Dear Dating Apps, here’s how to do better

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Hello Dating Apps, it’s great to see you! How long has it been? Listen, the reason I brought you all here today is that we have a problem. First, some good news. Online dating is currently one of the most, if not currently the most utilized way for daters to meet. More people are online dating now then at any point in the last 21 years. Congratulations you guys!

Here’s the thing though. Even if more and more people date online,  fewer people actually enjoy the process. People feel like they waste their time,  or they’re just overwhelmed by the volume of messages they receive. We’ve known for almost a decade at this point what the major pain points are for online dating, and with all your new features, and tricks and tips, we’re still facing the same challenges that dating apps were facing ten years ago. There are too many fake profiles, straight women are disproportionately messaged at an average rate of 17 times as much as their straight male peers, and dozens of other problems are facing modern daters and trust me, they’re the same problems we’ve been facing for years.

I didn’t start dating at the advent of modern online dating, which truly started when Match.com debuted in 1995, but I started online dating soon after. My first online “date” was setup through a Yahoo chatroom in the summer/fall of 1998, when I was 13 years old. Yes, 13 years old. That might surprise you if you’ve never used anything other than an actual dating app to date, or my age might surprise you but hey, facts are facts. Since then I’ve used more than my fair share of sites and apps to date including the following, none of which are jokes I might add: Craigslist, AOL Chat Rooms, MySpace, MiGente, BlackPeopleMeet, OkCupid, Hot or Not, Plenty of Fish, How About We, Happn, The League, Hinge, DragonFruit, Tinder, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, and I few others I’m almost certain I missed. I’ve been doing this for a while, and I’ve noticed a lot of the same problems in online dating still persist. So, Dating Apps, let’s talk about how you can do better.

First, we’re going to need a commitment to quality over quantity here. You might need to sell your total number of subscribers to venture capitalists to get funding, and I get that, but at some point you have to decide between reporting inflated numbers for an extra buck, or creating a quality product. Spam bots don’t buy paid accounts, nor do people who are just testing the waters, so the falsely inflated numbers aren’t doing you any favors in terms of long-term revenue. All my suggestions, which you can have for free I might add, are all about making online dating a quality experience. With all of that said….Dear Dating Apps, here’s how to do better:

1. Let us view who likes us

I absolutely love the concept that drives most if not all of the proximity dating apps out there. You indicate you like a person, they indicate that they like you, you both get notified and you take things from there. You know what I don’t like? Having to wade through dozens of swipes before I get to the one that actually likes me. OkCupid, in its early stages, implemented a feature that originally started as rating scale from 1 – 5 stars, 5 stars being the most attractive. It’s how they used to calculate their “Most Attractive” users, who knows how they do it now with a binary system of Like/Not Interested.  If you paid for their premium account, you could see who had rated you 4-5 stars. I’ll be honest here and say that this reason was one of the main reasons I loved OkCupid in its heyday, and I got a premium account specifically to use this feature pretty much as soon as they rolled it out. My question is: Why don’t more dating apps implement this. You can even make it a paid feature the way OkCupid did, so that if I want to pay to see who swiped right, I can do that, or I can just use the app the way I normally would if I choose not to pay. I think this would help all daters, on every dating site. Sometimes you just want to know who is interested without having to swipe right a bunch of times to find out. Make it a separate tab where you can quickly see who swiped right, quickly either accept or reject from that tab, but also leave the main search/swipe functions in tact.

2. Straight men can’t send a first message until matched

Gentlemen, before you get your boxer briefs in a bunch, hear me out. What’s your biggest challenge in online dating? It isn’t scarcity in most cases, it’s that your potential matches are getting messaged at such a high rate that you have no real way to stand out until someone reads your message, if they read it, which they probably don’t have time to do. Tinder had the right idea when they decided to make their messaging contingent on mutual likes, and I think that should be extended to all dating websites. Right now, the straight man who will find the most success on online dating websites, excluding those who are above average in either looks or wealth, are the ones who take a salesman’s approach to dating. That approach, sending “cold” messages often and frequently, is part of the reason so many straight women are overwhelmed by dating websites, and why so many straight men feel like sending messages is pointless. If a woman receives seventeen messages for every one message a man receives, and men have to send dozens of messages to get one response, the math just doesn’t say “efficiency” and I really don’t get why we’re still using this model. Here’s a thought experiment: Let’s say it takes about 5 minutes to send a first message (including checking out the profile content, pictures, and crafting the message), and that the response rate is 25%, the getting responses to subsequent messages rate is about 25%, and the rate for getting those people on a date is about 25%. That hypothetical guy spent 62.5 hours just to maybe go on a first date with 12 women. Does that sound efficient to you? Instead of perpetuating this endless cycle that feels pretty fruitless to most men, just don’t let them send messages. Instead, let us indicate our attraction, and let users see that we like them and take it from there. Guys, you might be against this but bear in mind that this will even out the playing field a little bit for you. Do you really want to spend 63 hours a month sending messages for minimal response, or do you want to only be able to message people who are more likely to respond because they’ve indicated that they’re attracted to you?

