Tinder has recently revealed that it is now ranking its users based on a ‘desirability’ algorithm. Megan Ward question’s the ethics of this decision, and the impact it will have on the Irish dating scene.
In the three years that have passed since its initial release in September 2012, the location-based and self-proclaimed ‘dating and social discovery’ app has seen one of the fastest growth rates in popularity that the social media world has seen. While apps like Facebook and Twitter existed for several years before gaining the massive user bases that they have today, within just two years Tinder was registering over 1 billion ‘swipes’ per day. CEO Sean Rad has stated that the main drive behind the app was the observation that “you feel more comfortable approaching people if you know that they want you to approach them”. From this idea Rad developed an app where users set certain filters (gender, age and radial distance) and then swipe left or right on the profiles presented to them. The perception of the app has changed with the growth of it. It is hard to find young, single people who haven’t used the app at one point or another, whether that was with serious intentions or just for an ego boost.
It’s widely accepted that the undeniable popularity of Tinder mainly comes from its simplicity, its ease of use and the ‘matching’ system. If you swipe right on somebody and they have either already swiped right on you or subsequently do so, it’s a match. Users who have matched then have the ability to exchange messages. If you swipe left on a person who has swiped right on you, they won’t find out that you have rejected them (although some would argue that at times it’s easy enough to work out that somebody hasn’t ‘liked’ you back). At the Web Summit that took place in Dublin last November, Rad announced that there would be a significant change in the algorithm used by Tinder to find potential matches for users. Fast Company have since revealed that Tinder is now ranking its users by ‘desirability’.
While the news is still relatively fresh, there have been comments made about the superficiality that such an algorithm promotes. However, it can be argued that superficiality is what Tinder is based on. Although there are certainly couples who met on Tinder, fell in love and are now in long term relationships, for the majority of users the purpose of the app is not to find somebody with a fantastic personality. The app in itself is almost totally based on aesthetics – you like somebody based on their photos.
Tinder has not completely explained how exactly the ‘desirability’ number is calculated, only briefly mentioning several factors that go into it and saying that it’s complicated and took two and a half months to build. Rad also stressed that in this case, ‘desirability’ is not necessarily a synonym for ‘attractiveness’. This seems a little contradictory at first, but any avid Tinder user will know that a left swipe does not necessarily mean you think the person is unnattractive. If somebody has a grainy picture, numerous group photos, or a weird bio, these factors can affect your swiping decision, and it seems the desirability algorithm aims to mark these profiles with a lower score. According to the initial report, the algorithm also factors in how many people swipe right on you, your photos (which calls into question whether there are real people working and looking at users’ photos), and your level of engagement. This last factor suggests that they are trying to steer Tinder towards being a more social app, as opposed to merely a game of swiping for fun. Tinder recently introduced the option to include work and education information on profiles, something that has had positive feedback as users feel that they are getting more ‘real’ matches and it’s easier to find people from your own university.
An interesting point to note about Tinder itself is that it shies away from labelling itself a dating app, instead stating that it aims to be a place for people to connect. It’s true that there are people who genuinely try to use it to make new friends – particularly when they are new to an area. Stellar magazine recently published an article about a woman who got tired of her female friends having conflicting schedules or being too tired to go out so set her search filters to female and found other women who were interested in making friends.
Some have questioned the ethics of this algorithm, as what Tinder seems to be doing is matching attractive people with other attractive people, average people with other average people, and so on. However, the wider response to this has been fairly indifferent, as many users already had suspicions or assumed that there was an algorithm in place to get more matches for more conventionally attractive people. Another reason for this indifference is that in general, people don’t look upon Tinder as a serious dating app that will find them romance. There are various other dating sites that came before Tinder which specifically have the intention of creating romance between users. It’s yet to be seen what effect this could have on the dating scene in Ireland, if any at all. Is this a leap forward in dating technology, or is it just another boost for superficiality?