Gaydar, for a long time the pre-eminent gay hook-up service, survived for years despite an absolutely atrocious user interface because its customers got what they needed out of it – and because there was always a steady stream of new men to pick from.
Gay hook-up apps such as Grindr have done well in spite of crappy products and unreliable services because a man on a mission in search of a randy companion will put up with just about anything if it delivers the goods in the end.
To date, however, no heterosexual hook-up apps have managed to nail the psychology of heterosexual courtship. Boys and girls are different, and often speak quite different languages, nowhere more obviously than in flirting and sexual small-talk.
Yet if you were to ask someone in the technology industry why “dating” app Tinder is taking off, they’d likely mumble something about “gamification”: the fact that the app, which asks users to “swipe left” if they’re not interested in a potential partner, and “swipe right” if they are, is tapping into the brain’s reward circuits like Angry Birds – just with added sexual frisson.
Well, OK. But that’s not the whole story. What Tinder really gets right is that it replicates and compliments the psychological processes of heterosexual dating.
“This is exactly what I do in my head when I’m in a bar,” a lucky-in-love friend remarked to me over lunch this afternoon. And he’s right: “swipe left” and “swipe right” is a perfect proxy for the visually-oriented male “thumbs up” / “thumbs down” knee-jerk.
The real genius of Tinder is that the very same process appeals to women, too – not because they’re as visually superficial as men but because they only get connected to the men who like them after they too have indicated they are interested. There’s none of the intimidation and unpleasantness associated with unwanted attention from predatory men.
Both sides of this equation have existed before in other dating services, but Tinder is the first app to make it to scale that combines them with effortless simplicity and geo-location.
In other words, Tinder is winning the dating wars because it’s the first dating app that takes the volatility – and asymmetry – of heterosexual dating psychology into account but packages it in a simple, repetitive – and even addictive – hand gesture. The same, simple action, for different reasons, works perfectly for both parties.
All I want to know is: when are people going to start swiping at each other in real life?