Early on in their freshman year, Business sophomores Daniel Steinmetz and Brandon Alster discovered how hard it could be to connect with friends on short notice. Oftentimes, they’d find themselves spending time between classes reaching out to friends who were already busy, and they needed something that could instantly tell them which friends were available.
In January 2013, Steinmetz and Alster began brainstorming ideas for a project they would come to call Merge — a social networking app that allows college students to instantly compare schedules — designed to make meeting up with friends quick and easy.
Steinmetz and Alster enlisted University alum Josh Sklar and LSA junior Nathan Pilcowitz, an iOS designer, in April 2013 to bring the app to life. Now, students can use Merge to meet friends for coffee, plan group projects and find out what friends are up to.
The current version of Merge includes a buddy list that shows users which of their friends are available at any given time. Students can message available friends through the app, and create “events” to designate a time and place to meet.
The app also has a comprehensive list of courses that students can add to their unique profiles. Steinmetz and Alster used public databases to load most course information into their app, while classes in the Business school and the School of Information had to be manually loaded.
“Merge is for the busy, driven college student who wants to stay social, but wants to save a lot of time doing so too,” Alster said.
As of the Fall 2014 semester, Merge had accumulated 1,500 users. They released a video on Monday to explain and promote the app.
For now, Merge is a nonprofit endeavor. Steinmetz and Alster said their priority is creating a good product and increasing their user base. Until recently, they were paying out-of-pocket to get their idea off the ground.
“We believed in the idea, but didn’t have all this money to spend on an app,” Alster said. “We figured if we could get an investor, it’d be worth it.”
Merge secured its first investor in the beginning of March, and plans to start hiring students to help expand Merge to other schools.
During the process of developing Merge, Steinmetz and Alster realized they weren’t the only ones with an idea for another social networking app.
However, Steinmetz said, “it’s not always who does it first, it’s who does it right first.”
They plan to add more new features to Merge over the summer while expanding to more schools like Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania.
One major addition involves a Snapchat-like function that will allow users to select multiple buddies to Merge with, creating an event for everyone that’s available.
And, similar to the Venmo app, a triple newsfeed will allow users to easily keep track of private interactions, interactions among just their Merge buddy list or public interactions that any Merge user can see.
“The biggest part of the feature is that you can make it public, private, or for your friends,” Steinmetz said. “We think it’s really fun to look through this and see what our friends are paying each other for. You get to see what people are up to.”
Updates to the app will also allow users to classify their events, enabling others to join public events.
Because Merge is designed as a daily scheduler more than a long-term calendar, the developers decided against synching users’ Merge schedules with other calendars, as some other social networking apps have done.