Any Yalie will attest to the difficulty of actually getting a meal with someone. During freshman year, the opportunity presents itself in droves—every day new friends are made, but most promises of lunch are never actually brought to fruition. The closer students come to senior year, the more these opportunities decrease. Once cliques have formed it is difficult not only to make new friends, but to find a communal time to get a meal.
Enter Pear | Yale, a “delicious lunch-pairing web app” for “when you want to get to know someone new, for when you’re an upperclassman who wants to feel like a freshman again, for when you’d rather not have a lunch date with your laptop, for when you’re hungry damnit.” What Pear does is deceptively simple—you enter in your name, margin of time you have for lunch, and area of campus you’d like to eat. Pear, in return, pairs you with a random Yale student to grab lunch.
The app was created by Sahil Gupta SY 17’, host of the infamous bull report, master of deadpan humor, and coder extraordinaire with a flair for puns and writing exclusively in the lower case. It sprang out of YEI’s summer Tech Bootcamp 2014 with the help of Jenny Allen TC 16’. Gupta and Allen, frustrated with the number of apps from Silicon Valley that solve “problems that don’t exist” knew they wanted to fix a problem emblematic of the Yale dining experience. Noting they missed the “feeling of being a freshman” the two sought to create an app that would encourage people to get outside the Yale bubble and would serve as a nonalcoholic social lubricant. With over 900 members currently signed up on the website, it is clear that the demand for a social dining app was not underestimated.
Gupta and Allen began working in August on the project that took a total of two to three weeks to code. They stumbled on the pairing algorithm, eventually realizing that they were over-thinking. Now the pairing algorithm is completely random—running the same groups of people twice will yield different pairs. After the Tech Bootcamp, Allen stopped working on it, leaving user experience and debugging to Gupta.
Pear’s user experience separates it from a host of other student created web apps. Not only does Pear solve a real “Yalie problem” it does so beautifully. Gupta, in building the website, noted that the biggest challenge was in building trust. Pear requires CAS login and the immediate photo on the home page is a pear on a Yale plate, a familiar object. The word “stranger” never appears in the app, because it tends to have negative connotations related to danger and discomfort. The website is humorous and personable, written entirely in the lower case. Famous paintings are featured sporadically with little pears added in relevant areas.
The website also recognizes that people have a short attention span. Gupta built Pear such that the user only has to click a minimum amount of times to reach their objective. Time slots are predetermined, and dining halls are grouped such that a user could either click on a specific dining hall or a cluster. For example, clicking “south” selects Pierson, Davenport, Branford, and JE. The layout is visually simple and intuitive. The only thing you can click on the front page leads you directly to CAS login. From there you can either use the explanatory set of menu bars, or click the only available next button, simply labeled “go.” The final “thank you” page even offers the keyboard shortcut for bookmarking the website. (Fun fact: the website pays homage to isitchickentendersday by linking back to it on their “thanks” page). For users who want more of an explanation, there is a Vimeo on the home page that runs through the entire process.
Gupta made these design choices by following his intuition, and asking a group of beta testers. It is through these methods he ultimately decided against Facebook integration, because he felt it defied the point of meeting new people. An app with the purpose of pairing people randomly, outside of a given social circle, would not necessarily benefit from being attached to another social media platform. This is also the method that led him to consider, “OCS the anti-example.” As a rising senior at Yale, Pear certainly excites me. I can’t agree more with Gupta’s own assessment of Pear: “food, people, and surprise—what more could you ask for. Besides cannibalism, Pear is our only option that does all three.”
It is Gupta’s hope that Pear will take off even beyond its 900 member point. If this goes successfully, he sees no reason not to making a pairing app for other activities. I can’t wait to see what he builds next.