Facefeed and the ever-elusive search for a real human connection, sans dick pics

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on February 27, 2014

From The News Desk

Faces from the public feed of the app

My phone buzzes for the millionth time today. It's my own fault for enabling so many notifications.

I peek at my screen, assuming it's Secret telling me that yet another friend overshared some anonymous tidbit about their life. Instead, a little red icon pops up from an app I downloaded in the wee hours of the morning and forgot about: Facefeed.

The icon takes me to exactly what the app's name suggests: A feed. Of faces. Facefeed is like Chatroulette with photos instead of video. To sign up for the app you take a picture of yourself, one that you can't see after the fact.

The founder, Ben Cera, built it that way on purpose. "Without the selfies, at some point you're actually communicating with someone instead of thinking about how you look," Cera tells me.

Then your face appears in a mobile feed above and below other selfies. For strangers to message you they have to take a picture of themselves (that they also can't view) and add text. It's some of the goofier selfies you'll ever see, since people can't see or delete the shot after the fact. Faces get squished and weird neck wrinkles appear and shots are blurry or in the dark.

Yes, it's just as creepy as it sounds.

In my personal messages, there's a sweet looking Asian girl named Kina, who says hi. Then a man named AndrewCollins, eyebrows raised and chin resting on a bedspread. Then another man. And another. And another. Dude central up in here.

Their messages start to sound similar. One asks me "Why are you so frustrated?" Another says "Don't be flustered baby girl." A third and fourth make fun of my hair. I presume when I took my app selfie -- at 5 am following an impromptu story interview -- I'm tousled and grumpy. I wouldn't know since I can't see my own picture.

The founder of Facefeed,  Ben Cera, is also the creator of my favorite picture messaging app: Context. But when I interview him about Facefeed, I don't sugar coat my concern. "This creeps me out," I say. "I shiver a little every time I get a new selfie from a stranger."

Cera laughs and says, "I think it's like a party."

He doesn't see Facefeed as an intrusive, strange way to pass one's time. He sees it as a way to connect to others, without the bullshit veneer of social media. He tells me,

People act on Instagram and Facebook like they're really cool and they only share really cool moments. But at the end of the day they're home alone watching Netflix. In those moments it's interesting to see engagement spike. Yesterday at 10 pm there were 4,000 messages sent an hour, and I don't have that many users yet.
That's probably what the founders of Chatroulette thought too. That they were opening up a new way of communicating and engaging in real human moments. But in the end the sentimental value was swapped out for dick vids.

Cera knows that Facefeed faces the same challenge. In fact, he's so worried about the emergence of dick pics that he's avoided marketing the app to any mainstream press.

Yeah, that should solve it.