As technology continues to evolve, so do the ways we search for love and connection.
Prior to the existence of the internet, the possible avenues for finding a mate were highly limited. Most of the world’s population found their mates through intersecting social circles, geographic proximity, school, work, shared activities, or (in some cultures) arranged marriages.
In 2018, any stigma surrounding technology-enabled dating is largely gone. Now, it’s less common not to have tried online dating. If you can use technology to access a larger pool of people — while also narrowing down that pool to those you may be genuinely compatible with — why wouldn’t you give it a shot?
These days, online dating comes in countless shapes and forms. To celebrate this Valentine’s Day, Distillery has put together a rundown of online dating’s evolution that highlights two LA-based services in particular: Tinder and Three Day Rule.
A Slow Start Ends in Large-scale Transformation
According to eHarmony’s research, the first documented attempt at computer-based matchmaking happened back in 1959, though it was never commercialized. In 1965, as a social experiment, two Harvard students developed a system that enabled computers to match daters based on their similarities. It wasn’t until 1995 — when the inauguration of the world wide web made possible the virtual linkage of people anytime and anywhere — that the transformation really began. When Match.com went live in 1995, the dating world was forever changed.
Around 1998, as the world’s population began their tentative internet explorations, signing up for email accounts and learning to use tools like AOL instant messenger (remember 1998’s Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romance You’ve Got Mail?), the mechanisms and societal norms required for online dating’s foundation started falling into place. JDate launched in 1997, Yahoo! Personals in 1998, eHarmony and Nerve Personals in 2000, ChristianMingle and Meetic in 2001, Ashley Madison and PLANETROMEO in 2002, Plenty of Fish in 2003, OkCupid in 2004 (though it had originated as SparkMatch in the late ‘90s), and Badoo in 2006. Countless other contenders have joined the fray in the years since. Some cater to niche communities — 2005’s FarmersOnly.com (self-explanatory), 2008’s music-based RocknRollDating.com, 2011’s astrology-based Moonit, and 2013’s LGBT female-only Dattch are just a handful of examples.
Tinder Changes the Game — by Creating a Game
Tinder, launched in 2012, grew from something innate to almost everyone who’s ever dated: a longing for connection paired with the frustration of trying to find people to connect with. In a late 2016 interview with New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear, Tinder Founder and CEO Sean Rad explains, “It was a pain that I felt, and that most people felt around me.” There were people he wanted to meet, but he didn’t have the courage to approach them. Once he had an introduction, he could conduct himself just fine. But it was those elusive introductions — as well as some acknowledgement that those introductions would be welcome — that he sought. “That’s when we realized: the hardest part is just knowing that they want to meet you. Because once you know that, it starts the conversation. It sort of takes away all the anxiety. That’s what we tried to do with Tinder.”
Since its 2012 launch — Tinder made its debut while a participant in LA-based startup incubator Hatch Labs — the app has made its way into nearly every country in the world. According to Tinder’s website, the mobile app currently gets 1.6 billion swipes per day and facilitates 1 million dates per week. “Tinder has reimagined the way people meet,” says Rad. “Tinder opens up this world you didn’t have before.”
Tinder did not suffer a slow start. The founders made the decision to foster organic growth, working outward from a single group of people. With a location-based app, it made sense: They needed to create geographic density for the app to work at all. The best way to do that was to start in one place and expand. Accordingly, as Rad explains in an interview with YouTube Distribute from the 2014 Google I/O conference, to launch, they asked everyone in a single room to text 100 of their friends about the new app. Tinder gained their first 500 users that night. By word of mouth, the next day, they had reached 1,000. The growth continued exponentially. Only a week later, they were thrilled to realize that they had a 99.5% retention rate for daily app use from their users. Users clearly felt the app was valuable. Their idea was going to work.
Of course, Tinder suffered from the usual growing pains experienced by any app-focused startup. Given their fast growth, their prototype code crashed frequently. In looking back, Rad relates, “I probably would’ve encouraged our team to take a little more care in the code and basically design it for scale day one.” He continues, “Defining what that MVP is, is the trick — and really understanding what are the benchmarks of success, and are you prepared for those benchmarks?” Initially, the Tinder app didn’t have the architecture that could support its precipitous growth. Rad characterizes the experience as “rebuilding the plane while it was in the air.”
Early on, however, Tinder also made some very good choices. For example, they made an early investment in understanding the science behind their users’ needs and behavior. They hired (and retain to this day) a staff of sociologists and data analysts who study Tinder users’ behavior, performing statistical analyses on what gets the most swipes, what users seem to be looking for, which jobs get “swiped right” most often, and countless other data. They capture and analyze data to improve their user experience and facilitate better matches.
Ultimately, as we all now know, Tinder was able to create a mobile app that filled an important void in the world of online dating. The magical app granted users increased confidence, instant gratification, and protection from unwanted communications, all tied up in a shiny, gamified app that users happily interact with for several minutes at a time. In case you’re among the handful of people in the world who have no idea how the Tinder app works, here’s a breakdown:
- User-created profiles provide snapshot views of members. Profiles include photos, basic stats (things like age, height, gender, sexual orientation, location), a statement of what they’re “looking for,” a personal tagline, and an “anthem” (the song that best represents you). Integrations allow for linkage with a user’s Instagram, Facebook, and Spotify profiles.
