Matchmaking that works
S ixty faces stare back at Dawoon Kang, each one enclosed in a neat square as she kicks off a Zoom call scheduled for 8 p. A month ago, before the coronavirus began its ram through the U. But these are not normal times. Kang is not alone in her pivot. Dating apps have spent the last decade persuading us to date online, wiping away the stigma that clung to the practice from its origins in the original dot-com era.
Couples are now more likely to form a relationship through online dating than any other avenue, according to a Stanford study. Talking up someone at a bar—let alone finding someone through friends, family or work—can seem as quaint as a love sonnet or waiting for marriage to have sex.
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Humans are immensely adaptable—especially when driven by something as primal as companionship. For that reason, the coronavirus lockdown is also changing how we date, likely shifting our habits permanently. Dating apps are pushing users to meet for virtual dates, rolling out new video-based features, making it simpler to meet more people and staging meetups like the one Kang arranged on Coffee Meets Bagel.
After several weeks in lockdown in Santa Clarita, California, Kylie Renwick found herself with a lot of lonely downtime. Her classes at College of the Canyons have gone remote—she studies art there—so she opened Bumble last week and started scrolling through.
Renwick, 23, matched with a fellow Californian, Adam, who was pleasant, funny and shared her passion for video games. They talked for a bit on the app, then switched to Instagram and continued messaging there.
After talking a bit longer, Renwick and Adam agreed to go on a date. The average call was nearly 30 minutes long.
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The Switch is the latest console offered by Nintendo, and it's one of several gaming platforms that people are using to meet up during Covid lockdown. Yet that is not how Renwick and Adam choose to get together. They meet up instead on Animal Crossing, the online multi-player Nintendo game that debuted a new version March No pressure, just keep it short and fun! Aside from Bumble, none of the major apps have built-in video functions, so mostly people are using the apps initially to find someone and then using simple video tech like Zoom, Google Hangouts or FaceTime to meet.
That was the case for Ayana Colvin, 26, of Brooklyn. Last week, she was on Tinder and met an attractive, dark-featured young man who described himself as half-Egyptian, half-Greek.
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Until then, her dad was her only regular FaceTime companion. After opening a White Claw hard seltzer, she and her date talked about their families and Brooklyn, where they both live, and gave each other a tour of their apartment.
She was forgiving of the transgression, keenly aware that social-distancing rules have everyone cooped up and feeling lonely. She liked the virtual connection and plans to keep scheduling new ones, just not with her first companion. For now, dating apps have little opportunity to turn this new user behavior into additional revenue streams.
They face forecasts for declining sales this quarter and possibly beyond, eliminating any notion of charging more for additional features. Plenty of Fish has hurried out a livestream function for its app, which, of course, its users can access for free. The company had noticed how livestreaming had captivated large parts of Asia and began testing its livestream in Texas late last year. Originally, it anticipated launching it by the end of June; instead, it debuted last month.
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If you like what you see, you direct-message the host and go from there. The of weekly active users across Tinder, Bumble and five more of the largest dating apps was largely unchanged from February into mid-March, according to the latest data available from App Annie, a San Francisco—based company that analyzes the app ecosystem. These figures tell us only so much, given that most of America was still out and mingling through that period.
It seems inevitable that dating companies will find a way to monetize our growing ease with virtual dates, though none of them would comment on any upcoming plans to do so.
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A virtual date, on the other hand, has a pretty low-cost ROI, with no drinks, dinner or Uber fare attached. Staying home costs no more than you already spend on a data plan—and however much you spend on the dating app itself. Other apps may limit the of in-app video chats they permit individual users to do per month.
Grindr is already doing a version of this. The app, which has always been a bit of a pioneer—launching three years before Tinder and five years before Bumble—has had a video-chat function for about a year.
You get seconds of use for free. I think this helps us realize how much depth each of us have, which is really wonderful. And I hope this would actually translate into all of us, you know, giving each other more of a chance—versus writing someone off based on one photo or a few seconds of conversation.
I'm a senior editor at Forbes, where I cover social media, creators and internet culture. In the past, I've edited across Forbes magazine and Forbes. This is a BETA experience. You may opt-out by clicking here.
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