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How to find your needle in a genetic haystack

App-based dating has gone beyond swipes to keep people together beyond a one night stand (and make billions in the process)

The Telegraph recently reported that online daters now have the ability to feedback on their poor dates with Hinge’s new date review functionality, commonly known as ‘We Met’.

With so many features available beyond the traditional cattle auction swiping, it’s hard to define which dating Apps really do smooth out the path to true love. It turns out that dating relies on the certainty of big data twinned with the unknown of the human psyche and a sprinkle of UX magic to create a vacuum of opportunity.

To understand that, you need to understand how to quantify a date.

A great date, much like a fine bottle of Champagne, is all about the anticipation.

Its long been believed by the great Champagne houses that more than 50% of their bottle price can be attributed to the value a customer realises before the cork even pops. In the world of Champagne, there’s good (Premium) and great (Super Premium) labels. Consistently at the top of the tasting tree is Dom Pérignon, the prestige cuvée of the Moët et Chandon winery.

Purchasing a one hundred and twenty quid bottle Dom Pérignon Vintage is an event in itself. For the price of thirty pints (twenty in the more ludicrous bars of central London) you’re making a serious investment, usually for a special occasion. You’re perhaps excited about a forthcoming wedding, birthday, achievement or romantic sojourn, you want to make a grand gesture and this is how you might choose to express your love, friendship, pride or romantic intensions. It also says a lot about your relationship to the recipient - they’re not only important to you but they’re worth a hell of a lot – they are meaningful.

Presenting the bottle is theatre in its own right. A crowd gathers as the foil is peeled, folks lean in as they await the fireworks of the cork popping. Then, and only then, will you pour out the sparkling magic inside. It was the inventor of Champagne, a rather astute Benedictine monk named Pierre Pérignon who apparently stated of his new creation:-

“Come quickly – I’m drinking the stars”.

The best metaphor ever penned aside, anticipation is key to the Champagne experience, and it’s the reason the cost of a bottle is so much greater than actual value of the liquid inside. The uplifting, joyful and unquantifiable celebratory experience is a pleasure well before any grape juice passes your lips.

As such, selling Champagne’s fizzy dream shares many traits with App-based dating. Daters (traditionally singletons, but sometimes not) wait pensively to see what romantic connections might turn up in their futures, above and beyond those they are able to make in the offline world. With a plethora of dating Apps offering a conveyor belt of potential mates, until now it’s been up to the user to take their chances. That was until new kid on the block Hinge launched its "We Met" feedback tool in an attempt to help users avoid people that aren’t up their cup of tea.

Chasing aspirational dreams through online dating starts with a dater’s self-perception. The idea that someone is ‘out of your league’ matters little when you’re protected by an App interface, according to a study published in Science Advances earlier this year. Around 25% of those in the online and app dating scene swipe individuals who are perceived as more physically attractive than themselves.

There’s nothing new in this, of course. Men and women have tried to punch above their weight since the Dark Ages in a ‘survival of the fittest meets ego’ Battle Royale.

It’s about the ‘maybe’ of what might happen – and that potential is tantalisingly close to millions of dating App users around the world every day (at the last count, had over 380 million active users globally). Each and every one of them is casting their net into a deep romantic sea hoping to snag their future sole mate (or just a minnow to snack on). The bigger the fish, the better, it seems.

With new daters ready to take the plunge, which online dating products have been determined to work the best? We can split the options into two broad camps: - ‘science’ and ‘volume’.

Science apps, including eHarmony and Match-owned Hinge determine compatibility based on user data, psychological makeup, needs/ wants and preferences.

Apps using the Volume model include Badoo, Tinder, Bumble and Grindr and present potential dates by interests and A/S/L letting users swipe like a carefree window cleaner until they come across a profile that tickles their funny bone.

While Science Apps sound terribly impressive and look terrific on a TV ad to the novice dater, the actual robustness of their model is up for quite considerable debate.

In a 2017 interview with Business Insider, psychologist Eli Finkel (a bonafide expert in the world of online dating from Northwestern University) investigated the AI dating revolution. His supposition was that dating algorithms don't actually work. The biggest benefit of online dating revealed by Finkel is that it puts a shedload of likeminded people on a conveyor belt in front of you in a simple, user friendly and device compatible format and hands over the decision making to the most advanced biomechanical computer known to man.


This brings us on to Volume dating Apps. Take Badoo - as the market leader in this space, Badoo welcomes more than 400,000 new users from 190 countries every single day who between them send 350 million + messages and add over 10 million photos. In anyone’s book the numbers are just extraordinary and, when you put this volume in a UX enhanced, mobile enabled, freemium model there’s little doubt as to which kind of dating experience the aspirational love hunters of the planet prefer.

