Swipe Left On A Dating World Built To Keep You Single And Disconnected
Hinge's VP of Marketing Karen Fein tells us about the service's daring ditch of the swiping culture that's designed to attract advertising revenue, not meaningful connections
Of all the tragic resolutions the love-afflicted must stand to suffer when it comes to romance, none might be more heart-rending than the decision to walk out on something that by all accounts—social media or otherwise—seemed to be working just dandily. Justin McLeod, founder and CEO of Hinge, a popular dating app he started in 2011, had to undergo the incomparable irony of having to do just that to his matchmaking service.
Sure, Hinge was “growing faster than ever” but Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article, “Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse“,” did what any well-placed denunciation, as lovers know, has the power to do: it cut deep.
“It forced us to take a step back and reflect,” says Hinge’s VP of Marketing Karen Fein. “Our mission at Hinge had always been to help our users find real relationships but somewhere along the way we began contributing to superficial swipe culture.” Unlike their competitor, Tinder, who took the critique in an aggressive style all too similar to what some of their male users have become notorious for doing, unleashing a barrage of adolescent nuh-uhs in defense, Hinge knew that the jig was up. That swiping—the core schema behind not only many of today’s dating apps but application usability as we know it—was designed to keep you single.
“We embarked on what became a nine-month journey to develop that new service which would ditch swiping, matching, timers and games and replace them with a way to help people meaningfully connect.
Hinge was the most relationship-oriented of the free apps, but it just wasn’t different enough. Outside, Hinge continued to grow exponentially. Inside, we knew something had to change.”
From there, a team of 20 set out to rebuild, rebrand and retool from the swipe up. So Hinge launched HingeLabs, a user-led research division that communicates directly with their community. In seeking to create a better experience for their principal users, they stumbled upon the realities of what Nancy Jo Sales had deemed ‘the dating apocalypse’ (both through their own digging and that of other researchers):
Only 1 in 500 swipes (so about the odds of being born with extra toes) on Hinge were resulting in phone number exchanges.
54 percent of Hinge users reported feeling lonely after a swiping binge.
Men on the leading swiping app (so Tinder) only message seven percent of their matches.
21 percent of those HingeLabs surveyed had been ghosted after sex.
30 percent of men have been stood up when using Tinder.
90 percent of Hinge users would swipe strictly out of boredom.
70 percent of female Tinder users have received explicit messages or images.
It’s a demon’s grab bag of increasingly unnerving factoids for anyone who still holds out hope that technology hasn’t stamped out love as we know it. Or, that men aren’t—well, there’s no hope for them, really. All in all, only 18 percent of those looking for anything serious have ever found even one instance of it. As Fein admits,
“It’s hard to imagine any service staying in business where fewer than 1 in 5 customers ever found what they were looking for.”
In this no anyone‘s land of unrequited everything, Hinge plotted out a new niche for itself within the digital dating landscape. Next-generation apps like Tinder and Bumble were designed to game you into inflating their user engagement numbers—their very business model depends on you remaining single. “Swiping apps encourage us to ‘keep playing,’ in the hopes of increasing user engagement (and in turn, advertising revenue). 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,” states Fein.
Legacy services like PlentyOfFish and OKCupid rank low on ease-of-use and don’t offer much better. And anyone under the age of 60 who has used Match.com and eHarmony knows about their drawbacks.
The new Hinge has done away with the mindless games—and, listen for the collective relief—the swiping. Instead, users can expect 7X the exchange of phone numbers and 5X the amount of conversations (note: HingeLabs research showed that only 15 percent of matches were turning into conversations pre-rebrand; five times 15 would amount to a 75 percent convo-rate, which the Hinge team stands behind). Taking place of the old, swipe-engineered Hinge is an experience boasting rich and image-heavy profiles that drive purpose-driven, human interactions.
Billed as an invested community of users wanting more, the new service will run for $7 a month, a tad shy of your Netflix or Spotify subscriptions, and considerably less than Match.com ($42/month) and eHarmony ($60/month).
As Fein tells PSFK, users can expect that Hinge’s algorithm “will continue to surface friends of friends and people in your extended social circles. It also learns your taste overtime by analyzing the types of people you tend to engage with on the app.”
Additionally, Hinge “will continue to use HingeLabs to keep an open dialogue with users.” Through this research arm, they’ll “test new product features, run focus groups, and generally discuss what they do and do not like about the app.”
Hinge has gallantly taking the plunge into unexplored territory but there’s no guarantee, as the digital dating world has told us, that just because they made the move, people will respond accordingly. Especially considering that they were one of the lowest rated dating apps and only served 1.1 percent of the dating app market.
Hinge is aware of the shift’s boldness. “The move from ‘free swiping app’ to ‘the relationship app’ is a shift for our company and perception of the brand. It’s never easy to change course, and we know it’s a big task to clearly and effectively communicate this change to our community,” Fein as tell us.
Yet, having covered every dating app development, and being intimately familiar with their pitfalls, this full-blown rebrand and rethinking of a marketplace feels as refreshing as that first Tinder match ever did to this author. We all have our digital dating stories to tell, some numbering in the hundreds, without anything but an always-refreshing stack of people’s faces, ready for the swiping (maybe more), to show for it. Isn’t it about time someone proved that the design flaw was in our apps and not in how humans come to connect in our Internet-saturated world?
For those who’ve had just about enough of the swipe and its cultural implications, the new Hinge was “tailor-made for people who want more than swiping games.”