Lived experience of chronic illness and social isolation is driving the development of a new social media platform that aims to foster community connections.

Spoony, which will launch to the wider public in May, is a dating and friendship app specially designed for neurodivergent, chronically ill and people with disability.

Founder and CEO Nicholas Carlton told Danielle Kutchel he has personally experienced “the profound social isolation that so often goes hand in hand with chronic illness and disability”.

“It was a difficult time for me, but [it] stuck with me just how removed from society chronically ill and disabled people and neurodivergent people can be,” he said.

Spoony was publicly announced just eight weeks ago and in that time, Carlton said eager future users had reached out to share their own stories, showing just how widespread the experience of loneliness is.

Billed as the world’s first social network purpose-built for the neurodivergent, chronically ill and disabled community, Spoony has already received “tremendous” interest, Carlton said.

“I would describe it as euphoric – all the responses on TikTok and all the comments we’re getting in the surveys, I’ve just been absolutely amazed. We are super excited about potentially solving this problem and helping the community,” he said.

Close to 10,000 people are currently on the waitlist, demonstrating what Carlton calls the “pent-up demand” for an app of its kind.

Spoony is being shaped by its waitlist into the kind of app most relevant to them, with the functionality they need. There will be space for users to post their thoughts and pictures, organise events, share job opportunities or requests, and swipe on profiles to match as friends or romantic prospects.

The founding team aims to build a completely accessible social media platform, with inclusivity at its core. Its advisory board consists of people with lived experience too, including recently announced ambassador Carly Findlay.

Carlton said the organisation wants to build a team with as diverse lived experience as possible to help shape the platform.

“We’re also engaging with expert accessibility consultants to make sure that we are meeting all the different access needs. We’re putting a lot of effort into making sure that the platform is accessible to the widest number of people as possible.”

Spoony is also being designed as a safe space, he added, where people can feel celebrated and be their true selves.

“It’s a curated community of people that understand you,” he said.

Carlton hopes that Spoony will become a sort of town square for the whole community, as opposed to other platforms that silo people according to their condition.

“We see it as a comprehensive platform where social connections of all kinds are facilitated,” he said.

Spoony will adopt a freemium model like some dating apps, but Carlton said the team behind it is conscious of the needs of the community, and for that reason, “there will always be a way to use it for free”.

“We’ll always make sure that there is a complete experience [for all users].

“My ambition for Spoony is that we become a major social network. If you look at the fact that one in six people has a disability, almost one in two has a chronic illness and 40 per cent of people are neurodivergent… there’s tremendous potential with what this platform can be and how many people it can help.”

Spoony’s beta program will launch at the end of April to about 700 people, with a public launch in late May.

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Photo caption: L to R: Larissa Kutny (Community Manager), Kenneth Liang (Chief Technology Officer), Nicholas Carlton (Chief Executive Officer), Blake Crichton (Chief Product Officer)

Photo credit: Myles Formby, Photoform*

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