- When viewed by other users, profiles show shared connections and interests. In other words, if two users have a Facebook friend in common and they both love the LA Lakers, they’ll both know that right away. Shared connections can be first-degree (a friend in common) or second-degree (the user has a friend that knows the other user’s friend). The app displays profiles of users located near you who have common friends or interests.
- Users are also shown profiles based solely on where they’re physically located. The app uses a phone or computer’s location-based technology to know where users are and show other Tinder users who are physically nearby. This is a big value prop for users. For example, if you’re in a coffee shop, you see a hottie, and you wonder if they’re single, you can legitimately hop onto Tinder to see if his/her profile comes up. If you’re visiting a different city, you’re able to jump on Tinder to find someone to hang out with.
- Swiping actions let you “like” or reject other users. App interactions are fast-paced and gamified. Users “swipe left” to reject and move on to the next user photo, and “swipe right” to like someone they’d be interested in matching with. Tinder has also introduced a Super Like feature which uses a “swipe up” action. (The idea is that they know you’re really, really interested.)
- Users who’ve both “swiped right” on each other are alerted that they’ve matched. The “double opt-in,” as Tinder calls it, assures both parties of mutual interest.
- Only your matches can contact you. The supreme wonderfulness of this feature will be fully appreciated by any online dater who has ever suffered deluges of email from people who couldn’t be further from a possible match.
- Users can choose free or paid memberships. While Tinder started out free for all users, they’ve introduced various subscription plans that unlock new features and capabilities. Currently, the free version limits the number of “right swipes” in a given time period, while the paid version allows unlimited likes. Other premium features include Passport (search in a location you’re not physically in), Rewind (take back an errant “swipe left”), Super Like (see above), Boost (boost your profile in searches), Smart Photos (use algorithms to identify the photos most likely to incite likes), and Likes You (see who likes you before swiping).
The Tinder app was revolutionary for several reasons, but the “double opt-in” and location-based capabilities — paired with the concise profiles, gamification, and instant gratification of “matching” with another user — were what really set it apart from other online dating services. While it suffered from the early stigma of being a “hookup” app, it has absolutely grown in acceptance. In addition, Tinder reports that many of its users have “hacked” Tinder, using it to find jobs, meet new best friends, and reconnect with old flames.
Most importantly, Tinder’s not done evolving. They’re constantly seeking ways to improve their user experience, their architecture (as evidenced by Tinder’s developer blog, which features highly informative blogs on topics such as how exactly they’ve rebuilt Tinder’s inner workings), and their culture (e.g., 2017’s “Menprovement Initiative,” which includes the new Tinder Reactions, enabling easy eyerolls and drink-throwing to give other users constructive feedback). This much is clear: The dating population swipes right on sticking around to see what Tinder will do next.
Human Intuition + Technology = An Intriguing New Formula for Finding Love
Talia Goldstein’s matchmaking enterprise started the old-fashioned way: She had a natural knack for pairing people up. During her time as a TV producer for E! Entertainment, Goldstein’s cubicle was Grand Central Station for colleagues in search of dating advice and a chance at a great match. In 2013, she quit her job to start a small, LA-based matchmaking company, Three Day Rule (TDR). (Goldstein first used the name — inspired by Swingers’ infamous advice to wait three days before calling a woman back — for a dating advice blog she’d been writing.) With success came referrals, and by word of mouth alone, her enterprise began to grow fairly quickly.
The more couples she successfully matched, the more she felt driven to find ways to expand her reach. Says Goldstein, “I knew that I wanted it to scale. I knew the only way to get it to scale was through technology.” TDR was accepted into an LA-based tech incubator program, the Founder Institute, where Goldstein had the opportunity to learn from a range of advisors and further refine her business plan. While at the Founder Institute, she brought in a CTO to help her develop the backend technology needed to turn TDR into a technology-enabled dating service. A year later, the Match Group invested in TDR, and TDR became Match Group’s premier matchmaking company.
In addition to using computer-based algorithms to fuel the matchmaking process, TDR inserts an entirely human third party — a human matchmaker — into the dating equation. “What I’m trying to do is blend tech and humans,” explains Goldstein. “We call ourselves modern matchmakers. We are basically a combination of technology and human intuition.” Here’s what that looks like:
- There are no profiles. All information about you is securely housed — offline — inside TDR’s giant pile of member data. This means that, in addition to being spared the borderline ridiculous pain of trying to find JUST the right words and photos to represent your inner essence, you’re also spared the mind-numbing hours of sifting through profile after profile. Goldstein explains that confidentiality is one of TDR’s central value props for many clients: While their client base includes “everyone, ages 25 to 85,” they have a sizable following among “celebrities, executives, and people who don’t necessarily want an online presence. It’s much more private.”
