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‘Down to Lunch’ on the rise

| Thursday, January 21, 2016

DowntoLunch_Scene_WebLucy Du | The Observer

Life as an on-campus senior is great. I get all the benefits of living close to my classes, meetings and most especially the dining hall (not having to cook for yourself is particularly clutch). Most of these benefits involve more sleep and less travel time, especially when the weather is as bitterly cold as it is now (full disclosure: If I lived off campus, I probably just wouldn’t have gone to class this week).

Life as an on-campus senior is also awful. Living on campus means I live farther away from a lot of my friends. And, as an adult, I have to endure one last year of parietals, and some on my fellow on-campus seniors may very well sleep in a bunk bed as a 22-year-old.

And, although I do not have to cook for myself, I often end up eating alone in the dining hall because none of my on-campus friends are available and none of my off-campus friends have meal plans. I don’t mind it too much, but I’ve missed being able to walk down the hallway and instantly find five people to eat lunch with.

But now there’s an app for that. Down to Lunch, or DTL for short, exploded onto Notre Dame’s campus at the beginning of the semester. It’s the latest place the app has taken off since Stanford computer science grads Joe Lau and Nikil Viswanathan developed it last May.

The app allows users to notify other friends who have the app when they are free to get a meal, chill, go out, study, get coffee or join in on a host of other activities. Based on Notre Dame user feedback, you can now let others know when you are “Down to Feve” and “Down to Mass.”

When I spoke with Lau and Viswanathan over the phone Wednesday, the San Francisco-based friends said Notre Dame is one of the first places where they have started integrating user responses.

“We had a ton of people texting asking for Down to Feve,” Viswanathan said. “At first we thought it was a joke and after talking to a bunch of really friendly students, we realized it was legit and added it.”

Users can also makes lists of friends within the app to notify only certain people when they are free. For instance, I have an “on-campus friends” list I use when I am looking for friends to eat with at the dining hall. When users tap the button that they are down to lunch, dinner, chill, etc., other friends get a notification on their phone and can text back if they are interested in joining.

And while thousands of users across the country and the world have downloaded the app, Lau and Viswanathan said it began as a simple way for them to reconnect with friends in San Francisco, and provided an alternative to sending blast text messages to make plans with large groups.

“We had the idea one Sunday afternoon and just built it for fun,” Viswanathan said. “It was just a side project until it blew up.”

Before the app took off at Notre Dame, Lau said students at the University of Georgia, University of Connecticut and Vanderbilt began using the app widely.

Lau and Viswanathan said they still run the app from their apartment by themselves. App users have the option to “Talk to Team DTL,” which directly connects them with the two founders on their personal cell phones, and the pair said they receive between 3,000 and 5,000 texts a day.

Some of my friends at Notre Dame have criticized the app, saying it’s no different than a group text or that they don’t understand the need for a whole app dedicated to the premise, but these critics appear to be in the minority. Lau and Viswanathan said within 10 to 12 hours of the app popping up at Notre Dame, 15 percent of the school had downloaded it.

“More than 15 percent of Notre Dame got it in less than a day. It was nuts,” Viswanathan said of the rapid spread at Notre Dame, a growth that occurred despite the fact that he and Viswanathan said they have not done any marketing or promotion for the app anywhere. And while they said they don’t know exactly where the app will go from here, they said they remain dedicated to interacting with users and incorporating their ideas into DTL. So, Notre Dame DTL users, look out for a “Down to Club Hes” option coming soon.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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