‘New People Nearby’ – With more than 700,000 users, aka-aki was one of Europe's most influential mobile social networks of its time.

A screenshot of a social media profile, showing a male person named berlinboy.
A screenshot of aka-aki for iOS - when skeumorphic UIs were still en vogue.

With more than 700,000 users, aka-aki was one of Europe's most influential mobile social networks of its time. Remember 2008? Apple’s first iPhone had just been launched, and data plans were something for nerds and MBAs with Blackberries (who ridiculed the iPhone’s touchscreen).

aka-aki’s focus was on meeting new people: It logged encountered members on-the-go, based on your location, so you could get in contact later – even when you missed to exchange contact data.

aka-aki won the 13th Annual Webby Award in 2008, and the media raved about it. Le Monde, a french newspaper, dedicated a whole two-pager to it.

In 2008, aka-aki existed as J2ME app. J2ME was an arcane technology allowing you to install very minimal apps on your phone – under 100kb big. Technically, the app worked very similar to today's Bluetooth contact tracing apps for Covid, but as a social network. You could even participate without installing an app at all: You just had to register your Bluetooth device ID, after which your phone was discoverable even when you had no data plan. If an internet-enabled device owned by somebody else discovered your phone in range, you simply got an SMS notification. All of this worked before the iPhone. It was pretty fancy stuff at its time.

Notifying the iPhones potential, aka-aki hired me to built an iPhone native app – based on GPS, as the iPhone did not yet support Bluetooth for apps. Later we became a mobile dev team. I lead that team until 2011, when the fast-growing, promising mobile advertising market was ‘disrupted’ into non-existence for a while: ringtone subscription scam supported by phone carriers and missing regulation caused a cost-per-click rise that wasn’t affordable even for valuable brands. This way, the mobile ad ecosystem became a trash fire for many years – no serious brands wanted to be associated with it. Incompatible leadership visions inside the team didn't make it easier, and a patent troll lawsuit finally nailed the startup’s coffin.

I’m very thankful for this experience and the fun time though, as it was a chance to learn a lot – about tech, business, power, friendship, and life itself.

Media Quotes

Face to Facebook: aka-aki is on a mission to get social networkers onto the streets. — CNN.com
For the users, aka-aki is simple and intuitive. — Le Monde, France
It sounds futuristic. But it is here already! — BBC Radio 5, May 9th 2008, 6.55 PM
simply ingenious — BILD.de