- Users can choose free or paid memberships. It’s free to sign up to be part of TDR’s candidate pool. Members who choose paid subscriptions, however, are assigned a matchmaker who’s actively working to find them possible matches. Unpaid members are invited on dates if they’re possible matches for paid members.
- Signing up online literally takes a minute. At the point of signup, TDR’s website asks for only the basics. And that’s nearly it for members’ hands-on involvement with TDR’s tech. (As Goldstein explains, TDR uses a high-touch approach largely based on in-person meetings, phone conversations, and email.)
- TDR gathers information about members via informal, in-person coffee dates. All new members meet with a TDR matchmaker for coffee. During the meeting, the matchmaker gets to know the candidate, asking detailed questions about their upbringing, their exes, where they see themselves in the future, what they’re looking for in a relationship, and so on. “We’re digging pretty deep,” says Goldstein, but she assures, “It really feels like a friend meeting you.”
- They can compile objective information about members. After each meeting, TDR’s matchmakers input the information they gathered into their system, categorizing members by personality type and other characteristics. It’s worth noting an important distinction: Rather than members self-reporting potentially inaccurate information, TDR’s matchmakers provide the information. Relates Goldstein, “We’re able to see people in a different way than they’re seeing themselves.” This helps them avoid matching people based on information that doesn’t accurately reflect what they’re really like. (Imagine a non-stop social butterfly/chatterbox who wishfully but wrongfully portrays herself in a profile as “shy and quiet,” and you’ll see why this is important.)
- They use technology to help them find possible matches. TDR’s proprietary algorithms help the matchmakers find prospects who look right “on paper.” They have also used facial recognition technology to get a grasp on what members find attractive.
- They essentially go on your first dates for you. Once the matchmakers have identified possible matches, they meet with them in person to gauge whether they’ve assessed correctly. If afterward they’re still feeling good about a possible match, they send a photo and a short, matchmaker-created bio for review by the paid member. If the paid member is game, an actual date is set up. (No, the matchmakers don’t go along on those dates.)
- They provide dating advice and coaching. Paid members get customized big-picture and date-by-date coaching to help them showcase their best selves, anticipate and avoid issues, and assess how they’re doing. Says Goldstein, “We see a whole 360 view, where with online dating, they don’t even know if you’re going on a date. Part of our experience is helping our clients become better daters. We can see if there are trends that are happening.”
- They capture and analyze post-date feedback from both parties. Following any first date, people leave with impressions — sometimes spot-on, sometimes mistaken — about what each other thought. TDR’s matchmakers simply follow up and ask, using their technology to capture and analyze all post-date information. As Goldstein explains, this proves crucial in countless situations. She relates the story of one paid member who went on a series of first dates with vetted candidates… all of whom finished their dates unsure if he was interested, calling him “hard to read.” Says Goldstein, “What we found out was that, at the end of the dates, he was shaking the girls’ hands.” So it wasn’t surprising that they thought he might be uninterested. Fortunately, they were able to share that information with the hand-shaker, who — as it turned out — was interested in almost all of them. Goldstein continues, “People are ghosting left and right and you have no idea why, but we’re able to figure out the reasons. A lot of times we’re bridging the gap between two people that really like each other… but they didn’t think the other person liked them.”
As Goldstein relates, by inserting a more objective third party into the dating equation, TDR increases the chance that members will find a true match. That’s important because, over her many years as a matchmaker, she’s learned one massively significant central lesson: The person who’s right for you may not come in the package you expect. “We believe that you are swiping past your soulmate. A lot of people are looking for the wrong thing,” she explains. It’s not about finding someone with perfect teeth who’s at least six feet tall, but rather about finding a true match who may not check either of those boxes. Says Goldstein, “Most of the time when I’m working with a client, I know where they’re going to end up. I have to get them to a point where they realize it, too. So for some clients, it can be challenging, if they’re not willing to take that journey — if they’re not willing to open their minds, and if they’re really stuck on a checklist.”
The TDR crew is passionate about sharing dating wisdom beyond the scope of their member base. To reach an even wider audience, they partnered with Amazon Alexa to create a 30-day challenge in which users are daily given different advice and activity suggestions. The goal is to help users step outside their comfort zones in ways that will ultimately help them improve their dating and people-meeting mojo.
TDR is currently up and running in nine cities — LA, Orange County, Silicon Valley, SF, Philadelphia, DC, Boston, New York, and Chicago — and they’ll soon expand to Seattle, Dallas and Miami. They also hold events in every city to give clients a chance to mingle.
TDR’s tech/human matchmaking model is another fascinating evolution in online dating. In a world that’s otherwise skewing toward removing the humans from the supply chain in favor of blockchain and bots, it’s refreshing to feel that in certain situations, human intuition and in-person interaction still play a crucial, irreplaceable role.
At minimum, the writer of this article can assert that she’s probably going to sign up for TDR’s user pool. And heck, she might even reactivate her Tinder account, too, for good measure. After all, online dating is also a numbers game — a numbers game that has worked amazingly well for countless lucky matches.
Want to find out if Distillery is a match for your software design and development needs? Let us know. (Who knows — maybe we’ll both swipe right on one another!)