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Summary:

Silicon Valley has always been ground zero for predicting the latest mobile trends — just look at the runaway success of Uber. But given how many singles are finding love via mobile app these days, are we entering the age where mobile dating is the must-do trend in the Valley?

Gigaom illustration adapted from Shutterstock
photo: Gigaom illustration

It’s never easy finding love, but it’s clear that singles today are facing unique problems as technology becomes an increasingly important factor in the dating world. Singles, constantly inundated with opportunities to find a potential soulmate, are overwhelmed with the process of becoming “datable” on the Internet. The options are out there, but it takes work and time to craft the perfect profile.  But, the recent rise of mobile dating — seen most clearly in the surge of  Tinder, which is currently #1 in Lifestyle Apps on iTunes and #2 on Google Play — has led to a flood of apps that claim to make it easier, safer and more convenient to find a love interest.

As a single girl who recently moved to San Francisco, I can hardly go anywhere without the mention of Tinder or similar mobile dating apps — it’s clearly the method du jour for finding a potential romantic match. When scanning any bar on a Friday night, it’s not uncommon to see a group of friends — both boys and girls — furiously swiping and giggling, talking about matches and potential suitors’ profiles. My roommate, a vibrant single woman who would have no problem getting a date in any public setting, has sworn off Tinder because it ultimately became too addictive.  Even I will admit to, on more than one occasion, drinking wine with my girlfriends in my apartment and trading phones to decide which Tinder profiles would make ideal matches for each other. Tinder is not only about romance, it’s about fun — that aspect, combined with the safety and convenience, means that Tinder is on the brain for many eligible singles in San Francisco (and beyond).

Though it’s seeing a surge in popularity, is Tinder going to become the new Uber — a company destined to not only create an industry around its mission but also influential in other areas of mobile? My belief is yes, for many reasons.

By simply existing, Tinder and other mobile dating apps do a good job of solving a problem we didn’t even know existed: offering a simpler, faster and safer way to engage in online dating. Pushing aside the fact that finding a suitable marital partner has been happening successfully since the institution of marriage was invented, online dating has already been a thriving business on the desktop. Sites like eHarmony, OKCupid and Match.com (which, coincidentally, falls under the same corporate umbrella as Tinder) have survived for years with both paid and free subscription services.

Tinder

There’s nothing inherently different about Tinder’s mission to connect singles nearby (Grindr, a gay dating and hookup app, has been doing it for years), but it capitalizes on a matter of convenience: users open the app and immediately begin filtering through the eligible bachelors or bachelorettes on the platform, swiping left if it’s not a match and swiping right to see if a connection is possible. Once a match is made, Tinder subtly nudges the new pair to get to talking, with the prospect of a date lingering in the future.

Tinder doesn’t require constant or prolonged upkeep — users who “swipe right” on you are always going to appear at the top of the pile to encourage quick and efficient matches, and the system doesn’t punish users who don’t check in regularly. It also automatically updates with information pulled in directly from Facebook, meaning that it won’t ever truly go out of date. By taking advantage of delivering information in short bursts, users can pop open a dating app on a lunch break or at happy hour and scan for suitable matches in their free time, without worrying about the burden of keeping their own profiles relevant. There’s also a gamification aspect: the delight of swiping through and discovering a match is something Tinder has accurately captured, and it makes it all feel like a game.

It certainly doesn’t solve any immediate problems in our day-to-day lives, but sometimes the best apps don’t. Hopeful singles flock to Tinder for the experience, just as people use Uber or Airbnb for how they treat their users, instead of calling a car or booking a hotel room. There’s a luxury of convenience that Tinder brings to online dating in the same way that disruptive apps have changed many industries — users just feel better doing it.

Tinder’s lightweight interface has not only helped propel mobile dating into the spotlight, it’s been copied by model dating and non-dating companies alike. Apps like Hinge, The Game by Hot or Not and Match have all come out of the woodwork recently to capitalize on the trend. More telling are the appearance of non-dating apps that use the “swipe left, swipe right” interface that Tinder has popularized: Kwoller for fashion, Networkr for jobs and Superb for locations, just to name a few.

Despite its popularity, the mobile dating app trend suffers from a serious problem: money. At this point, Tinder has no revenue stream — it’s an ad-free, subscription-free service. In order for Tinder to truly become the new Uber, it will need to be able to innovate on the lightweight experience it has already designed to create a non-invasive ad or premium model that doesn’t feel intrusive. As it already utilizes Facebook to supply its user information, Tinder might be ripe for Facebook’s new mobile ad network, pushing native-appearing ads within the stream that don’t detract from the look and feel of the rest of the experience. There’s also an inherent freemium model that could be explored: For example, users could pay a little extra to be able to sort their potential matches by only friends of friends, or maybe in common interests like being a fan of the San Francisco Giants.

Monetization will be a tough task, especially as Tinder and other mobile dating sites continue to gain steam, but it is the key to establishing a sustainable and important mobile trend.

  1. Nice post, Lauren. One major difference in the long-term value of something like Tinder vs. Uber is that if Tinder does its job right, you won’t need it any more. That’s not the case with transportation.

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    1. Lauren Hockenson Friday, May 23, 2014

      Thanks! And you’re right: in an ideal world, Tinder would make itself useless in due time if it were doing it “right.” But considering it’s capitalizing on the dating lives of twenty-somethings — which is, to put it delicately, utterly feckless — I think it’ll thrive.

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