“I like walks on the beach”, “Swipe right if you also like dogs, too”, “Don’t worry, we can just tell people that we met in the library ;)”
Writing a charming and engaging profile description on online dating apps can be difficult – but while the first two examples are just a bit uninspired, the last one is simply out of date. Attitudes towards online dating have radically changed in the last few years. People are no longer ashamed of looking for love online. Nowadays in the USA, two in five couples met online and there is a huge variety of dating apps with millions of users all around the world. In this article, we want to look at what makes online dating different from traditional ways of meeting people and how it is shaped by its technology and data.
Online dating as a game
While meeting someone online can have the same outcome as other forms of meeting – it can go well or badly – online dating has something specific about it: more than other forms of dating, it can seem like a game.
It starts with the technology and design of the apps which remind us of video games. Most people use dating apps on their smartphones and “swipe” through a card deck of potential partners. Judging by someone’s photo and description of themselves, you push their card to the right if you are interested and to the left, if you aren’t.
Until here the process seems like shopping, but there is a clear goal: to “match” with someone. This means that the app tells you that the person you like has also “swiped right” on the page you created with your photo and description. Apps will usually tell you this with flashing colors and a notification. A win! “Matching” with someone already gives the “players” such a sense of achievement and excitement, that it has become a thing of itself, an entertaining part of the game. In a study among US-American college students, 44% admitted that they use Tinder, the biggest online dating app, as a confidence boost and to procrastinate.
With the creation of more and more specified dating services, the “game” has developed internal rules the “players” take into account. Even though 80% of Tinder users say they look for a meaningful relationship, this platform has the reputation of being for short term relationships and confidence-boosting. Other apps and sites like match.com or OkCupid are known to host more people looking for serious relationships. According to their preferences, users will pick one or the other app.
Another way that online dating is like a game is the fact that many users try to increase their chances by creating an improved online version of themselves. With the possibility of showing older or edited photos and because the onlooker has no way to judge by body language or talking, creating a (partly) fictional character is easier online than in face to face encounters. And more than half of online daters have admitted to lying or tweaking their profile and the same amount has suspected someone of being insincere.
Then, when people meet in person and start a serious relationship, they are technically out of the game. We say ‘technically’ because a surprising 46% dating app users are actually not single.
If meeting in person doesn’t lead to the relationship, the dating game can go on without interruption because there are plenty of fish still in the game too. No need to go out and make a big effort to find someone who is also ready to date, when there is a card deck of people on your phone.
The similarity to video games and the fact that you can always play and see the profiles of new people can make online dating apps an entertaining pastime or even addictive game. The average Tinder user logs in 11 times a day and spends 90 minutes per day on the app.
Online dating as a chance
Looking at some statistics of Tinder alone, it becomes clear that dating apps help bring people together: Tinder has 50 million users all around the world, 10 million of them being active every day, and 26 million matches every day. But online dating has specially helped bring people together who would have had more difficulties finding each other or who might not have considered each other as potential partners. In a survey about long-distance relationships, 27% of the participating couples met online.
In the gay community online dating has been a huge help for finding potential partners since being open about their sexuality might not always be easy in their daily lives. Today according to a study in the USA, 77% of gay couples met online.
Furthermore, researchers see a direct link between the increase of interracial marriages and the creation of online dating sites. The assumption here is that it is easier to meet people outside one’s usual circle.
So how do online dating apps work?
In the dating app world, there are different systems to determine who is shown and/or recommended to a user. Often there is a set of first questions about who they are interested in, like age range, sexual orientation, and geographical distance. Services like OkCupid then ask a set of questions which they use to calculate how well two users fit together.
Then, most apps work like machines who learn more information about a user the longer they are active. Who the users likes will determine who will be shown to them in the future. Just like Netflix learns which films you like and Amazon shows you products after buying something similar, dating algorithms also try to guess what you will like by looking for patterns in your previous behavior.
Here we have to remember that big data cannot take into account the human aspect of it all. You might change your mind or might see something as a turn off in one person but not a big deal in another person. Just like any technology based on analyzing data, it is important to consider human behavior, which can show preference and prejudice but it can also be wonderfully spontaneous and surprising. Still, online dating apps can be useful tools to meet new people.
As you can see, online dating is a world of its own and shaped by its use of technology and data. Have you ever tried online dating? What are your experiences or opinions on it? Tell us in the comments.