2 min read

Fixing dating apps with a single feature change

Dating apps are frustrating because the incentives are all wrong. Can we fix that?
Fixing dating apps with a single feature change
Photo by Steve Johnson / Unsplash. I thought this was a cute photo of two phones charging next to each other, but I think it's an iPod Touch being charged by a portable battery? Still a decent relationship metaphor I guess.

I just watched a new doc on Netflix about the data leak of a dating site. (You can now follow what I watch here, if you missed the last post!)

It was in the usual way-too-slow-to-stretch-it-out-into-muiltiple-episodes Netflix style, but as long as you've got your knitting, it was an interesting look inside a dating app company. It also served as a good demonstration of how misaligned the incentives are between the company and the user.

That is: a dating app company (like any tech company) needs to keep you as a user. But you don't want to be a user; you want a partner.

Now, it's bad enough when social media companies ignore your wellbeing to try to keep you watching just one more thing long after you've reached the end of your friends' posts. But, for whatever reason, it feels worse when the company you use to meet a partner actively wants to keep you from meeting one. (Click that link and watch at least the part at 6:25 if you want to know what I'm talking about.)

The Change

Get rid of the concept of matches.

That's it! We're done. No matches means no awful matching algorithm. And no swiping. That said, we're gonna replace it with something potentially even more addictive: limited searching.

So how do you find someone to message? You search by keyword. Maybe it's a hobby or a band or tv show or the word 'hat' if you really like hats. Whatever. You type in a keyword, you get a small list of search results. Say, 5. You can message any of those people or none.

What you can't do is search multiple times per day. You get one search per day and that's it. So you reeeally gotta think about it.

Here's what that encourages or enables:

  • Thoughtful searching instead of mindless swiping.
  • Fuller profiles with more emphasis on your whole self and less on your profile photos.
  • If someone shows up in several searches over a couple of weeks, you'd want to look into them, even if you may have quickly dismissed their picture on a swiping app.
  • A user left wanting more, not burnt out from swiping. Think Wordle – just a tiny bit of fun each day.
  • When you start a chat, the search term is shown to both so you already have your first conversation topic.
  • Anyone sifting through a lot of messages can see the search terms they connected on, giving some more info on who to message back. (You matched on "the" – pass.)

The Business Change

There's still one big flaw with this: the company can still manipulate the search algorithm to keep you frustrated.

So it may need a new business model as well. Make it a not-for-profit or a co-op or whatever. Charge everyone the same relatively-low but high-enough-to-keep-the-bots-out yearly access fee and don't charge for anything else. Maybe get a condom company to sponsor it or something.

Keep the tech simple and the team small and make all your marketing about the terrible tactics the other apps are using. Then don't expect to ever sell it 'cause anyone you sell it to will probably ruin it.

You won't become a billionaire but you might have a lot of children named after you.