Guest Post: Are Dating Apps Built to Fail?

Guest Post: Adam Cohen-Aslatei is the CEO and Founder of startup S’More, as well as the former Managing Director of Chappy and an independent industry consultant.

Dating apps have quickly become one of the most popular app categories, behind games and social networks. In fact, the average engagement level of an app like Grindr trumps that of Instagram by more than double. That means the average user is coming back to Grindr between 15-20 times a day, which is gold for engagement! But because dating apps generate such a high level of instant gratification, it’s not the least bit surprising.

While there are an abundance of dating apps to choose from, there is one thing many of them have in common; they won’t help you find your next relationship. Dating apps have become games instead; swipes, likes, pokes, virtual gifting and more. Dating apps have become more like fun entertainment platforms, instead of tools to help mass love seekers find relationships. Don’t get me wrong, many people do find love on dating apps, as proven by the stories you hear on the Today Show or in the New York Times Lifestyle section. But with over 35% of American adults using dating apps, the percentage of those actually finding love is quite minimal.

The real question at hand is, are people really looking for love or relationships on dating apps, or are they actually looking to pass the time, gain attention, or seek a distraction? New research shows that about 50% of people are not looking for love, but instead find that dating apps are fun. Reason being, there is nothing like the endorphin rush of receiving a response from a stunningly attractive woman, or a handsome stud. But here’s the truth: most people who are connecting on these apps don’t meet in-person. In fact, 1/3 of people who use dating apps will never go on a single date! Instead they have casual conversations with a large pool of suitors, always playing the field, but never actually landing on anything meaningful. Even with sophisticated algorithms, AI, and machine learning technologies – somehow the core matchmaking functionality seems broken.

You also have separate apps that are considered “hook-up” apps. These apps are very successful in bringing people together, but not always in a traditional way. These apps tend to lead to meet-ups for one night, or one hour. The hook-up culture has become so prevalent, it seems that everyone is doing it, and the stigma it once had is now gone. Truthfully, in many ways, they are more successful in achieving their goal than the more classic dating apps. So while the term “hook-up” leaves something to be desired, people are actually meeting at scale. These apps work, there is no argument about it. And if we were to reposition these apps as “fast casual” (like the food service industry did to scale growth), I think even more people would use them. But, in reality getting more people on these “fast casual” apps is also not the answer.

The problem with “dating” apps, or apps that claim to help you find true love, is that people never really meet in-person. You invest your precious time speaking to so many people, sometimes even hours per week, with nothing to show for it. These apps don’t help you get to know a person in enough detail to warrant the time and effort it takes to get all dolled-up and miss tonight’s episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The opportunity cost is too great, and people just don’t go out.

The most valuable thing we have is time, but if that is the case, then why do we waste so much of it on apps if they don’t give us our desired outcome? I suppose there is less risk and more value placed on the time spent talking to someone in an app, compared to the risk/reward of meeting that person in real life. This could mean that people are either super risk averse, or that “matching” and the “getting to know you” or vetting phase was not thorough enough. I think the answer lies somewhere in the grey area in-between. Most people have had horrible dating experiences, and don’t want to risk wasting time and energy, and apps don’t do a good enough job of showcasing the full beauty, intelligence, emotional quotient, and facets of a person.

In the end, a relationship is not going to form unless two people dedicate the time and effort to meet in person. Fast casual apps work because they actually get people out of their homes, and I suspect that because more people are physically interacting, that there is a higher incidence of the potential for a relationship compared to traditional dating apps.

But here’s the good news, you don’t have to download a fast casual app to meet your next boyfriend or girlfriend. Top-notch apps like Bumble, Hinge, and Raya are transforming, and building products that enable you to learn more about a person at the onset, and in time efficient and interactive ways. The next phase of dating apps will focus on helping people who are seeking relationships. Why the shift? Because the average age of an adult getting married in the U.S. is 27, and 31 for a man – which means product development will shift to address newer consumer needs. Expect to see richer profiles, more live video, and a de-emphasis on the perfect selfie.

In the end, you and your new bae may be watching The Housewives together; thanks to a new breed of dating apps revolutionizing the way people meet. A focus on substance and quality, over FaceTune and bikini shots will allow for even greater adoption, understanding and usage, and also much better outcomes for all love seekers.

Scott Harvey

Scott is the Editor of Global Dating Insights. Raised in Dorset, he holds a BA from The University of Nottingham and an MSc from Lund University School of Economics and Management. Previously he has written about politics, economics and technology for various online publications.

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