your phone."

Here's how it works: Open the app, and pick a person in your contacts you want to keep in touch with. Then decide how you want to reach out to them: text, call, email, even an actual card in the mail.

"Let's say I want to call Martin once a month, that way when that reminder pops up, it also pops up a button just to call him directly." No excuses, no time wasted finding the number, Rabideau said. There's also a details section to put in spouses' or kids' names, or a prompt to ask about their new job or house or any other life detail that you left off talking about the last time. Milestone dates like birthdays can also be added.

"So that's one of the problems we wanted to solve," he said. "You don't have to keep Facebook and all the creepy tracking just to have the birthdays."

The explosive documentary The Social Dilemma that debuted on Netflix this past September, was a major catalyst for Rabideau to start Popple.

The award-winning film talks with former social media engineers and executives about the hidden algorithms and secrets that make social media sites so addictive and why they're not really free. The trailer says this: "There are all these services on the internet that we think of as free, but they're not free, they're paid for by advertisers. The social media companies sell them ad certainty. In order to be successful in that business, you have to have great predictions, great predictions begin with one imperative: you need a lot of data."

Rabideau calls Popple "technology on your terms." It's a free app, but here's where it's different, he says. You never register or sign up with it, it doesn't download anything from you, it doesn't track you or your contacts, it doesn't sell ads and promises it never will.

Rabideau said if Popple works well, "it will never know who it's users are." So what's in it for him? How does Popple make money if it's free, with no ads? Rabideau said he'll be releasing a premium version soon on the Apple app store that will cost. It'll have extra features like if there's a band you and a friend both like, you can invite them to it, or you'd be able to set up automatic texts or emails.

Right now Popple is only for Apple products because Rabideau said it works well with Apple's privacy settings that apps not track users, and it's not yet available for Android.

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