Why Dating Apps are losing to Tinder

For the millennial and beyond generation, most online and mobile dating services might as well throw down the gauntlet and let Tinder run them over. It’s 2016, and we’re already well into the dawn of the so-called Dating Apocalypse. With the combination of mobile technology and riding the wave of the cultural tides, Tinder was poised to establish itself as the leader of the pack in terms of dating apps a few years ago. With their Swipe Right technology [1], market penetration, network effects, and solid product, they will probably remain a leader in this space barring a big cultural shift or an entirely new entrant.

Google Trends: Tinder (app)

In the following sections, I’ll break down why the competition is losing their key differentiators and are just reacting to the competitive heat from Tinder. And before I start, a quick disclaimer is that I’m viewing this from a purely heteronormative lens since this is the biggest use case. Oh, it’ll help if you have background knowledge in the dating app space.

Coffee Meets Bagel: The main selling proposition was that they give you one bagel (or match) per day. This is actually crucial in a way as it forces both genders to slow down and consider their potential matches more carefully. One of Tinder’s main disadvantages is that typically males will swipe right a little carelessly, leading to less than stellar matches and all the while encouraging disengagement from both sides. That is precisely why they put a limit.

Typical male Tinder usage

However, with CMB’s strategy, instead of focusing on how get better at delivering that special noon bagel, they’ve just been testing out increasing the limits to something like 20 bagels/day instead, effectively becoming a more limited version of Tinder (which is estimated to be 100 Swipes/day). Being able to deliver a strong targeted match per day is a hard and legitimate challenge, especially when users will typically sign up for multiple dating apps at the same time, so I see them struggling to compete here.

Bumble: The only reason for this app’s existence is that it serves as a counter-reaction to Tinder. In theory, it sounds promising. The woman is supposed to initiate the conversation within 24 hours or else potential matches expire. This, along with their branding and initial userbase which appears to be higher quality [2], tends to weed out offensive messages from a certain demographic of men and helps keep the interactions more real (I’ve met both men and women racking up 1000+ matches on Tinder) But let’s face it — after that first message, the ice is broken, and the app is really not that different functionally. I will, however, note that they’ve made a smart choice to use full screen photos on the phone. Other apps should be doing that as well.

Hinge: There isn’t that much to cover here except that it’s like Tinder but works through your friends of friends. Again, the “dating model” is trivially simple to replicate and if it were any good, Tinder would’ve switched to that already.

Happn: I’m holding out hopes for this one, the “missed connections” type concept and path crossing is pretty cool, but they need to get their engineering up to par. However, a fundamental disadvantage comes from the fact that if you aren’t living in a decent-sized walkable city to begin with, it becomes highly unlikely you have anything to work with. I wonder if commuting on the same highway counts as crossing paths. If so, I can’t think of anything more unromantic to share as a “meeting experience”.

OkCupid: Ok, honestly the nerd side of me loves this. With user generated compatibility questions (and boy are people creative), they have one of the best chances of matching people who are mutually compatible. They were one of the earlier Web 2.0 heartthrobs of the dating world, but Tinder showed up and started eating their lunch. The biggest problem they have was that women received too many unsolicited and unwanted messages, and for men, countless hours were wasted trying to craft witty (or not so witty) opening messages. They’ve since gone onto a hybrid model where they’ve enabled swiping on the mobile side. Overall, the product offering is now more confused than ever.

I hope to have given a brief glimpse as to why these dating services have been struggling with their identity. Take this breakdown with a grain of salt. These are apps and services with a decent sized userbase of course and I’m sure there have been plenty of success stories. The point of this article is to show how they’re not actualizing their potential. I’ve left off some of the other apps and dating services here, but if anyone wants me to provide any commentary, I’ll be happy to review them.

At the end of the day, Tinder itself is by no means an unstoppable force and its dating model does have major shortcomings. A detailed write up of that will follow.

[1] I kid, I kid — However, Jonathan Badeen did say he invented #swiperight

[2] I’m simply defining “higher quality” in the terms of initial messages not starting off as completely lewd/offensive

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Alex Yim’s story.