The concept started as a pitch to become a TV show: “Twin Strangers,” it would be called, and it was based on the idea that two perfect strangers could look nearly identical.
“I was adopted,” said Philip Kampff, the now-managing director of TwinStrangers.net. “So I always think maybe I’ll meet a half-brother or half-sister.”
Kampff said he first came up with the idea about four years ago, after he was walking down the street and thought he saw a friend, but it turned out, it was just a stranger. Kampff was part of the group that pitched the idea to a London-based channel in hopes of landing a TV show.
“We started off wanting to make a TV show, but it’s been such a funny, great adventure,” Kampff said. “We did end up making the documentary for Channel 4, but this has become so much more than a TV show.”
Twin Strangers is now a popular website and mobile app, and these days, Kampff and his team receive weekly requests from TV shows that want to learn more and feature the concept. The site has only been around since 2015, but it already has about 4.3 million people in its database.
Twin Strangers operates out of Dublin, Ireland.
It was a "stroke of luck" that got the site off the ground, Kampff admitted.
Still aspiring to create the TV show, the London channel Kampff was in talks with, Channel 4, told the team they had to prove that they could find some doppelgangers, in order to get started.
The first step was to set up a Facebook page and a “very basic” website, Kampff said. The group had some students working for Twin Strangers at the time, who did callouts to find people who looked like them.
“We did some promotions and we got a lucky break,” Kampff said. “We were very fortunate. The whole idea could have died very quickly if we hadn't had a match.”
A young woman named Niamh Geaney was among the group who was looking for a “twin.” And someone contacted them, saying she thought she might be Geaney's match. She wasn’t kidding.
Watch the video to see Geaney and her lookalike, Karen, meet for the first time. You’ll think you’re seeing double.
The group filmed the meeting and the video went viral seemingly overnight, racking up about 8 million views.
“Our lives turned upside-down in the following weeks,” Kampff said. “We weren’t prepared for it.”
All of a sudden, the Twin Strangers Facebook page was getting about 10,000 messages a day, digital content producer Alexandra Murphy estimated, from people all over the world, saying things such as, “Can you do that for me?”
An intern was able to build Twin Strangers a website in about three weeks. In its infancy, the site was pretty basic. Users would log on, select their physical features, such as nose type and head shape, and find a match just based on that information.
Nowadays, the site and mobile app come complete with facial recognition software.
Not to mention, having 4.3 million users means that people have a much better chance lately at finding a match.
And even if someone can’t find a very convincing “twin,” the possibility always remains. About 15,000 users join every week, so there’s always the chance that you could be “starred” tomorrow -- meaning, you could be selected as someone's match and able to email or private message with that person.
Of the 4.3 million on the site, about 4,000 people have made a connection, or emailed, at the very least, with a lookalike. In some cases, Twin Strangers will offer to arrange and shoot a video of the lookalikes meeting for the first time.
Watch below as Maddy from Tacoma, Washington, meets Amber from Perth, Australia. Their resemblance is uncanny, especially once they style their hair and makeup the same way.
More often than not, these connections don’t come with a visit. It’s fun for most people just to be able to see their “twin” online. Maybe your match will want to message with you if you “star” each other and therefore are connected. Or maybe your match will be satisfied enough just to know you exist. Each case is different.
Geaney, for example, broke down into tears and got choked up several times while meeting her “twins.”
“This is crazy how I’m getting so emotional,” she says on the video. “I don’t even know. Like, this is insane.”
Geaney admitted she was nervous to meet with her second twin stranger -- even after doing this once before -- and she felt hopeful that she’d live up to the woman’s expectations. So it can be an emotionally charged experience, to say the least.
“I really do think though that we look more alike in person than we do in photographs,” Geaney said.
Added her “twin” Luisa, “Maybe we have a similar soul, even. Not only a similar face, we’re kind of like soul mates.”
Users can share one photo and see one match free of charge. Beyond that, credits have to be purchased in order to upload more pictures and view more results. As you can imagine, the more variety of photos you include, the better your chances will be of finding a lookalike.
Kampff said the group hasn’t had to advertise to keep the site afloat financially, but his team did have to do something to keep it alive and thriving. Hence, why the credits cost money.
“But we try to keep it as affordable as possible,” Kampff said.
The reaction from users, and the world, has been interest and support. When Geaney’s first video went online, “the whole world changed,” for the people behind the scenes at Twin Strangers. They were featured on the Today Show, on the BBC, along with on TV in Australia, Japan and Germany.
In October or around that time, they’d like to find a match between residents of the U.S. and the U.K., if possible. They’d also like to integrate DNA tests.
“So if you found a match, we want to see if you share any hereditary background,” Kampff said.
The team has been approached by a DNA company, so it’s already turning from an idea into reality.
Maybe Twin Strangers is proof that sometimes the simplest ideas really are the best. Who wouldn’t be curious about another version of themselves floating around somewhere on the planet?
The only bad news is -- and that’s a relative term, of course -- you can’t check on whether your children have any twins. Users need to be at least 14 years old to sign up, Murphy said.
The system also knows when you’re trying to upload something other than a face. “No face has been detected,” it will say. So take that for what it’s worth: no living room furniture, dogs or otherwise inappropriate uploads, or even if your picture sneaks through the system, your account could be removed.
To think, without Geaney's first match coming forward, perhaps the site never would have gotten off the ground.
Watch more meetup videos below: