A group of students from the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences has developed an app to help lonely young people find friends. Some of the co-developers say that they’ve also experienced loneliness at one time or another in their lives.
The students, Teemu Kiiski, Jasmin Hyrkäs, Inka Sihvola, Lauri Auerniitty and Roope Haverinen, have come together to develop software to help young people find a friend or perhaps someone with a shared interest, for example a hobby.
The young adults said they considered the risks marginalised young people face when they designed the app. According to Kiiski, many of the students attending their institution need friends as well as well as day-to-day support.
He said that the app could be developed to support life management and even share mundane tasks. He noted that some young adults do not eat well, may not have a proper daily rhythm or may find it difficult to tidy up. He added that such tasks affect overall life management.
The new app will be tested during the ongoing school year by the group’s peers, with a broader user base planned when it is launched in 2019. Initially, users will have to be 18 and over.
The students have received innovation funding from the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences for their Kamukamu (Buddybuddy) project. It is part of Junior Achievement Finland’s Start Up entrepreneurship programme. Another student, Susanna Sirviö, has assisted the team with marketing and creating a corporate identity.
The app was also featured in this year’s Uskalla Yrittää (Dare to try) entrepreneurship competition in Helsinki.
“The competition went OK, although we didn’t win anything. We made lots of good contacts and gained important experience,” Kiiski said.
Security a concern
The development team is considering introducing a version of the app that would require a monthly fee; however users will still have access to a free version.
They are also considering bringing on board external partners. Kiiski said that they could use the help of NGOs to have more of an impact on youth marginalisation and loneliness in Kajaani, eastern Finland. They are also considering the option of working with other app developers.
Security is one aspect of the app that the young developers have not overlooked. The software will ask users to authenticate themselves before they can create a profile, which need not have more information than place of residence and hobbies or areas of interest. They think this would be enough to get youngsters started on meeting people with similar interests in the selected locations.
The team has also planned introducing a discussion forum that would open in the app later on. However they acknowledge that this would require moderation, so they are still bouncing ideas around.
Aiming for lasting impact
The students say that even after they complete their studies, the app will ensure that they can continue to help others.
”It’s our goal and firm intention to follow this through to the end to ensure it’s truly beneficial,” Kiiski declared.
There are similar services that already aim to pair young people in need of friendship. One of them is an online discussion service maintained by the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, which allows parents to help find companions for their children. Users can also use the service anonymously.
The ME foundation, which works to reduce youth inequality and marginalisation, has estimated that there are some 69,000 marginalised young people between the ages of 15 and 29 in Finland. That figure represents an increase of 15,000 over the past decade, but the NGO says the number decreased slightly last year.