In the new edition of Friday posts, we bring you news and trends that may interest you. In this week’s edition, we cover the phenomena of dating apps, hence the term ‘swiping phenomenon’. Why are dating apps designed this way? Are they effective? An excerpt from Justin McLeod’s note provides an analysis of such apps and why they don’t work.

Note from Justin McLeod, Founder and CEO at Hinge:

Swiping Keeps You Single

The first thing that we found was that swiping apps are staggeringly ineffective at helping people find relationships. Not everyone on these apps are looking for relationships, of course, but among those that are, only 18% have found even one relationship, ever. It’s hard to imagine any service staying in business where fewer than 1 in 5 customers ever found what they were looking for.

What became clear was that swiping apps are not ‘successful’ because they’re effective at helping users find relationships; rather they’re effective at maximizing user engagement (and therefore advertising revenue). Like a casino, a swiping app isn’t designed to help you win; it’s designed to keep you playing so the house wins. The most popular swiping app boasts that users login on average 11 times per day spending up to 90 minutes per day swiping, and have accumulated on average over 200 matches. However, for the vast majority of users this has led to exactly zero relationships.

There are four aspects of the swiping app’s design that orient the user towards engagement, not finding relationships.

  • Match-Centric Design: First is the focus on matching rather than messaging. When you open the app, the first thing you see is not the people you’re messaging with, but rather new people you should start swiping on. Then when you do match, you’re prompted to keep playing so you can find new connections rather than deepen existing ones. As a result, we’ve found that even on Hinge users spend twice as much time swiping as they do messaging. To quote Tinder’s CEO in a Time interview, “It doesn’t even matter if you match because swiping is so fun.”
  • Slot-Machine Interface: Second, the interface is designed to trigger the same neurobiological mechanisms as a slot machine. With every right swipe, there’s a moment of anticipation as you wait to find out if it’s a match. When it is, there’s an on-screen celebration giving you the feeling that you’ve won. This element of surprise creates a rush of dopamine that then quickly fades and leaves you wanting more. Perhaps that’s why users message back and forth with fewer than 10% of their matches. Just like a compulsive gambler at a slot machine, instead of taking their winnings off the table, they keep playing until they’re bankrupt.
  • People as Playing Cards: The third is the dehumanizing way people are reduced to playing cards that we flick to the left or the right — a majority of the time not even bothering to click in to see the user’s profile. This static, superficial representation of people leads to the pathologically objectifying way many choose to engage with the app, from snap judgments to crass pickup lines, often asking immediately for sex, nude pics, or worse. This model for engagement does not encourage investment in any one person, as everyone after a while starts to look and feel the same. Our research revealed that a majority of users don’t even remember the name of their last right-swipe.
  • All Things to All People: Finally, because swiping apps have a free, one-click signup and are advertised with a broad, open-ended use case, it encourages as many people to join as possible. This has gone so far now that a significant portion of swiping app users are reported to not even be single, much less looking for a relationship.

Essentially, swiping is an addictive game designed to keep you single. This is perhaps fine if you’re just looking to have fun, although there is growing research that indicates even in this case it’s neither fine nor fun, instead leading over time to anxiety and depression. Regardless, to call swiping apps ‘dating apps’ is a very unfunny joke at the expense of those looking for relationships — of which there are many. Currently when we ask Hinge users privately, 87% are open to a relationship, with 45% looking exclusively for a long-term relationship.

Full article can be found here.

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