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““I want a dating app where all I can see is the person’s metadata,” the poet Noel Black tweeted Monday. It reminded me of the passage in fashion and culture critic Natasha Stagg’s new book, in which she confesses: “I want to organize the people I know. I feel simultaneously like I miss every person I’ve ever met, and like I could go without seeing any of them again.” It also reminded me of a college friend who kept a spreadsheet of boys she kissed (organized by frat), the Google calendar invite I sent my former roommate so we wouldn’t forget to have a conversation next Thursday, and the recent mini-boom in “personal CRM” apps.
“CRM” stands for “customer relationship management,” and it is a horrifically boring category of software. It was popularized in the late ’90s and early 2000s as a way of keeping track of all the ways an individual customer interacts with a business, and of systematically maintaining contact with that customer over years and years. (Salesforce is a CRM, as is HubSpot. MailChimp also includes quite a few CRM features in its email marketing service.) A personal CRM is the same thing, but for your personal life—networking, dating, making new friends, making friends with people who could also turn out to be valuable professional connections, going on dates with people who turned out to be useless professional connections.
The most recent class of startups to come out of the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator program included three such companies, Axios reported in August, under the headline “Startups’ new frontier: Optimizing your friendships.” In fact, there are so many personal CRM apps you might need a spreadsheet to keep track of all their names and taglines—each a little remix of the others, contorting adorably around the limitations of the friendship-software vocabulary to say, ultimately, the same chilling thing.”
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