Boy meets girl. It’s a classic (and boring) story, but like most things, the Internet has drastically changed and arguably streamlined the process. According to a recent Pew Internet study, one in ten Americans have used online dating or a mobile dating app. 7% of smartphone owners have used a dating app.
“Frictionless” is not typically a term we commonly associate positively with dating. But in the world of online dating apps, the recent trend seems to be towards removing steps between discovering that someone exists and meeting them. Sometimes, this process even skips using words altogether. It’s a strange new world for digital savvy singles.
In this blog post, I’ll be detailing several dating services and apps that I’ve used in the past. I think you’ll notice a trend as you move down the list. And please note that I will be using the term “dating” liberally.
High Effort: OkCupid (website)
OkCupid was founded in 2004 and firmly staked its claim in the market based on its statistical prowess (after all, it was formed by the same guys who created The Spark, a personality quiz site) . With the advantage of having talented engineers and mathematicians on board, OkCupid also ran a (now defunct) blog called OkTrends. This blog helped reinforce OkCupid’s unique selling proposition of using a superior matching system compared to everything else on the market because they had multitudes of user data and algorithms that adjusted to (and were influenced by) their research. It also helped that their main target demographic skewed younger; these users would appreciate these nuances and efforts more.
OkCupid was my first real foray into online dating, and it was a lot of work. Using the website consisted of the following steps: browsing/finding matches (sorted by various dimensions, such as distance, employment, race, availability, etc.), looking at photos/reading profiles to see if you’re interested (this step is totally optional), and then messaging them directly. Typical millennium-era dating website stuff.
OkCupid took a lot of time, since I was under the false assumption that longer messages would garner the best response rates. Live and learn. Then stop trying so hard.
Medium Effort: HowAboutWe (site and app)
HowAboutWe launched in April 2010 with a simple premise at heart: instead of singles sending messages back and forth before setting up a date, why not just let them agree on a date first? Basically, users complete the question “How about we _______?” If a date idea piques a user’s interest, he or she can reply that they’re intrigued.
Putting the cart before the horse? Perhaps, but at least the date ideas that you formulate tell people something about you. The website and app work basically the same way. The main drawback for both is that in order to send someone a message (or to read the contents of your inbox), you need to pay for a monthly subscription.
Lowest Effort: Tinder (app)
Tinder is perhaps the lowest effort dating service out there. It took the dating scene by storm when it gained popularity in 2013 (its spiritual predecessor was Grindr, the popular gay/bisexual location-based app). Unlike OkCupid and HowAboutWe, Tinder is currently only available on iOS and Android smartphones; there’s no desktop functionality at all.
Remember how your parents told you not to judge a book by its cover? Well, that all goes out the window with Tinder. With Tinder, you’re shown pictures of users in your area (it accesses your phone’s GPS), and you’re given two options – pass or like. If you “like” someone, they won’t find out unless they mutually “like” you and then you can message each other. If you “pass”, it’ll be like the person never existed at all. And if this process didn’t seem simple enough, you can also use touch gestures in order to swipe people into your list of people you like or people you dislike. It’s like a cross between the technology featured in minority report and the lazy perversion of Jabba the Hutt.
Somewhat Low Effort: The OkCupid App
Not to be outshone, OkCupid also has similar “low effort” dating functionalities within their app. The first is Quickmatch, which is basically like Tinder. You swipe left or right depending on if you like someone. The second function is Locals, which tells you who’s near you, but you still have to rate or message them yourself. In terms of flexibility of use, the OkCupid App definitely takes the cake.
From conversations with friends and coworkers, I’ve learned that other services have evolved over the years. Plenty Of Fish now has an app and is no longer just a poorly designed website (circa 2009). Younger people are now on Match.com and eHarmony, and it seems the stigma of online dating has slowly been lifted. Actually, a close family friend of mine met her current husband on eHarmony, so it can work (they were an older couple though).
By now, you’ve probably noticed the aforementioned trend of dating services increasingly migrating to our handheld devices. There are many possible rationales behind this – personal GPS availability makes finding dates easier; people’s fond attachments to their phones translate to dating apps; people are using desktop computers as their primary internet access device less frequently than they were last decade; the social media generation is impatient and are all about instant gratification. No matter the theory, online dating was originally created to connect people in a way that’s much easier than actually going out and meeting strangers. And now, dating apps and online services have taken out even more barriers to entry (sometimes to ridiculous extremes). Is this a good or bad thing? Can it ever be too easy to meet people? I guess we’ll find out in 10 years when Pew Internet conducts an online marriage divorce rate study.