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Dating app Tinder explained

02:00 Tue Sep 3 2013
Hugh Wilson
Dating app Tinder explained
(Thinkstock images)

Everyone’s talking about dating app Tinder, and from first glance it really does look like the single man’s best friend.

According to breathless reports in the papers, the smartphone app is to casual hook-ups what the invention of wings were to aeroplanes - it will make it fly.

So is Tinder all it’s cracked up to be, and should you give it a go? We log on for the pros and cons.

Tinder is big

The first thing to say is that Tinder isn’t one of those fly-by-night online innovations that get tech- ‘n’ sex-crazed newspaper editors hot under the collar for a week and then die a quick and silent death. Or at least, that seems unlikely.

According to the latest reports, Tinder can almost certainly boast over a million users already and, having been launched first in America, it’s now growing fast over here too.

In fact, despite only being launched in the US last September, Tinder executives say the app can already boast 100 million matches and 50 marriage proposals.

It’s a dating app, right?

Yes, Tinder is a dating app, although the company actually describes it like this:

“Tinder finds out who likes you nearby, and connects you with them if you're also interested.”

Interested in what, you might ask? Well, most press reports over the last couple of weeks have suggested that it’s casual sex.

The Guardian has called Tinder a “sex satnav”, while a Daily Telegraph reporter described how he “spent four hours looking for casual sex with women my age without even putting any trousers on.”

Of course, you might not be interested in casual sex at all. You might be interested in meeting the girl of your dreams and the woman you’ll spend the rest of your life with.

Tinder would say that’s perfectly possible, and it seems to very occasionally happen. But the way it works has left most commentators in no doubt that Tinder is geared towards more casual encounters.

How does it work?

If that’s piqued your interest, here’s how it works.

The difference between Tinder and more traditional dating apps and sites is its simplicity. It uses GPS to find out where you are and links to Facebook to find out a little about who you are. It then searches for potential matches near you, telling you if you have any Facebook friends or interests in common.

There’s not much else to it. Your potential matches are listed, and for each one, based on a photo or two and very little else, you swipe right to ‘like’ them and left to pass.

If they then ‘like’ you back you have a match, and you’re free to chat, meet and, maybe, more.

The benefits

Its popularity suggest that Tinder does work, on some level. One of the advantages users often mention is that people can only contact you if you ‘like’ them, so there’s no wading through the scattergun emails of people you don’t fancy.

"We make sure you want to be pursued, and as the pursuer you know the person wants to be pursued," said Tinder founder Justin Matee. "It starts at a much deeper level."

Some commentators have also praised its “natural” approach to dating. With Tinder, interest is sparked pretty much on looks alone. That sounds weird in an age of internet dating, where potential suitors attempt to appraise and impress each other with painfully produced profiles and emails long before they ever actually meet.

But, as users point out, if you approach someone in a bar looks are all you’ve got to go on too, at least at first. So it’s shallow, but we’ve all done it.

Tinder also helps to embolden even the shyest amongst us. With traditional online dating, an introductory email that goes unanswered is embarrassing. With Tinder, the object of your lust won’t even know you’ve liked them unless they like you too.

Cyber dating expert Julie Spira agrees that Tinder might be considered “a shallow approach to digital dating”, but she also insists that it isn’t just for “hookups” (casual sex).

“They use a 'Hot or Not' approach,” she suggests, “and both men and women have proven to be visual in their quest.”

In other words, Tinder just takes what we all do anyway into the online world.

The drawbacks

But there’s no perfect dating device, and Tinder has drawbacks too. One of its advantages - the lack of information - can also, of course, be a disadvantage. Judging a potential date on a well edited photo alone is a bit of a lottery.

Users have also complained that some people treat it as a bit of game, without any serious intention of meeting up in person. For example, some users get addicted to the ‘liking’ process, racking up ‘likes’ purely for the good of their self-esteem.

And of course, it’s a bit difficult to tell what other users are on it for. You might be after casual sex, but she might be looking for love. Or vice versa. If the preferences of the population at large can be applied to the users of Tinder, there are likely to be far more men looking for quick, casual encounters than there are women.

Relationship expert Paula Hall also worries that some people will get hooked on the game of liking and being liked, which could be dangerous for the lonely or those with low self-esteem. And also that some people will be drawn by the promise of casual sex who shouldn’t be there at all.

“Plenty of people may be able to use it recreationally, just for harmless fun. But there will be people on it who should be fixing problems within their existing relationships, and for which this is, at the very least, an unhelpful distraction,” she says.

For the genuinely single, the most that can be said is that you might have some fun, you might enjoy the ‘game’, and you might go on a few dates. You might even get lucky, though that’s far from guaranteed. Given that, whether Tinder can really revolutionise anyone’s dating or sex life is open to question, but it’s certainly an interesting new way to connect.

Tinder is free and works on iPhone and Android. It can be downloaded from Google Play and iTunes.

Five other dating apps to try

OKCupid
A traditional dating service with a 'broadcast' element, which sends out a note to those in your vicinity.

Plenty of Fish
A location tracker shows you who’s nearby and features a 'Meet Me' button.

Blendr/Grindr
Blendr is the straight version of gay hook-up app Grindr. They’re said to be good for casual flings.

eHarmony
The app of the popular site, for those interested in traditional dating.

Match.com
The giant dating site now lets you do it all from your phone.

Have your say: Have you tried Tinder? Did you like it?