The World’s Simplest Dating App

Tinder’s creators call it “an intelligent solution to today’s dating woes.” But this super-simple dating app shows that simplicity has its limits.

Graphic by Chris Ritter

If you find yourself joining any of the major online dating sites, you will likely make a fair number of executive decisions about what you will and will not accept in a potential mate: “I WILL NOT date someone who describes himself as ‘jacked,’” “I WILL NOT date someone who describes herself as being ‘very into’ astrology,” and so on.

The majority of online daters, though, will ignore your profile and stated preferences altogether. This is how, as a hypothetical 25-year-old woman, you might end up with an inbox full of messages from people almost purposely outside your stated acceptable age range — they’re always either 21 or 52, and more “enemy” than “friend.” It’s very easy to end up feeling like listing all of those favorite foods and shows and personality traits and opinions wasn’t worth the effort at all.

Tinder — a new dating app for the iPhone — takes care of all that, which is to say: It never asks what you’re looking for in a mate in the first place.

The way Tinder works is by using your Facebook friends, Facebook interests, and GPS-identified geographical location to match you up with other users. Your viewing of these users’ profiles is totally anonymous, unless you like a person’s profile and that person (who is not initially notified that you liked him or her) likes you back. At that point, you’ll both be notified that you have a “match,” and can then message each other through the app if you so desire. Tinder therefore removes the the insta-humiliation of many online dating sites, which often reveal the profiles you look at (and who looks at yours) instantly, setting up a constant stream of tiny rejections. (“Why didn’t he message me???”)

So far, so good, but the limits imposed by Tinder’s utter simplicity can very quickly take you in some weird directions.

Tinder does not ask you if you are neat or messy, outgoing or shy, a traveler or a homebody. It does not ask you if you are tall or short or what books you read or whether you read books at all. If you don’t list a sexual preference on your Facebook account, it will assume you are straight. (It isn’t clear at first, but you can override this setting by clicking on your profile pic and changing your settings.) And it doesn’t ask your for your preferred age ranges, either. It assumes that almost anyone can date almost anyone, and if you think about that in a very utopian, non-pragmatic sort of way, it sounds almost nice.

These are things you probably won’t notice until you realize the people on your screen are people you would have automatically ruled out on any other dating site, simply because their demographics aren’t ones you’re interested in. The first few users that show up on my screen are close enough to what I’d theoretically be looking for in a date, if a bit too young: Most are men between the ages of 22 and 24. I’d assumed the app has approximated my age (26) from my college graduation year, but then, perhaps unsurprisingly, I get a handful of…boys. Legally they are men, I suppose, but they are boys, 18- and 19-year-olds. There are One Direction members for whom I’d MAYBE consider an exception to this particular rule, but then again, probably not.

Co-creators Sean Rad and Justin Mateen told me that the new version of Tinder, expected in three weeks, will allow for user-selected age ranges. As of right now, it mostly just works to make you safe in the eyes of the law: Users over 18 can’t see minors, and vice versa.

One of my 18-year-olds.

But the limits of Tinder’s simplistic, Facebook-centered approach to matchmaking are more deeply felt when the matchmaking actually starts: Very few of my “matches” and I share friends or interests in common, and when I do share an interest with one of the guys, it is almost always the Minnesota Twins — not an especially telling piece of information. By design, Tinder’s ability to match is directly proportional to the number of interests Facebook users list in their profiles — the more interests you have, the more likely that they’ll overlap with other users’. The same goes for the number of one’s Facebook friends. For a relatively minimal Facebook user like me (fewer than 300 friends, only a couple dozen “liked” pages or interests), Tinder doesn’t have much to work with apart from my specific geographical location. Rad and Mateen told me the app also learns about you through who you like (and don’t like) on Tinder, but again, this is something that can only help the more Tinder users there are, and the more you pass judgment on.

This is the part of Tinder that I love: passing judgment. When you wish to decline interest in someone, swiping your finger to the left stamps a big “NOPE” on his face. I do this, joyfully, 15 times or so, before I suddenly find myself without any more matches to evaluate. I’ve checked back in a few times since, but there hasn’t yet been a new user in my area. Considering how wide Tinder cast my net — as of now, the app gives you a 50-mile radius to work with — this is briefly depressing.

But Tinder is very new — in September, the app’s Facebook page announced breaking 1,000 users. The app’s creators don’t want to disclose the current number, but will say they’ve now had over 8 million profile ratings. Speaking of what they might add to future iterations of Tinder, Rad and Mateen told me they plan to release “innovative features to better help you discover and connect with those around you.” There’s certainly a lot of room to make Tinder more comprehensive, but you almost hope they don’t go TOO far. It’s freeing not knowing much of anything about the people that pop up on your phone. Either that or bleak. It’s hard to say.

Tinder’s creators repeatedly refer to the app as a “game,” which seems smart, given its limitations — whatever else it is, I cannot say. If you want to use it as I do, which is to stamp NOPE across the faces of teenagers who will never know you did, I’d get in there quick, before the age preference capability sets in and makes you feel (just slightly) bad for seeking them out on purpose.

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