This app wants to end texts that just say “what are you up to”

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Credit: Kevin C. Tofel/Gigaom

For many people in their twenties, a night out on the town starts with a flurry of text messages. Specifically, text messages that provide little actual information besides “hey man, what are your plans,” or for your succinct friends, sometimes a simple “hey what’s up.”

Red/Green, an iOS app that launches today, is looking to simplify telling your friends that you’re down to hang out. Like Yo — remember Yo? — it’s a dead simple app that gives you a social binary. You set your status to green if you want to chill, and red when you’re busy. When you set your availability to green, the app gives you a way to set a status and asks “what’s the plan?”

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The app is phone-centered, so it’s not forcing users to use a special messaging app. The app searches your contacts to find mutual matches, and the app sends you to Messages — traditional text messaging — instead of keeping you in a proprietary messaging program.

“There’s a lot of social risk when you send out text messages to friends,” founder Max Stoller said. “This app is meant to be a lightweight, easy way to say ‘I’m down to hang,’ even to people who you might not text all the time.”

It can get complicated, though. Users are given the option to only “green” a subset of their friends, so your friend who nobody likes doesn’t necessarily get to know your status, although the default setting is to broadcast your status to everyone who has the app. For instance, some users might not like to “green” everyone but can instead decide to give the green light only to friends or a current fling.

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When somebody “greens” you, or tells your phone that they are available, the app sends an anonymized push notification that doesn’t include the sender’s declared status or identity. It merely indicates that someone in your network is looking to get together. You can only see if somebody’s Red/Green status if you’re in their contacts — so you don’t have to worry about strangers knowing about where you are.

Red/Green is bootstrapped and hasn’t received venture capital, although Stoller worked as an analyst at New York-based Lehrer Ventures before quitting to build Red/Green.

For me, the app feels a throwback to a bygone era of AIM when people used to provide their actual whereabouts as their away message. Unfortunately, like AIM, you probably don’t have friends using Red/Green (because it just launched.) Red/Green is certainly the kind of app that benefits from network effects; The more people you know who use it, the more useful you’ll find it.

If a good proportion of people at a single college campus end up using it, it could end up being indispensable to those students for organizing social events. Given the additional information that Red/Green provides, the texts you send should end up being a bit more creative than “what’s up.”

You can grab Red/Green from the iOS App Store.

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