The age of Tinderella: A critique of Tinder
77 minutes is a decent block of time. In 77 minutes, I could get a (long) workout in, watch a few episodes of Parks and Recreation, or go to a sit-down dinner with a friend. I could also go on Tinder. It’s no secret that the Tinder has taken the online dating world by storm, and according to a spokesperson from the company, the average Tinder user spends 77 minutes a day on the app. That’s almost twice the amount of time per day that the average American spends on Facebook. Tinder also recently released Tinder Plus, a premium subscription to the app that allows you do undo accidental left swipes and access the “passport” feature of the app for $9.99 a month (or $19.99 if you’re over the age of 30 — nice, Tinder!) In this essay, I will provide a critique of Tinder as an online community, discussing Tinder’s strengths of intrinsic motivation, scarcity, liking, and bond-based commitment, and its weaknesses, which include needs-based commitment and reciprocity.
I can be your motivation
Although I’m sure people have a few different and interesting motives for using Tinder, one thing Tinder does very well is play off of its users’ intrinsic motivations, or motivation that is driven by internal rewards as opposed to external rewards. In their book Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design, Robert Kraut and Paul Resnick (2011) cite Steven Reiss’ sixteen internal motives/basic human drives, including the motives of “social contact” and “romance,” both extremely relevant to Tinder.
The motive social contact is defined as the “desire for peer companionship (including play)” (p. 41) and brings the intrinsic feeling of fun, and the motive romance is defined as the “desire for sex (including courting)” (p. 41) and has an intrinsic feeling of lust. Tinder gives users the satisfaction of social contact by allowing them to left and right swipe (left swipe means “no thanks”, right swipe means “I’m interested”) through users of their preferred sex and message with one another given that it was a match (both users “liked” one another). Some users play on Tinder just for fun and social contact, while others come with romance motives. Tinder has been labeled as a hook-up app, and many people use it to do just that — fulfilling social contact and romance simultaneously!
As Alfie Kohn concluded, intrinsic motivation is much stronger than extrinsic motivation in the long run. Tinder continuously offers users fulfillment of some of their basic drives, so they will continue to attract and engage users who are looking for romance, social contact, or maybe just a little fun.
Saying “I do” to Tinder
Like any successful online community, Tinder users identify with one or multiple different types of commitment that cause them to continue to use the app. On the positive side, Tinder fosters bond-based affective commitment, defined by Kraut and Resnick as “feeling close to individual members of the group” (p. 79). Tinder fosters this commitment by showing any mutual friends and interests (taken from Facebook) that you may have with another user. These friends and/or interests can be a great point of connection for people that have matched on the app. Kraut and Resnick go on to say that “research on psychological balance demonstrates that people who are both friends of a friend are likely to know and like each other” (p. 89). Don’t get me wrong, you will definitely swipe through your fair share of interesting people who you have no connections with, but a mutual friend or a shared interest gives users the reassurance they need in order to have bond-based commitment on the app. Tinder could even increase the bond-based commitment by making it possible to sort other users based on if you have mutual friends — that way, you don’t have to sort through any “randos.”
Kraut and Resnick talk about the value of an online community being determined by the site’s match value, or the “expected utility of examining the opportunity and possibly engaging with it” (p. 234) and the site’s collection size, or the “number of new opportunities since the last visit” (p. 234). By allowing users to sort through other users based on mutual friends or shared interests, Tinder could lower their large collection size, which is often very overwhelming, and one of the reasons why users, including myself, don’t use the app very often.
Although Tinder users have feelings of bond-based commitment toward the community, Tinder could capitalize on needs-based commitment very easily. Kraut and Resnick define needs-based commitment by saying “people stay in a group only as long as they perceive the group and other members as being attractive and instrumental in fulfilling their personal goals” (p. 105). They go on to say, “designing experiences that meet members’ needs requires knowing what these needs are. If you don’t know what members want, then it is hard to satisfy them” (p. 106). Unlike the dating app Hinge, Tinder does not allow you to put any information in about what you’re looking for from the app. This can lead to awkward conversations and a lack of knowledge about other users — are they looking for a hook-up or a relationship? Perhaps Tinder expects users to figure this out between themselves or wants to go along with its hook-up app reputation, but apps like Hinge might eventually take over and steal Tinder’s users. By letting people add preferences such as “looking for hook-ups” or “looking for love,” Tinder could better meet the needs and goals of its users.
Dr. Robert Cialdini discusses 6 shortcuts that guide our thinking in his video “Science of Persuasion.” Among the 6, Tinder does one well, one OK, and can easily add one that would make the app much better. Similarly to what I discussed before, Tinder also incorporates the “liking” shortcut into its app, but could do so more effectively. The liking shortcut means that in general, people prefer to say yes to those that they like and are similar to. Tinder lets users see mutual friends and interests imported from Facebook, but could strengthen the app by allowing users to sort by people they have mutual friends with, or a certain number of shared interests with.
With its recent Tinder Plus addition, users can now pay anywhere from $9.99 to $19.99 per month (depending on your age) to have the ability to undo swipes, have the “passport” function, which allows you to swipe in different cities (usually, you can only Tinder within a certain mile radius of where you live), and have unlimited swipes. So all regular users, who were used to swiping as much as they wanted, all day, every day, now have a certain amount of matches they can have per 24 hour period. This new functionality is playing on the scarcity shortcut, which says that something is more valuable the scarcer it is. This prevents people from right-swiping everyone just to see who likes them, and makes the right swipe much more valuable — worth about ten bucks a month, if I were to quantify it. And guess what, it’s working! Tinder reported seeing a 25% increase in number of matches per swipe.
However, if Tinder is so interested in increasing their match-to-swipe ratio, they should incorporate the “reciprocity” shortcut, meaning that people feel obligated to give back to others. The dating app Hinge lets you know “someone in today’s batch has already liked you,” A.K.A. you know that someone you are encountering has already liked you, so there is more of an incentive for you to like them back. Tinder could make this a feature on the app, and this would definitely increase matches based on the reciprocity shortcut!
Is Tinder here to stay?
Tinder continues to stay with the times — just recently, they added a feature that allows you to connect your Instagram account with your Tinder account! It seems like most users take Tinder for what it’s worth — a hook-up app — and that is completely fine. In my opinion, I think that Tinder does many things because they know that users perceive them as a hook-up app and want to capitalize on their current reputation. Tinder has over 50 million active users across the world and makes over 12 million matches per day — it doesn’t seem like its popularity will die down anytime soon. However, as the online dating app world becomes more crowded, Tinder should think about how to diversify the app and its user preferences to prevent people from moving to other, more serious apps.