Valentine’s Day is not just a big day for couples – millions of singles are expected to fire up dating apps today in search of romance.
Tinder leads the market in the UK, boasting 26 million “matches” per day globally. The company says it broke its own records last Valentine’s Day as people flocked to the app looking for love.
Behind the app is dating giant Match, which also owns other big names including match.com, OKCupid and Plenty of Fish – but there are plenty of start-ups hoping to charm singles and top the app store charts.
“Whatever competitors do, they will need to be cash rich and able to support the business to stand a chance of success,” says Paolo Pescatore, director of Multiplay and Media at CCS Insight.
“But there is scope for new players to emerge that focus on a specific niche.”
Where ‘players’ are welcome
Combining match-making with games and quizzes, DatePlay is designed to generate “more meaningful matches” than its rivals.
Behind the app is entrepreneur Vana Koutsomitis, who first pitched her idea on the BBC television series The Apprentice.
She did not win Lord Sugar’s investment – he judged the project too risky – but she has continued work on her app, which she hopes will make online dating more fun.
“If you sign up for any of the online dating sites that focus on meaningful relationships, you’ll be asked to fill out tonnes of questions about yourself,” she says.
“What we’re doing is making an interface that is a game instead of these self reports.”
Singles hoping to challenge strangers to a round of battleships or gin rummy will have to look elsewhere, for now. The app will be launched with its first game this summer, with more added later.
“Our first game is a Buzzfeed-style game where you will be answering questions about your preferences in terms of photos. You’ll work through it in a fun and interactive way.”
One concern raised on The Apprentice was that people might spend all day playing a game, only to be matched with somebody they did not find attractive. But Koutsomitis says playing for longer improves your chances of finding the perfect date.
“As you continue to play the game we continue to get more data about you… that allows us to match you with better people,” she explains.
“We think it’s more important to have a few meaningful matches.”
Where ‘creeps’ are cut out
In a bid to cut out “creeps and timewasters”, Hanky lets existing members decide whether new joiners should be allowed in.
The app, for men only, launched in January. At the time, founder Jonas Cronfield boasted: “Our users are nicer and more sexy.”
But critics say Hanky fosters superficiality and superiority, by providing an environment where people are judged on their appearance.
And while it is not the first dating service that lets people judge others on their looks, critics say the app divides a community that has fought discrimination.
The company insists it has good intentions.
“The vetting system is there just because we are trying to narrow it down a little bit, it’s trying to help people not waste so much time on these apps,” says Johan Andersson, the firm’s chief evangelist.
“The process of joining is harder than normal. You can’t just go on there, upload a photo and start chatting to people. By the time you’re approved, if you’re still just looking to waste people’s time, you’ve gone through a lot of trouble to do that.”
The app has attracted 85,000 members since its launch – although many more have tried to join. Andersson says eight out of 10 applicants are rejected by existing members.
A system that can validate members’ identities has an obvious appeal to a community of men that has been targeted by criminals through rival apps.
But critics say Hanky’s self-regulating process falls short, letting members judge whether new joiners are “creeps” or “timewasters” just by looking at their photographs.
“The point was never to stop crime,” says Andersson. “We can take no responsibility for what happens between two people when they communicate online.”
Where this one could be ‘the one’
While other apps focus on providing you with a wide choice of singles, Once strives to provide quality over quantity.
The app allows you just one match a day, hand-picked by a human curator and delivered to your phone at noon.
Daters have 24 hours to initiate a conversation and move things forward, before their “match” disappears and is replaced with a new one to consider over lunch.
“You have 24 hours of full, undivided attention,” says the app’s creator Jean Meyer. “There’s nobody else, no noise. It’s a special moment for 24 hours.”
A special moment, or perhaps 24 hours of awkward silence.
While rival apps such as Tinder give you plenty of people to scroll through, with Once there is no skipping ahead, and your first “match” is chosen by a stranger.
“Anybody can pick someone who is very good-looking and smart, that’s easy. But you need this person also to like you,” explains Meyer.
“When we have a matchmaker forcing you into a match, you have a lot of chances that the person you’re being matched with is also going to like you.”
Rejection is easy to accept on Tinder, where a new match is only a swipe away. Does Once risk upsetting people who could go a week without anybody saying hello?
“It’s a dating app, not a self-esteem app. It’s not about boosting your ego, you have Instagram for that,” says Meyer.
One in three matches turns into a conversation, he reassures me. And those unhappy with today’s match can take control and choose somebody they would like to speak to from a list of 10.
But they won’t be offered up for conversation until at least noon the following day – and with a maximum of seven introductions a week, finding “the one” could be a lengthy process.
“If you pass, your next match is going to come the next day, so you can do something else,” says Meyer.
“Go take a hike, or walk, or go to the movie theatre with your friends… don’t spend three hours swiping, because technology should help you gain time not waste it.
“When you’re done with your match of the day, do something else – please! Live your life.”