I'll admit I hadn't been swiping very carefully on Tinder when I got a match, so, as one does, I went back to look at her profile.
"Let's match and never message each other," read her rather canny bio. "It will be fun!"
Dear reader, we never did message each other.
That's not uncommon, says Eve Peters, who holds a BA from Stanford and a JD from Berkeley. Formerly of OKCupid Labs, an incubator within that online dating giant, now she's the founder and CEO of a small dating app called Whim, available in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
"We did a bunch of research and we found that only five percent of matches actually culminate in real life dates," Peters told me, "and that's after an average of two weeks of back-and-forth."
Instead, Whim promises "Dates, Not Texts." Enter your neighborhood and some times when you're free, then peruse potential matches. Swipe carefully: If you match with someone, you won't be given an option to message one another.
Instead, Whim will contact you both individually with a date spot and a time to meet there. "A lot of people are really trying to make it work— how about Wednesday lunch, how about Saturday — and it just fizzles," says Peters. While she admits that "people enter the date a little more comfortable... when they've established a rapport via messaging... that's outweighed by the disadvantage of false expectations." It's all too easy to form an attachment to an idea about someone or a few messages from them, only to be surprised and distracted when confronted with the real them.
Of course, you might need to make adjustments to Whim's plans for you. To do so, the app sends you your date's phone number, allowing you to SMS message them. As you might expect, that's been a sticking point for some — in a culture of unconscious swiping, awful internet trolls, and even sexual violence — it could be potentially dangerous.
But Peters says it hasn't been a problem. "Getting [users] at least into SMS land gets them to treat each other like real people," she says. Additionally, Whim's user base is small enough that Peters can individually respond to red-flagged behavior or harassment, in which case she'll remove the perpetrator and recommend that the victim block their harasser's phone number. If a user flaked on the date or their real-life behavior constituted harassment, Whim will also take action to remove them from the system.
Okay, so, just like that rando you met on Tinder with whom you're now sitting down to coffee, you probably already know whether Whim is a match for you and your needs. If it is, by all means, it is in the app store and I'll see you on there. Regardless, there's a lot to learn from the bevy of dating apps and the ways they differentiate themselves. As Peters admits, "In San Francisco... there's a new dating app coming out every week."
You yourself might have a quiver of apps at your disposal, and if so, you know that each one has a different character or flavor. How do they get such different users? How do they tell us to behave, and how do we conform to their cultures? How do they keep us swiping, and maybe most pressing for them, how do they make money when we do so?
First, to call some of these services "dating apps" might be a mischaracterization. They could just be about that ego boost you get from scoring a match. Users might not even be single, or looking to date — making them "more... a game in the app than they are [a service] delivering you offline results," as Peters puts it.
Others reward you simply for opening them. Bumble, a popular app where women message men first, might even be stacking the deck. "I get the impression that a lot of people like Bumble because the first set of girls are really hot, but I think they have an algorithm that probably puts their most right swiped-users up front," Peters conjectures.
Even if apps keep users coming back — which is a problematic proposition — profiting from them isn't easy. As one OKCupid founder, Christian Rudder, put it during a talk in San Francisco: The point of that company is to get people off its website, never to return. How do you make money on a one-time, one-off user?
Probably you don't, but also, probably that magical one-timer is not who uses OKCupid et al. Rudder's remark implies immediate, complete, and lifelong monogamy, with no side-swiping or trial-and-error. In real life, you might never know when you'll find yourself in dating applandia. And return users — or power users — might help dating apps and sites in their quest to build revenue.
Last year, the Wall Street Journal wrote that dating websites were expected to make $1.17 billion, and apps to make $628.8 million per information from IBISWorld. But even with those figures growing, there might not be enough slices of the pie to go around. “In terms of revenue, the online-dating industry has matured, but there are too many players and not a lot are generating sufficient revenue for these sites,” IBISWorld researcher Britanny Carter told the Journal.
So far, the future is shaping up to be "freemium," a model for apps that is free to all but offers perks to those who pay. Last year saw the introduction of Tinder Plus, covered here by Techcrunch, a paid version of the app that allows premium users to undo matches, remove ads (another revenue stream) and get more "super likes," which boost users presence in others' feeds. A six-month Tinder Plus subscription costs under $6.
At Whim, the solution to monetization has been, like the app itself, a little more humble: A tip jar. If you liked your date — the app will ask you how it went — you can throw the company some cash to keep the service running.
"We're still considering a few different revenue models," Peters tells me, "We've always wanted to build a premium, rather than a freemium, experience."
Perhaps, for example, on a Whim date your first round of drinks would be free at a participating bar, and in exchange for a nominal monthly subscription or a date-by-date fee.
Most users, I would imagine, are more concerned with their own dating pursuits than how their internet matchmakers are making ends meet. For us, our time and effort are the currency, and the less of it wasted on bad dating experiences or pointless messages, the more we stand to profit. "If you don't like your date, it sucks," Peters says of a potential bummer date on Whim, "but at least you didn't spend all this time on it."
Previously: Eff-Ing In SF, Vol. 6: Completely Forget About Your Girlfriend With Automated Gift Delivery