3. Don’t allow blank profiles

This one is simple, brainless, and really goes to show that a lot of dating apps and sites value raw numbers over quality. If you force someone to put content into their profile, otherwise they can’t create one, it will cut down on the fake profiles a bit, but also cut down on the tourists who sign up for sites and apps with no real intention to actually use them to date. You know the ones I’m talking about. They clearly aren’t there to date, and they’re definitely not there to respond to messages, they just sort of make a profile just to make one. If the whole point of online dating is to date, you have to set some ground rules for your users and one of those should be people actively trying to date and putting in a minimal amount of effort to do so.

4. Profile picture minimum

You know what else helps to prevent the proliferation of fake accounts and online dating tourists, making them put in an effort to fill out a profile beyond writing “I don’t know what to put in my profile”. If you require a certain number of pictures, let’s say  5 pictures, you’re going to eliminate more tourists than spam accounts for sure, but the whole point of these suggestions is to eliminate the quantity folks in favor of quality. Never, ever let someone make a profile with no pictures because really, who is that helping. You might be quick to say that if you make it harder to make a profile, fewer people will sign up. That. Is. The. Point. I know it will slow down your growth, but if you boast a membership number of one million, and half of those are fake or incomplete profiles, you only have half a million members looking to date.

5. No copy-paste. Period

Here’s a thing I observed in the last year of so of using Tinder. Not sure if it’s in NYC specifically or in general but if you search for 25-year-old women, in NYC at least, you’ll find the most fake profiles. Usually they’re blank, but sometimes they use the same exact profile. Don’t believe me?

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Here’s some very rough information for you about how databases work, if you’re a data nerd feel free to correct me. All websites, especially sites where you log information into specific fields (name, age, gender, etc.) log that information into a database. Remember the Ashley Madison hack? You know what was actually hacked? A database, which included  the profile details of their users. I’d guess, with my limited knowledge of computer science, that pretty much every dating app or site utilizes their own version of an SQL Database, which means that every single piece of your profile is stored in a database. That also means that if I had access to the backend data from, let’s say Tinder, and wanted to quickly see if people have the exact same profile content I could find out fairly quickly using a search that looked for instances where the text of a profile matches a different profile. From there, we’d flag the profile for review and not show it to anyone until it was resolved. If I can hop on my phone, open an app, and find 3 profiles with the same profile content in 15 minutes I’m sure a team of engineers working for a billion dollar company could do the same. So, dating apps and websites, do that. In fact, extend that same philosophy to messages. If you’re seeing that someone is sending the exact same message, stop them from doing so.

6. Stop showing me people I’ve messaged or rejected

I really never want to see people I’ve already messaged or rejected in my searches. Why would I want to see someone who I messaged in 2011, who never responded to me, pop up as a potential match when they are clearly not interested? If I’ve already messaged them, we’re either having a conversation, or not, so there really isn’t a reason they should show up in my search other than to artificially make it look as though I have a lot more potential matches than I actually do. If I have 1000 potential matches in a search result, but I’ve messaged 500 of them and didn’t get a response, and rejected 400 of them because I wasn’t interested, I have 100 potential new matches, not 1000. Bumble, I love you, but if I unmatch with someone, or I didn’t respond to their message in 24 hours, it’s for a reason. Stop putting them back in my search! In the interest of being more moderate, at least give some people the option to switch this on and off. It might not be a concern for a lot of users, but if you’ve been using the same dating app, off and on, for several years, you’ve probably messaged a large subset of the users on a site.

7. Only show our profiles to actual potential matches

On most dating sites you only see people who fall into your search parameters in terms of age, gender, and proximity. When you change those search parameters, you see different users. Some sites have more filtering criteria (religion, race, vices, etc.) but for the most part you’re only seeing matches around those 3 major criteria on pretty much every dating site. That means that if you set your search parameters for women, aged 18-49, you shouldn’t see a 50-year-old dude pop in the mix. That’s a great idea that should be extended to all dating sites, with one addition: If you can specify what you’re looking for, no one who falls outside of this should be able to message or view your profile. On OkCupid you can specify what you’re looking for, but for some reason people who fall outside of that, whether in gender, sexual orientation, age, or distance, can still message you. I’m sorry, but that’s dumb. If I’m based in NYC, only want to date women who dates men,  and don’t want to receive messages from someone who is neither based in the NYC area or a woman who dates men, I shouldn’t have to set up a separate set of parameters to filter these messages to a separate inbox. I want these people to not waste time, mine or theirs, by even being able to find my profile or message me. Now, you might be concerned about people filtering solely by race, and I’ve considered that. While it’s true that a filter like this is going to limit the dating options of many users who do not fall into the racial majority here in America, online dating has proven that whatever prejudices you have before you started dating online aren’t suddenly going to change once you start online dating. Online dating generally makes people less open-minded about who they try date, not more open-minded. We all know who gets messaged the most on dating websites when it comes to heterosexual messaging (In order, on average for Women – White, Latin, Asian, Black. For Men – White, Latin, Black, Asian, roughly in that order) and allowing people to specifically filter who sees them by race or not isn’t going to change the fact that these people, if they could receive messages from people who fall outside of what they’re looking for, wouldn’t respond anyway.

