BILLINGS — A new take on social media is now available in Billings, aiming to connect people with similar interests and hobbies.
“Converge is a privacy-based social network,” said Kevin Scharfe, the Billings-based co-founder and CEO of the app. “We built this because we’ve heard there’s a lot of folks, especially here in Billings, that are really struggling with loneliness. They’re feeling disconnected. It’s really hard for them to find their people.”
Production of Converge first started four years ago in Billings when Scharfe said he and his business partner, Trevor Hartman, noticed that other social media apps were becoming "a breeding ground for negativity." People were becoming addicted to the platforms, and the apps were invading privacy.
Just a few weeks ago, Scharfe and Hartman launched the first city-based network: Converge Billings. Through Converge, people can find events, classes, groups and activities happening in the community. The goal of the app is to bring people together in person.
“We have over 55 different interest groups right now. Ranging from hiking groups, there’s a mountain biking group on there. There’s a yoga group, crafting group,” Scharfe said.
The app also holds community-wide challenges. For the month of May, they're holding a scavenger hunt around Billings at different businesses and trails.
Andrea Hilario was at the Shiloh Conservation Area Thursday participating in the scavenger hunt with friends.
“There’s boxes or clues hidden all over Billings. There’s some in stores, but most of them are on trails that you just kind of have to go around and find from the app. They give you all the clues on the app,” said Hilario.
Anna Mattie was participating in the scavenger hunt with Hilario. Together they found the three specific items hidden throughout the trail to earn points or prizes in the app. Once they found what they were looking for, either a box or word on a sign, it contained a "password" to enter into the app.
“I’ve lived in this city all my life, but it’s still cool to go to these places I’ve never been to, these businesses I’ve never been to and get to explore them. It’s a way to get out and enjoy it,” Mattie said.
In just a week of running the scavenger hunt, Scharfe said they've seen great participation.
“We currently have over 600 people just here in Billings who are actively using the app. And we have about 80 people who are playing the scavenger hunt game,” Scharfe said.
The app is free to download and use.
"It's a locally built, locally grown platform," Scharfe said.