Chile social network busts shyness
Santiago - You're madly in love but you just can't work up the nerve to let him or her know? Chile's social network Huntcha is out to blast through that great wall of shyness and hook people up.
It's been around for just a few months and already some 45 000 people have signed up - perhaps some of them eyeing the celebrations for St Valentine's Day on February 14.
Natalia Rojas is 27, and - hard to imagine for those who are not shy - spent 10 long years in love with the friend of a friend. She dated other people, as did Javier Alvarez, a platonic friend unaware of her true feelings.
They ran into each other at a few parties and events but never said more than "hello".
"That went on for 10 years," she recalled with some dismay.
But her luck, and her life, changed when she decided to see if she could use Huntcha to see if there was any chance Javier was interested in her, too.
She got the surprise of her life.
"We have been together for four months now. And this is going to sound impossible, but it is the solidest relationship I have had, in my life," said Natalia, who still can't believe a social network helped bring them together.
Sebastian Arteaga, one of the partners at Huntcha, wants to make something very clear: "We are not a dating site.
"This is a network for people who are romantically interested in someone and have not dared to say so, to do it in a safe place," he said in an interview.
Confidentiality and privacy are key to what Huntcha does.
It uses social media giant Facebook as a platform to put would-be lovers in contact; to verify that people actually do exist; and to check that they already know each other.
"It works if you want to make known your special interest in friends, teachers, neighbours or your brothers' and sisters' friends, not with people like Angelina Jolie," Arteaga said, explaining that each person's Facebook profile is used as a digital identity document which can be used as a search engine.
When you set up a Huntcha account, you make a list of one to nine platonic friends you would like to turn into something else.
If any of the people listed in turn puts you on their list, shazam, a match is automatically generated. Both parties get a note saying that someone on their list shares a mutual interest.
"At that point, you may well develop acute anxiety wondering who it actually is," he joked.
Then comes the moment to give your would-be suitor a clue: You can send them a song you danced to two years ago, or maybe a video or a photo to help them figure out who you are.
"Why not look for that song that you two danced to, so that the moment they hear it, they know who it is," Arteaga said.
When someone figures out who the clue-dropper is, and the two know there is some mutual admiration, they can contact each other on Facebook, knowing that their love - never before professed - is good news.
And the parties involved avoid feeling like idiots in the sometimes cold woods of courting.
For Natalia, Huntcha was all about avoiding frustration.
"If your [currently but hopefully not permanently] platonic interest does not put you on his list, then nothing happens. And he is never even going to know that you were interested in him," she said.
Huntcha said that in its four-month war on shyness, 30 000 people have signed up and more than 1 500 matches have been made.
Early Huntcha use shows some social trends: Women tend to put one or two love interests, while men tend to put more, and change them more often.
Arteaga said the idea for the company was born in a meeting with twins Sebastian and Cristobal Zegers who run an advertising agency, during a brainstorming session on another idea.
The Zegers were inspired by the movie Social Network, which tells the tale of the birth of Facebook which twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss say was their idea which was stolen from them by Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg.
"We realised that Facebook was born as a tool for men to meet women," Arteaga said. So they took it from there, and narrowed their scope. The rest, they hope, will be a shyness-busting smashing success.