Dating Apps: The struggle to revolutionize
Dating apps need to not only technologically innovate but also disrupt alongside transformations in arenas of love and relationships.
For those of you not in the know (lucky enough to avoid the struggles of online dating), Hinge recently released its new voice prompt feature allowing users to answer one of the prompts on their app with a 30-second audio recording.
While the feature has gotten mixed reviews, we can expect more such features from the dating app industry as they struggle to innovate the virtual dating process.
Yes, I said struggle, and I stand by it.
Dating apps, like any technology, are in a need to innovate and innovate fast simply because, like most things under neoliberal capitalism, their obsolescence is planned.
Take Tinder, for example. At the height of its popularity once, now deemed as the meat market. Bumble and Hinge, desperate to not go down the same path, need to reassure their users that they provide an actual meaningful experience beyond just a game of “hot or not.” So far their efforts have been minimal but sufficient. That is, until the next big player comes along.
Before I go further, I want to make my position clear, in case I have implied differently: I am not against technological innovations in relationships. In fact, I am quite excited for the potentials they bring. What I do find exhausting, and quite simply boring, is the lack of the exploration of these potentials (more on that later).
The current ‘innovations’ in the dating app space are at best, uninspired and unoriginal and at worst, performative and dangerous (looking at you, 🐝).
To cut the apps some slack, the dating process is hard enough as it is, and going online doesn’t make it any easier. It is a difficult game to win but not impossible.
In order to stay relevant, dating apps can no longer engage in the theatrics of innovation but rather need to revolutionise the dating process.
Hence, their approach must take into account the duality of engaging not only in technological innovation but also in keeping up with the transformations in relationships and love.
To effectively innovate, dating apps need to do at least one of two things:
When it comes to dating apps, just like with any other technology, what users want is a reduction of their effort. Currently, dating apps reduce the effort with regards to the initial connection with a potential match but they also bring with themselves a whole new set of concerns.
Sure, I might not have to guess if the cute person I saw at the coffeeshop is single and can avoid the IRL embarrassment of being turned down but I do have to worry about whether or not the person behind the screen is a catfish.
Let us not forget that dating apps are a novel technology and people don’t yet fully understand how to navigate this arena. I would even argue that texting as a mode of communication is still finding its footing in relationships. This level of interconnectedness in relationships is unprecedented and we’re still trying to figure out how much communication is too much communication.
Cue the rise of the dating app coaches telling people what images to upload, what bios to write, what messages to send, what to (not) text, when to (not) call, what to look for when swiping (elevator selfies are a no) and the list goes on and on and on. Will yet another feature to agonise over help make this process any easier?
Instead, what is needed to make the online dating experience more user friendly is limiting these excessive considerations while maintaining the complexity of the human subject and therein lies the real challenge/opportunity for innovation.
Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Love (2003) critiques the transactional nature of online dating for “liquiefying” ideals like romantic love, monogamy, and commitment to long term relationships. The poststructuralist in me finds the disruptive potential of this “liquid” all too exciting (even if it is to Bauman’s chagrin).
While I do not disagree with Bauman that digitisation has inherently impacted relationships, I approach it a bit differently than him. The virtuality, while definitely a characteristic of modern relationships, is neither its defining feature nor its catalyst.
Instead, I trace the shift to the increase — or rather the balancing — of women in the workforce. With financial considerations no longer a defining factor, millennial and gen-z women have greater freedom to choose their partners (or even not choose one) based on what works for their lifestyles. Similarly, men are no longer burdened with the role of the provider. Add to it a greater awareness and acceptance of alternate sexualities and lifestyles and a global pandemic to boot. And while this does bring a new set of questions of what relationships look like outside these patriarchal confines, there is no denying that ideas of partnership, companionship, and love as we know is it are changing.
Monogamy and the nuclear family unit, at least in their current understandings, are dying and the online dating experience has only fast-tracked that process.
The question here remains, moving forward, what role are the dating apps going to play?
Unfortunately, most of the apps on the market are still stuck replicating the cis-heteronormative ideals and if they continue doing so, they will be left in the past. These apps need to not only “get with the times” but more importantly get ahead of the curve.
An app that is doing this quite well is OkCupid. The app’s commitment to inclusivity is reflected in it being a fan favourite among the queer and alt communities (this warrants a whole blogpost of its own, more on that later).
Competitors can certainly look to OkCupid to understand how to design an experience that takes into account the social transformations in the arena of love and relationships.
Unless the dating apps on the market take an approach to either de/complex and/or disrupt, it is only a matter of time till they’re replaced with a newer, shinier toy.
Their efforts at innovation up till now have been merely theatrics i.e. more of the same. However, I am hopeful and looking forward to seeing how they can surprise us with their attempts at revolutionising the dating process.
And while I wait, I’m going to enjoy watching TikToker @ameliasamson scream CHOOSE A DIFFERENT PROMPT at those who fail to impress her with their efforts at Hinge audio prompts.
The article was originally published on UX Collective.
Liquid Love by Zygmunt Bauman
If you’re interested in poststructuralist thinking, my favorite place to start is with Michel Foucault and Stuart Hall. Want to learn more about disruptions in terms of gender politics? Then start with Judith Butler.
Intersectional researcher. I write about feminism, love, tech, pop-culture and my struggles with gaming. I overuse the Derridean /