Social app IRL closes after just 5% of accounts found to be real

IRL, a social network once valued at $1.17 billion, will close today (IRL)
IRL, a social network once valued at $1.17 billion, will close today (IRL)

Just two years ago, following a $170 million funding round led by SoftBank, IRL was worth an estimated $1.17 billion. In just a few hours, the application will be turned off once and for all.

“IRL is shutting down and the application will formally be turned off on June 27th at 12pm PDT [18:00 BST],” a note on the official website reads. The Android and iOS apps have already been removed from their respective stores.

According to a report from The Information, the sudden closure is due to a damning internal investigation by the board of directors, which found that just 5% of the app’s reported 20 million users were real people.

The remaining 95% were “automated or from bots”, according to a company spokesperson.

Automated accounts are to be expected on social networks, but conflating them with real users is seriously misleading as they can’t be monetised like humans, harming the road to profitability.

Elon Musk notoriously tried to get out of purchasing Twitter because of his belief that 20% of the user base were bots. So a 95% saturation on IRL — a network of around 9% the size — was always likely to be terminal.

IRL’s remaining funds will be returned to shareholders, a spokesperson told The Information, but it’s not clear how much there is left. When the company cut 25% of its staff last June, an employee told TechCrunch that they’d heard the company had “around $100 million still in the bank… years and years or runway”.

If you’re wondering what you missed out on, IRL was an app designed to promote real-life get-togethers from concerts to fun runs. Essentially, anything done in the real world — hence the name IRL, which stands for “in real life” in online lingo.

Covid hit that ambition hard, and for a while, IRL officially stood for “In Remote Life”, but the functionality remained the same. In essence, IRL was part messenger app, part calendar all with a dash of event discovery.

In short, it shared a lot of functionality with the early days of Facebook, but was squarely aimed at a demographic that had no interest in it.

And it was quite open about this: “We’re building Facebook groups and events for the generation that doesn’t use Facebook,” then-CEO Abraham Shafi told The Verge in 2021. “There just happens to be no other product really focused on this space for the next generation.”

The word “then” is important here. Shafi was suspended in late April over allegations of misconduct, with an acting CEO installed in his place. Two months later, and the show is officially over.