Analysis: while Tinder was a gamechanger, the next generation of dating apps are already lining up to ask you out

Online dating is a multi-billion dollar business and it's growing fast. According to Pew Research, 30% of Americans use dating apps and, in Ireland, estimates suggest the 10 year old Tinder has 200,000 active users.

However, this month’s celebrations for Tinder’s 10th birthday were somewhat overshadowed by the carnage in the company's boardroom. It’s been a turbulent year for the dating app. Earlier this month, Tinder fired its CEO after less than a year in the job. Renate Nyborg was the company’s fifth boss since it launched in 2012. In a BBC interview just one month before the company swiped left on her, Nyborg - who met her husband on Tinder - had said that her primary focus was on improving womens’ safety on the app.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, interview with The Tinder Swindler producer Bernie Higgins

Nyborg had little choice but to prioritise the safety of female users. In April, the Netflix series The Tinder Swindler became the streaming giant’s most watched production ever with 166 million hours watched in the first 28 days. The dating-scam documentary was a beautifully-shot, true to life and, therefore, highly alarming show about a notorious conman who used the dating app to defraud several women of their life savings.

Tinder was founded when the idea emerged during a hackathon and was launched by three friends in Los Angeles. It debuted on college campuses where so many people were using their phones anyway for studying, banking, messaging and social media and it was natural for them to adopt online dating through their phone too. Within a few years, it was the most successful dating app in the world.

Emily Witt is the author of Future Sex and staff writer at the New Yorker. She says that dating experiences before Tinder were often memorable but rarely for the right reasons. The launch of the iPhone in 2008 changed everything, it meant that you weren't tethered to your PC anymore looking at profiles on eHarmony or OK Cupid. Your dating landscape was no longer limited to your immediate home-town, friends, university or workplace. And Tinder was fun.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Claire Byrne, discussion on how Tinder changed the dating game with cyber pyschology researcher Dr. Nicola Fox-Hamilton, DJ Thomas Crosse and journalist Brianna Perkins

The market is now hugely crowded, with almost 3,900 companies running dating sites. Tinder has broad appeal and doesn't specify any particular demographic, geographic or psychographic segment. Precision marketing, changing demographics, and decreasing stigma about online dating are continually bringing new users. Grindr is for gay, bi, trans and queer people, Bumble offers women the added security that it is them who make the first move and Hinge limits the number of people you can see every day. The app even allows you to hear the person’s voice and emphasises relationships over hook-ups.

In 2014, an app called Feeld was launched which was more sexually forward and used the language of BDSM and polyamorous communities. Others include Muzmatch for the Muslim community, JDate for the Jewish community, Veggly for vegans and vegetarians and Raya for the celebrity community. There’s even a dating app for fans of My Little Pony.

While it’s hard to predict what might be the next major shift in dating apps, it seems likely that the online experience will evolve in three separate ways: new formats or experiences; even more micro-segments and the provision of additional services.

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From RTÉ 2fm's Jennifer Zamparelli Show, Clodagh O'Sullivan talks about travelling 7,000 miles to Hawaii for a Tinder date

In terms of format, just as workplaces and university courses are combining elements of online and in-person, dating too is adapting to the hybrid concept. Tinder's Swipe Nights are a relatively new development for dating apps where participants attend events which are either online or offline. Tinder has also been exploring other formats and experimenting with the Metaverse. Nevermet is a dating app for VR enthusiasts which searches for Virtual Boyfriends (VBFs) and Girlfriends (VGFs). But users report exactly the same frustrations about finding their soulmate, especially when the other person comes in the form of a banana or a rabbit.

The proliferation of dating apps suggests the market is fragmenting to offer new and more customised experiences to users with specific preferences and needs. One segment that is showing spectacular growth is the senior community. As a Forbes article noted, "this is why sites like Zoosk, Elite Singles, Silver Singles, focus on seniors, while the old standby dating site like Match, Christian Mingle, eHarmony, are experiencing the same huge growth in this age demographic."

In terms of additional features and services, Tinder Swindler rang alarm bells for many women. It reminded them of commonly seen abuses in the online dating and social landscape where anonymity and a lack of security allow multiple false identities, catfishing, and romance fraud to thrive.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Brendan O'Connor Show, Zoe Desmond on how her own experiences as a single parent on the dating scene led her to creating the FROLO app

Addressing this, Fluttr has introduced the first dating app requiring the use of full biometric ID verification technology to improve user safety and security. It claims to put real and verified users at the heart of the dating experience. Tinder is also exploring its own currency - though its latest shareholder report indicated that it is pausing this idea - just as Facebook abandoned their Libra digital currency project back in 2021.

Infinite choice is a burden: you roll through endless possibilities on Netflix thinking the next screen will reveal the perfect thing to watch. The same thing happens on Tinder, where it’s hard to settle when the carousel keeps rolling. Nevertheless, many people believe that the hetro-normative nuclear family is in decline, old-fashioned ideas of patriarchal courtship no longer feel comfortable and the chances of couples staying a lifetime in relationships is dwindling fast. It’s a safe bet that online dating will continue to grow and will expand to cater for people with niche interests. The language of sex and the possibilities of gender keep evolving and the dating apps will reflect this.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