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First Look: KNKI, a mobile kinkster-finding app

How many times has this happened to you: You’re in a strange city, you don’t really know anybody, but you do really need to be tied down and paddled?

Until now, your choices were pretty much punching up Craigslist on your phone, trying to get away with browsing CollarMe on some library’s PC, or asking a cab driver for a really big favor. I know, it didn’t seem fair; in an era of Grindr and Tinder and Lavendr, what was a poor kinkster to do?

Enter KNKI.

KNKI is a new app, just released on the Apple and Google app stores, that shows other BDSM and altsex practitioners in your area. It gives you pictures, ways to contact. and some basic data about them and their interests.

To be sure, KNKI aspires to be more than a hookup app. Its profiles include fields for running status updates, like Facebook. And, similar to vanilla social apps, pictures can be “liked” and commented on.  But for an online equivalent, it is closer to CollarMe than to FetLife.  At least in its current iteration, KNKI is better for finding new acquaintances and partners than building and maintaining community.  But it’s early innings, and the KNKI team has bigger aspirations.

Party-Line Phone

It’s always tricky to review the first release of anything, whether it’s a car, a newborn child, or especially an app.   No matter what you see now, you know it’s going to be very different once they’ve had some time to learn, grow, and work through the bugs. (Or, in the case of the child, to eat some of them.)  The folks behind KNKI are actively soliciting ideas for improvement.  But here’s our first look at where it stands today:

KNKI’s main screen shows you pictures of other users. You can have it show you people who are close by, who are generally sorted by distance, or a selection of all KNKI users.  Tap on the picture and you get a basic profile with age, relationship status, gender, orientation, and some basic choices of “lifestyle role” — dominant, submissive, switch, slave, kinkster, or other.   (In setting up your profile, you get to choose what you’re looking for from an even longer list of roles.  You can also choose from a variety of relationship statuses, including poly, although the “Seeking” menu does not yet include poly partners.)

The app lets you filter who you see by any of those criteria as well as ethnicity.  It does not – yet – limit who you see to only those who haven’t excluded you by one of the same criteria, so while you may enjoy exploring the profiles you see, some of those folks aren’t ever going to be interested in you.

Unlike some other social networks, the KNKI app lets you see who has looked at your profile, even if they chose not to interact further, so you know who’s been perving you.  It can also limit displayed profiles to people you’ve already interacted with in various ways.

When looking at a particular profile, you can choose to follow the person and be notified of their subsequent updates. A button unlocks your private photos (about which more soon) to that person. You can also instant message them (using an internal-to-KNKI message system) or give them what’s called a “Shout-Out” – like a Facebook poke, but with some additional variations allowing you to let the other person know you think they’re cute, hot, funny, or have a great smile, that you are interested in a playdate, or that they appeal to your sapiosexual side.  “Shout-Outs” can be icebreakers to indicate interest or dip that first-contact toe in the water.  (Should things go south from there, a drop-down menu on the profile page also allows you to report or block that specific user.)

An app settings menu allows you to choose units of distance (“You’re so far for me in kilometers!”); whether the front page shows you profiles or random photos; and whether profiles are shown just for people near you or from among all KNKI users. It also lets you set alerts and notifications of different user interactions.

Show and Tell

The free version of KNKI lets you upload up to 10 pictures, which can be marked as public or private. You control on a case-by-case basis who is allowed to see your private pictures (although not on a picture by picture basis; there is no way to isolate, say, face pictures from cock shots beyond the public versus private designation.  Someone who can see your private pictures can see all of your private pictures.)   A photo feed button from the main page allows you to see the latest pictures from people you’re following, or to explore other users’ most recently uploaded public pictures.  Pictures can also be searched by tags applied by the uploaders.

In looking through the profile photos, it’s clear that the emphasis is on showing people as people rather than body parts, and while respecting preferences for privacy, KNKI’s photo guidelines encourage smiling faces for those shots.

At least for now, KNKI moderates the uploaded photos.  They have very strong terms of use guidelines, designed to comport with US law, that prohibit some of the more explicit pictures you might see elsewhere whether they are designated public or private (no intercourse, animals, kids, scat, etc.)  “Public” pictures require covered breasts, buttocks, and genitals, although there does appear to be the usual double standard regarding naked chests; men’s are OK, while women’s apparently are not.  Many male-bodied users have bare-chested profile photos.

As a test, I uploaded a picture of my (male) chest in a mesh shirt; this apparently passed muster as being clothed.  Bare-chest shots remained public, but a photo of me naked except for skimpy underwear was locked as private-only by the moderator, as were a nipple closeup, a drawing of my bare bum, and a photo of bound wrists.  As all pictures, whether public or private, are reviewed before being posted, it will be interesting to see how they maintain that practice (or what wait times become) should usage greatly increase.

Some People Pay for It

Everything we’ve discussed so far features in the basic, free version of KNKI. Upgrading to a paid subscription for $9.99 a month or $89.99 per year allows you to see more photos (currently, the front page shows 115.)  Subscribing also gives you a bigger inbox, the ability to upload more than 10 photos of yourself, read-message receipts, and activates two features on the main page. One is a filter to show only those members who are currently online (a hookup mode, if you will); the other is a travel function, allowing you to see KNKI members sorted by proximity to a specified place rather than just those close to you.

Safeword “Yellow”

A few things don’t work quite right yet. The most obvious bug is that no matter what gender or preference a user sets, the text on a profile (appearing over the picture) says “Prefers guys.” KNKI is aware of this bug, and promises a fix in their next release, due the third week of January.

We also found that the function of showing users near you was spotty. For example, while it showed people more than 100 miles away, it didn’t show an existing user who was 9 miles away, even when it was set to show users who were off-line.  (It turns out that if a user doesn’t have pictures posted, they won’t show in the proximity view.)  Similarly, I found a random user who was shown as 1/10th of a mile away from me – but no matter where I went, she was always 1/10th of a mile away from me.  (I swear she’s not locked in my trunk.)

Summing Up

I tested the proximity feature further by running KNKI continuously on a train trip between New York and Washington, watching the range of faces change as the miles unreeled.  Because the app is so new, the installed base is pretty small, so there were only a handful of different users in that corridor (and those familiar with the East Coast kink scene know just how many thousands of like-minded people are there), but that number will only grow as KNKI catches on.

The question is, will it?  Right now, as noted, KNKI’s strongest feature is enabling you to find and meet new people. Grindr, Tinder, and the like are unapologetic about their orientation toward the easy hookup.  BDSM often works differently, with a greater orientation toward relationships.  It will be interesting to see how KNKI adapts to that reality.  Perhaps a bigger question is to what extent an app like this compliments existing online entities –- or compels them to come up with better mobile apps themselves.

Also, I can see KNKI being a real boon for those in areas where kink is less common, and meetups few. Finding out who’s around and like-minded is never easy, but especially difficult away from the major urban areas.

Right now, KNKI is a good first effort, and it’s fun. It’s worth downloading, (and not just if you prefer guys.)   Time will tell whether enough people spring for the paid subscriptions to keep it going, but for now it’s great to see energy and imagination being applied to make BDSM life more vibrant.

 

For more about KNKI, see www.KNKIApp.com or www.facebook.com/KNKIApp.  They are also KNKIapp on FetLife.