With a significant volume of potential matches covered, new daters are best served by Apps that provide most (if not all) of the following features, benefits and services:-

1) Know your customer (matches are preferably validated by humans, not robots)

The ideal dating platform should be able to guarantee that each of their users is genuinely single. You don’t have to worry about them having a secret life in another part of the world. It should also verify other details such as age, race, educational level, career, habits (drink, drugs, kinks etc) and so on.

2) Look Who’s Talking (Do they really look like that?)

User integrity is key – knowing that the handsome chap on whose delicate features you swipe right on your phone isn’t actually a self-obsessed loser with BO, spaghetti hands and mummy issues is very, very handy and will save you some difficult escape planning. Some Apps do this user validation better than others.

3) A good match (Will I meet like-minded people?)

If it’s a tryst you’re after, then Grindr or Tinder are likely best suited to your needs. If you’re a woman fed up with incessant ‘dick pics’ from thirsty bros, Bumble levels the playing field. If you want the broadest selection of potential matches who will definitely look like their pic then Badoo’s probably your best shot. As with any purchase, background research is your friend – find the App whose users are most closely aligned to the kind of people you’re interested in meeting.

4) Easy does it (This is meant to be fun, not my maths GCSE)

A simple user interface with beneficial tools is going to pay dividends in the long term. Nobody wats a billion emojis flooding their inbox so check out the Apps with features that will help you filter through the inevitable ‘no-men’ as quickly and painlessly as possible.

5) Safety first (because, you know, bad people exist)

For people of all sexual and gender orientations this is a public service announcement – sadly there are some nasty folk out there, so the more you know about potential dates before you take the plunge and meet them in person the better. Plus it’s always a good idea to let a couple of friends know who you’re meeting in advance (and maybe arrange to WhatsApp those same friends when you’re home safe?).

6. Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight (safely)

These Apps are good for meeting people and acting the catalyst towards a long term romantic relationship. However they are exceptional for those looking for hook ups. The speed with which you can browse, the chat and video functionality and the choices of available, willing partners make this a veritable supermarket of impulse purchasing. All dating Apps are instant intro tools to some extent but some have a greater selection in your orientation, age range and geography than others. Just play it safe, mmm’K?

7. Love is the drug (Romance is an oft forgotten motivation)

This is where the Champagne’s mystical promise and dating via a mobile portal veer apart. Online dating is not, by definition, romantic in any way whatsoever. It’s a shallow window shopping exercise with chances of success multiplied by the pure scale of the numbers involved. Arguably, this isn’t the robot’s fault – the Apps are simply the conduit for a connection and a first meeting – what happens afterwards is entirely up to you. Oddly enough, the best words of wisdom I could find on the topic were from Marilyn Monroe:-

“Experts on romance say for a happy marriage there has to be more than a passionate love. For a lasting union, they insist, there must be a genuine liking for each other. Which, in my book, is a good definition for friendship”?

But herein lays the kicker – for all the sexting, Netflix and Chilling, hooking up and night crawling that dating Apps are known for and reviled about in the media, the majority of daters are ultimately open to the idea of a meaningful relationship at some point in the future. And that, as Marilyn suggests, is a book with a lustful opening chapter, a story of humour, a plot hinged on friendship leading to a happy conclusion.

Some dating Apps will attract more romantic souls and potential

life partners than others.

A decent dating site should also facilitate your date planning. This could be as simple as a calendar sync or, more usefully, recommending fun venues or date dinner ideas (with a money off deal attached, if they’re really good)

As easy as setting up a dating profile may seem, meeting the love of your life can be anything but. In the same way most of us know the feeling of leaving a teenage party having been universally spurned by the opposite sex, there's absolutely no guarantee you'll meet someone online either. But as Professor Finkel summarised “…the most effective way for singles to start a relationship to do is get out there and date — a lot”.

And this is where the fun starts – not with the actual first date but with the preamble – worrying over your picture selection, questioning your choice of words in your profile description (funny Ha Ha or witty funny? Academic or lackadaisical?) What used to be the thrill of the chase is now the joy of search.

The what ifs? The what could possibly come from this? The love of the ‘maybe I’ll find the one?’

It’s the modern dater’s anticipation that has driven the incredible growth and incremental popularity of online dating.

Every single part of the experience feels like it might be fun. The decision to date online, the profile writing, picture choosing, face swiping, intro messaging, joke swapping, storytelling, date making, out loud laughing, shy giggling, last orders, first kisses, dreams of what might be…

This anticipation is as magical as it is unquantifiable, a sentiment never better expressed than by Winnie the Pooh:-

“Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called”.

Harry Lang (@MrHarryLang) is the founder of Brand Architects, a brand and integrated marketing consultancy. You can contact him at or via LinkedIn.

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