How tinder works and tricks users with 10 DARK UX patterns
How tinder works and tricks users into conversion.
It’s Christmas time, and you feel a bit lonely. Your popular friend tells you that you should try a dating app to meet someone new, and maybe you’re even going to get some “dancy dance” in a couple of days.
There are a lot of choices, so you keep asking your friend what’s the best option, and he immediately answers:
TINDER OF COURSE!
You decide to download it, but you start feeling that it’s trying to manipulate you to pay for its premium features a bit too much.
What is dark UX?
If you don’t know what dark UX is yet, well it’s a kind of design where you try to deceive and trick the user to do something he doesn’t want to do in the first place, or simply “change his behavior” in an “evil” way.
You could say that this is simple persuasion, and I could agree, but generally, persuasion is obtained by telling the truth and creating pleasant experiences, while Dark UX goes the opposite way: lying and creating frustrating experiences to convince you changing your behavior is what Dark UX was born for.
A self-explanatory example of Dark UX is a website where there are hundreds of pop-up ads positioned in a way that you easily misclick them. (a “Bright UX” instead would try to convince you that the ads are meaningful).
Let’s go back to Tinder.
Why did I say that Tinder is 100% dark? well because he makes his full system based on deceiving the user. I’ve analyzed Tinder for years, both by trying to find my twin soul and directly trying to discover how to design such a persuasive piece of software.
Let’s see how Tinder manipulates you, using these interesting design principles.
10) The shadowban.
It even contains “shadow” in its name. Tinder will never admit this, but there is a shadowban system. A shadowban is a system that secretly hides your profile from social media, preventing you to do various things for different reasons.
Tinder uses shadowban to prevent users to delete and create new profiles too often, to “refresh” their possible match list or change particular swipes for free: in fact, Tinder tries to sell these services for an expensive monthly subscription, and by lowering your matches, you feel forced to pay for a boost.
How to easily experience the shadowban: I have created over 10 different profiles in the years by using the same credentials, and I saw how it destroyed my matches: the first time I got over 20 matches easily, the second around 15…the third 7–8, down to one.
To get a free “boost” I had to wait a couple of months, and then BOOM again 20 matches.
9) The ELO system.
Extremely similar to shadowban, the ELO system is a way to score your profile by popularity: the more popular you are the more your profile is shown to others. This principle is extremely used by Badoo too, and it allows popular users to stay in Tinder (customer loyalty) while trying to persuade unpopular ones, the majority, to pay for boosting services.
8) Popular profiles.
This is a new update, that notifies you when you’re liking a “popular” profile. The app tries to tell you that you’re probably going unnoticed because of how many likes that person receives, trying to convince you “waste” your superlike.
One of the first Tinder features, superlikes allow you to directly notice someone that you liked (this was extremely useful in the past, but now too). Obviously, they give you the opportunity to try using one superlike a day: this is not generosity, but a way to convince you to buy more of them once you get addicted.
6) Swiping ads.
Once you get comfortable with swiping, you’re becoming fast. Too fast. By putting ads between profiles, Tinder indeed gets a high percentage clicking rate.
5) Hidden profile links.
Often it happens that you delete your profile after not finding a match, and then a friend sends you a profile link of an interesting girl/guy. But to see it, you have to create a Tinder profile again. You could think that this is necessary, but it isn’t. You don’t need an Instagram or Facebook account to see posts inside them.
5) Hyperbolic match ratio.
Did you ever notice that the 80% of likes you get, appear on your notification screen the first night? That‘s not because you’re cuter the first day. That’s because you need to feel some feedback to use the app. If you got one like a day or a week, you would feel a bit demotivated and probably leave. Instead, by getting a nice starting amount, you’re spurred on continuing.
This is the same principle casinò or poker apps use: they give you a starting amount that illudes you that it’s easy to get money.
4) Limited amount of discoverable profiles.
Tinder often tells you that there aren’t more profiles in the area you selected. This is plain lying, in fact, you just need to wait a couple of hours and hocus pocus plenty again. They lie to you trying to stretch the time you pass on their app. (by forcibly changing the age or distance range, you’re less probable to find someone you’re interested in the first place.)
3) Fake notifications.
“Someone liked you!”. And then no one’s there. Just fake notifications to convince you to come back. This is one of the evilest and darkest things you could expect from an app.
2) Out of focus likes.
This “feature” wasn’t part of the original Tinder app, and it has been added to forcibly make you spend money: you can now see the out-of-focus profile image of someone who liked you, but this brings you to two options:
- pay to discover.
- swipe while memorizing the image, trying to catch who he/she was.
And this brings us to point n.1.
1) Limited swipes.
Maximum 100 right swipes. If you want more you pay. But why it’s dark? because it’s strictly connected with the point n2, which tries to make you swipe more than you really needed (searching for the people you liked).
Anyway, 100 sounds a lot if you live in the countryside, but try using Tinder in a city: 100 right swipes end up in an hour or less. Why do they end up so quickly? well because of two reasons:
- a lot of people using it.
- the bright side.
The bright side.
Remember that I said there are some bright UX patterns that are strictly connected with the dark ones? well, Tinder’s good UX allows the limited swipe thingy thing to work: fast swiping.
If you had some kind of slow profile scanning or “non-atomic” gesture (an action that requires more than one movement), probably ending those 100 swipes was harder.
An example: if you were born in the 90s or before, you’ll remember that the first telephone offered around 100 SMS and you still could end a day with still some SMS left. Now try to count how many of them you send on your various messaging apps: you can probably reach a thousand. This happens because sending messages is a lot faster (especially passing from 160 characters to infinite, and from a T-9 based insertion to QWERTY keyboards).
Bonus: the green dot.
Now tinder added a new green dot. What does the green dot on tinder mean? It means that the person you’re looking at has been online recently or at the moment. This is an extremely effective trick to persuade you right-swiping: you hope he/she sees your notification immediately.
We can say that it’s not a fully dark pattern, but it has an intrinsic double reason: again, it’s not generosity.
Dark UX should be avoided in a utopistic world where companies do not care about income, but in the real world, often it happens that you NEED to manage these kinds of patterns since they can grant a lot of “power”. Dark UX is like dark magic in fantasy movies: forbidden, but helped the biggest wizards to achieve their objectives.
Originally Published here Medium.
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A Jack of all trades UX guy. Mainly interested in human-computer interaction, contemporary sociology and art.