The whole point here is to avoid wasting people’s time. It’s possible that if you’re reading this, you probably have never had to worry about whether or not the person you’re messaging either dates interracially, or fetishizes your race. Not 100% true obviously (Please don’t #NotAllWhitePeople me, this isn’t an attack), but being fetishized isn’t something a lot of white women worry about as frequently as say, an Asian woman. In all the years I’ve dated online,  the person who consistently says “I date all races/All races welcome” is usually black women, who are messaged the least almost universally on all dating site. This isn’t a moral judgment, just stating what I’ve observed. People will not respond or message you for a lot of reasons, and that includes race, religion, height, etc.,  and the best way to prevent a bunch of wasted time and effort is for people who would never respond to you to never be shown your profile to begin with, and vice versa. If you disagree, here’s a quick thought experiment for you. Pick something about yourself that makes up a fundamental aspect of who you are. Maybe it’s your race, or your body type, or whatever the else. Now imagine that there is a person out there who would be a good match for you in theory, but they would absolutely never want to message you or receive a message from you because of that fundamental aspect of who you are. What advantage does it give either of you to be able to view your profile to decide “No thanks”?

8. Stop showing us our Ex(es)

Is it really that hard? Seriously, how hard is this? “But, what if they don’t know it’s your Ex?” you ask, sheepishly. To that I respond, I mean yeah, fine, but if I flag someone as an Ex, maybe just never show them to me again? If you’re still friends with your ex on Facebook, and most dating apps utilize the Facebook API to pull information about you, shouldn’t they be able to pull information about your mutual friends and give you an option to not view them? I believe it was The League, or some other upstart dating app that allowed you to filter out your Facebook friends so you’d never see them as a potential match. You could see mutual friends, but not immediate friends. If that’s the case, surely you can let us tag our Ex (or Exes) on these sites and have them not shown to us, right? If you’re using the Facebook API to pull our relevant profile info, and likes, why can’t you pull who we have hidden or blocked on Facebook and carry that over to your app?

9. Give people more gender/sexual orientation options

Simple. Easy. Doable. Fucking do it already. Not everyone is Straight and Cisgender.

10. Flag abusive messagers and block their accounts

You know what’s a great feature that OkCupid has? Moderators. If you’ve got an account, and a lot of free time, you can  view profiles and profile photos that have been flagged and determine whether or not the flagged issue actually holds true. People mostly do this with fake/scam profiles, or people using other people’s pictures, but what about moderating messages? Make the user anonymous, just show moderators the full message content, and flag people who appear to send abusive messages. Create a point of no return, let’s say 5 flagged messages, all confirmed to be abusive, and at that point block their account, or at the very list put them in a provisional status. If Twitter can put people in “Twitter Jail” then maybe the same should be happening on dating websites and apps. People receive harassing messages on a daily basis, and those people are usually women, and this is one minor way to combat it. If a person sends 5 different women 5 messages calling them a “mewling quim” it might be time to put that person in timeout, or just get rid of their account. All sites have Terms of Service that no one reads, might as well use them to make online dating a little less terrible.

There are more ways to make your apps/sites better that I probably missed, but these are some major fixes that most people would love. Most. Not sure I’ll have the full vote of confidence of every straight dude when I tell them they shouldn’t be able to send first messages but still. These are rough suggestions, and there are obviously some fixes that would be a bit more controversial than others, but implementing at least one of these, on all dating apps and sites, would make online dating a little bit better for everyone. Trust me on this, I’ve probably been online dating longer than you.

Good Luck Out There.

p.s. seriously, stop showing us our Ex(es).

 

3 Replies to “Dear Dating Apps, here’s how to do better”

  1. I just deleted Happn because even though I like the concept (seeing matches you crossed paths with in real life), I CANNOT STAND how many profiles show up on the home screen. How does anyone even get noticed? I’m using this app in the biggest most overpopulated city on the planet; I walk across the street to get coffee, check the app and there are 1,000 new faces. I NEVER get matches on there because I feel like it’s so frickin overwhelming! Can’t they adopt the show-one-profile-at-a-time method?

    1. I love the concept behind Happn, but I faced the same problems you faced. If there was a way to filter down to say…1 face at a time, and maybe even highlight why you might be a good match it’d be awesome. (So and so was nearby, you share this mutual interest, you’re both Catholic, etc.). Otherwise it’s just way too overwhelming. I think that when Tinder became the go-to dating app, more apps started to focus on proximity as a selling point as opposed to matching people together who might actually be a good fit for each other. There’s nothing wrong with proximity apps, and they definitely are necessary in place that aren’t as densely populated as NYC, but I’d much rather see 1 good potential match instead of 1000 ones who I’ll never message

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