You’re sitting at the coffee shop copping free wi-fi so you can work on the freelance interactive project that is nearing deadline. A quick glance around the café and you notice everyone else banging away furiously on laptops and sipping caffeinated beverages. Ever consider what those similar-looking people were up to?
Columbus, Ohio resident Matthew Martindale (@madikarizma) spent most of his workday in a café absorbing the sights and sounds and wondered what it would be like to further humanize the coffee shop worker experience. He figured most of the café’ commuters he saw on a daily basis probably had similar interests, passions and experiences.
“I didn’t know a lot of people (in Columbus),” said Martindale, who moved to Ohio from New York City in 2008 and started his own interactive design firm. “I did a lot of working in coffee shops and started seeing familiar faces and trends in the types of people I would see. I assumed they all had something in common so I really started thinking about how people with like-minds are connecting.”
Martindale was well-versed in the social spaces of Facebook and Twitter but knew there was something missing that could benefit his coffee shop brethren on a local level. He started to think about how to engage people online and then bring them offline to meet face-to-face. In March of 2010 Martindale bought the domain name www.cbusr.com, with the name being a play on “Cbus” a popular nickname for the city. The local social networking site was launched later that year in August and after some early positive feedback, Martindale and his business partner made it fully incorporated in October.
Cbusr.com (currently hovering near 2,000 users) is like any other social networking site in that it starts with creating a user profile. Two unique characteristics of the profile setup are tagging both the industry that best describes what you do and the neighborhood where you live. You can then filter through all the users to see who works in “Media” or who lives in “Italian Village.” You can browse through all the profiles and select people that you would like to meet and you can also leave compliments for people that you do know. The compliment feature is key in softening the apprehension that might come from meeting an online stranger, as it helps establish a bit of credibility or give insight into that person.
“(The compliment feature) is kind of an icebreaking change,” Martindale said. “We want people to feel that meeting offline is not scary.”
In order to help encourage and facilitate offline interaction between Cbusr users, Martindale hosts monthly Cbusr meetups at area bars and hangouts. These well-attended events have led to several serendipitous connections amongst users, while also giving Martindale a chance to hobnob and refine the site experience.
“It is rewarding to be partly responsible for a connection made,” said Martindale, who estimated that about 10 users have landed jobs through Cbusr and another 10 have created a client relationship. “I’m constantly listening to the users. Every meet-up I try to get around the room and get ideas on features, criticisms and usability.”
While Cbusr approaches its 1-year anniversary, Martindale plans to celebrate by adding new user features and continuing to grow its local footprint. That’s not to say other markets aren’t out of future plans, as he has fielded interest from people in cities like Cleveland, Nashville and Charlotte, clamoring for something similar to Cbusr. No matter the long-term growth strategy, the goal will always be to connect people offline.
“I believe at the end of the day, most people want to be in person and share experiences with other people,” Martindale said. “The internet should be a gateway to having real life experiences.”