My Experiments with Tinder
Experiments that took Junaid (virtually) around the world and gave some interesting insights about the world's most popular dating app.
Only Facebook rivals the kind of data accumulated by Tinder. In some ways Tinder even beats Facebook, because on Tinder people consciously bare their targeted preferences. For those not familiar, Tinder is an online dating platform, where people are supposed to Right Swipe (Like) or Left Swipe (Reject) another person based on the pictures or the brief description uploaded by them. It is only when there is a mutual like that one is allowed by the App to chat with the other person. Initially when Tinder wasn’t as big as it is today, there were an unlimited number of right swipes available to a user. So, many users like me would right swipe everything and then decide once there was a match, if the other person was interesting or not.
Also, not surprisingly, the swiping pattern of men turns out to be very different from that of women. This precise swiping trend discrepancy led Tinder to de-incentivize right swipes. They put a bar on the number of times a person could swipe right in a day. The motive behind such a medieval restraint on professing preferences, more sexual than not, baffled me. For, shouldn’t unlimited swipes generate more traffic for the App, and wouldn’t more traffic mean more regular users, which is what mobile applications vie for?
"I told one of my matches that outside of Tinder I had never been to the United States, to which she jokingly responded, that the last time a Muslim had come to New York without a visa it hadn’t ended well for the city."
It was not until a feature called ‘Smart Photos’ was introduced, that the motive became clearer. With this new feature, the App would randomly display each of a user’s 5 or 6 uploaded photographs to other users, and the picture that attracted the maximum right swipes would become the primary display picture. The bar on right swipes made sense now, Tinder was into test mode and we were the guinea pigs. This was hardly unforeseen, as almost everything on the Internet tracks user preference, sometimes even bordering eerie. Google any place on Earth and Airline advertisements for trips to that country start popping up everywhere, send an e-mail for sick leave and hospital ads grace your screen. Certainly, Tinder sitting on a treasure of data would not let the opportunity pass.
By happy accident my belief of being part of an experiment became resolute, when my display picture failed to download due to slow Internet speed. Instead, an icon of a broken file accompanied by the words – “man, beard, sunglasses, winter, tree”, which accurately described my picture, showed up. Someone was describing pictures with key words, or perhaps an Artificially Intelligent recognition software was at work on user pictures. Like that new word or thing you recently learnt that suddenly seems to show up everywhere (The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon), I began noticing Tinder’s preference-oriented data at play while using the app. Right swipe someone with dimples and a string of dimpled faces would show up in quick succession, the same happened for faces with sunglasses, pouts and even beach photos. Hence the limit on right swipes; the App wanted to clock reasoned preference and eliminate the chronic right swipers.
"15000 kilometres between their houses and mine, this was the mother of all long-distance attempts."
Another interesting and significant update to Tinder introduced Tinder Passport – where for becoming a paid subscriber, the App allowed a user to change their virtual location to almost anywhere on the planet. My date of subscription for this feature coincided with Donald Trump’s inauguration. I began swiping in New York (a Tinder Passport suggested location), and there was a mixed response regarding the new President. I told one of my matches that outside of Tinder I had never been to the United States, to which she jokingly responded, that the last time a Muslim had come to New York without a visa it hadn’t ended well for the city.
Feeling the heat after the new U.S. Government’s unwelcoming policies regarding immigrants, and being one myself albeit virtually, I fled to Bogotá. The Colombians were of immense help for my Spanish. Most of them disliked Narcos - the Netflix TV Series about Pablo Escobar, for showing their beautiful country in bad light. Being familiar with Medellín – a north Colombian city through Narcos I swiped there and matched with people who had witnessed war closely. After decades of war, the Colombian government had finally managed a peace deal with the FARC rebels. Most people in Bogotá were against the peace deal due to the concessions granted to the rebels, while those in Medellín were relieved and thankful to see the end of a war that had lasted decades.
This socio-political insight was just a by-product of what the app is really meant for. ‘En tu casa o en la mia’ (Your place, or mine?) and other Spanish pick-up lines were great icebreakers towards a futile end. 15000 kilometres between their houses and mine, this was the mother of all long-distance attempts.