Tinder is the swipe, and the swipe is Tinder. But as we close out the decade, it might be time to retire the swipe we once knew. Tinder’s introduction in 2012 ushered in not only the beginning of an era in which seemingly everyone dates online, but also the beginning of the “swipe” as a design and interaction concept. A left swipe means no and a right swipe means yes — but of course, you already knew that.
While it feels rudimentary to explain the swipe, it once seemed radical. Before its existence, online daters built profiles, on a website, that took hours to perfect. OkCupid gave users seemingly endless questions to answer, and eHarmony focused on personality quizzes, all in an effort to assign people scores and offer compatibility figures. Then came the swipe. It removed the work from online dating and instead asked one essential question: do you think this person is hot? If yes, swipe right. If no, swipe left. Easy.
The swipe was born only seven years ago, and in that time, it’s conquered online dating and made it mainstream. Dating apps are expected to top 25 million users in the US this year, and as of 2017, 39 percent of heterosexual couples in the US said they met online, up from 22 percent in 2009, according to a recent study.
Tinder lowered the barriers to online dating and gamified it. Profiles are bare, and picking people you’re interested in is borderline thoughtless. Instead of requiring work up front, daters download an app and immediately start matching. Even more brilliant, Tinder, at one time, required daters to link their Facebook account, filling in some essential profile details like their age and school. It relied on phones’ built-in GPS to determine where daters were located and populate potential matches from there. The simplicity of the app, at a time when smartphones were taking off, set Tinder on an upward trajectory.
The basic swipe concept has been so valuable to Match, Tinder’s parent company, that it’s even fighting patent disputes over the incorporation of the swipe into other dating apps — the swipe is money. (Bumble and Tinder have been fighting about the swipe for over a year now.)
Swipe haters, however, deride it as an evil force, one that’s corrupted us and turned us into sex-driven maniacs. Who are we as humans if we can choose from thousands of potential matches with just an app tap and a swipe? Does that spell the end of monogamy? A Vanity Fair article from 2015 tied Tinder to the “dating apocalypse,” a time in which sex is so easily available that courtship ceases to exist. That doesn’t seemed to have played out yet, and in fact, the swipe is starting to go out of style.
As we enter 2020, the apps seem to be finding out that the swipe alone is no longer cutting it. They’re differentiating themselves by creating slower experiences that result in real dates with real people, presumably picking up on daters’ wants.
Even Tinder is experimenting with ways to augment the swipe and give people more context than just a yes or no. It launched Swipe Night, an interactive video feature, this year that gives daters the option to swipe on people who made similar decisions to them during the experience. Turns out, you might want to have something to talk about in addition to the swipe. Other apps, like Hinge, focus on scrolling profile pages that give daters more context about the person they might want to date. The League is using automated, two-minute video calls to help daters filter through matches. And newer apps that have yet to fully take off, like Bounce, concentrate on the real-life part of dating by giving people no room to talk and instead focus on the meetup. The app is only live at specific times.
The swipe sped dating up — people could take in as many humans as they wanted, as fast as they wanted. But as conversations around tech, mental health, and burnout reach a fever pitch, the swipe likely isn’t going to stick around forever. It might remain the gesture with which we make dating decisions, but it’ll require more than a hot-or-not choice.
In the seven years since Tinder’s launch, the app says it counts over 5 million paying subscribers, likely a small portion of the total number of users overall. More online daters are in the fold than ever before, the mechanics they use to meet just needs a switch-up. Millions of people around the world swiped right on online dating this decade, and we’re likely never going back, we just need a slight tweak.