First introductions can be hard. Why not let an algorithm do it for you?

222, a student-run ‘in-person social network,’ uses machine learning and facilitated experiences to help Trojans meet new people.

Four people sit around a table in a backyard sharing food and conversation.

Imagine letting an algorithm help you make real connections with other people. You receive a date and an address. You show up. You meet three other strangers and let the curated experience bring about conversations with people you may have never met.

These molded meet-ups are created by 222, an organization that describes itself as an “in-person social network,” as a way to reimagine how we meet and connect with new people. 222 was created by USC students Danial Hashemi and Arman Roshannai, alongside University of California, Irvine student Keyan Kazemian in an effort to bring students together.

Quinn Pettit, a junior majoring in environmental studies, was initially nervous to step into a social situation with three strangers, but has now participated in two meet-ups.

“It is nerve-wracking, but they facilitate it, so it’s not awkward,” Pettit said. “I met people that I still see and people that I really liked.”

Willing 222 participants fill out an online personality test to determine their interests, passions and characteristics, that then match them with similar people. Then, users receive a text asking if they’d like to participate in a 222 experience that week. If they say yes, participants will receive a date, time and location to meet three other like-minded strangers. But the experience doesn’t stop there.

222 also partners with restaurants, clubs, music venues and other nightlife locations in L.A. to make it a “special” experience. In one instance, restaurant staff may hand out cards with thought-provoking questions on them to initiate conversation.

“There is no other medium that makes the stakes as low and takes as much pressure off as 222 does for you to meet people that you’re going to feel comfortable with and that you’re going to like,” said Hashemi, co-founder of 222 and a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and economics.

Together, the three co-founders set out to create a place where students could meet “their people.” Using machine learning, their algorithm attempts to predict how well people are going to interact.

What started as a research project earlier this year, titled the “Serendipity Project,” the trio received a grant from UCI and set out to build their platform. They initially tested their algorithms and matchmaking abilities with friends in one of the founder’s backyards — the address of which started with 222 and quickly became their platform’s name. During that first trial run, the team cooked dinner for the participants and created a comfortable experience for those involved.

Hashemi said their friends and initial clients loved the experience so much that they began telling other people about 222 and it grew organically. The trio decided to move in together and pivot their idea into a business. After having a soft launch at the start of September, 222 has grown to almost 600 monthly active users.

Rojan Javaheri, a junior majoring in neuroscience, participated in a 222 experience in September, after attending USC virtually for nearly a year and a half.

“It was a good way to put myself out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Javaheri and three other strangers met at a restaurant and were given cards to encourage conversation around their biggest fears, songs that held significant meanings to them and more. After dinner, her group of four met another 222 group at a speakeasy downtown to continue the experience.

“It’s good to have this as a way to meet people because it’s more official and legitimate than dating apps,” Javaheri said. “And because you just want to make friends sometimes.”

222′s tagline, “an exploration in serendipity,” hints at the idea that people often meet significant people in their lives through happenstance or coincidence. Hashemi met his best friend in high school and noted that if he had lived a mere 10 minutes down the road in a different school district, he may never have met them.

“There’s always someone around the corner that can really change your life just based on who they are and the things you all have in common,” Hashemi said. “What 222 aims to do is bring those people together.”

In an increasingly digital era, further isolating because of the pandemic, which moved nearly every human interaction online, more people than ever are experiencing loneliness. A recent study revealed that 61% of young adults ages 18 to 25 reported feeling “serious loneliness” frequently or almost all the time, according to the Making Caring Common Project through the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“We want to swing the pendulum the opposite way and try to make what we think is the best way to create these relationships in-person,” Hashemi said.

Some dating apps, such as Tinder, Hinge or Bumble, have attempted to make it easier for people to make romantic connections online. However, as Hashemi points out, the connections you make on those apps can often be shallow or lead to nowhere.

“On all those apps, you’re only interacting with people’s content, you’re not interacting with their personality,” Hashemi said. “You’re only interacting with pictures and videos they chose to share with you. And the amount of people that you actually end up meeting is pretty low. But with 222, you’ll meet three people, at least, that you’re scientifically proven to like more.”

Currently, 222 volunteers are handing out small business cards with information about how students can sign up. They are planning on pushing their platform at USC and UCLA before expanding to other universities in L.A. and New York. The trio is also hoping to develop new features within 222 such as shareable results of users’ personality tests and the ability to compare your results with people you already know to see others’ compatibility.

Though they are starting with college students, Hashemi said they hope to expand their audience to new graduates as well as graduate and doctoral students who may have a harder time meeting new people.

“This isn’t just something for someone who might feel lonely because they haven’t made any friends,” Hashemi said. “This is something for anyone. Because you’ve never really met enough people.”