Tinder sparked outcry when it was discovered that, through a mysterious metric known as an Elo score, the app was covertly herding hotties (most swiped right upon) with hotties, and the, um, less aesthetically appealing with the lesser swiped upon. It's a sign of the times that a dating app algorithm wielded so much divisive power.
Tinder beckoned a new dawn of online dating for young, sexually active, non-divorced people. It triggered a seismic, swipe-fuelled shift, and slapped a glossy, digital veneer on hookup culture. The app also solved important problems with dating sites. It made the experience simple and user-friendly, and most importantly for women, it prevented men from bombarding them with messages.
But we've moved on since then, as people (particularly women) have been singed by brutal hookup culture politics, lewd messages, or even being stalked by rejected suitors through other social media channels. Tinder has earned a reputation as a testosterone-drenched romantic wasteland, and the demographics reflect this: in the US, twice as many men as women use the app. Women are also a lot more likely to quit the app. This revelation has driven the launch of a new fleet of 'kinder', fluffier apps that bake in female friendliness either explicitly or implicitly.
Some of these include Bumble, where the woman has to message first; Happn, which runs on the seemingly creepy premise of flagging up anyone repeatedly passing within a certain radius of you; Coffee Meets Bagel, which prioritises meaningful connections and curated matches based on a series of algorithms; and Hinge, the Tumblr-esque app purportedly 'made to be deleted'. All of these have their champions and their detractors; their horror stories and their happily-ever-afters.
And within this shuffling milieu, it can be difficult to find a point of differentiation. But new dating app Pickable has a pretty radical claim. It dispenses with something generally considered to be a fundamental pillar of online dating: profiles. In that, women don't have them.
Instead, women browse the profiles of men and only if they choose to 'like' them, do they send a photo. The man then decides whether to accept the request or not.
Founder Clementine Lalande says that this is in the aim of redressing the gender power imbalance in dating apps, and allowing women to wrest back control. "People say 'aren't you discriminating in favour of women'?" says Lalande. "Yes I am. I'm all about inequality to solve inequality."
Lalande says the team's reasoning was that the online dating experience as it stands is patently unpalatable for women (hence the huge majority of men on online dating sites) and that measures need to be taken to make the experience more appealing.
She says the lack of profiles also protects those who fear they'll be seen on a dating app by someone they'd rather not: an ex, a boss, a family member. This is of course a fear also experienced by men, and Lalande says that at some point in the future she foresees most dating apps offering this choice to both sexes.
Predictably, the decision to allow women to sign up without a profile has led to backlash from some people accusing Lalande of 'feminazism'. However, she insists there are boons for men too. Instead of sifting through a heap of dating profiles - the majority of whom are probably not interested - men will only receive the photos of women who are - in effect saving them the heavy lifting.
Lalande says that studies have found that 30 percent of men on dating apps spend four hours a week swiping. She says that for Pickable users, this time can be freed up for other things.
Research shows that, on Tinder anyway, women are far more discerning that men, confirming perhaps that they should be the ones to make the first selection. Pickable also eliminates the phenomenon of swiping simply to experience the validation of a 'match' - on the male side at least. "In other apps there is a match but not a connection," says Lalande. "You're part of his imaginary life. He's in the office, he's bored, and he wants a fantasy."
Like most of the new crop of 'conscious' dating apps, Pickable emphasises the importance of getting up off the sofa and meeting in real life as soon as possible. "I don't want people to spend their time on apps," says Lalande. In support of this, men choose 24-hour windows in which they are 'pickable' and are encouraged to do so only when they are actually available to meet.
At present, Pickable stores only crumbs of personal data, compared to the fistfuls snatched up by the likes of OkCupid. Pickable only ask for men's age, location and height, and doesn't store any data for women. However, the app is considering incorporating 'hates' into the mix as well. Lalande says this is because hates can tell you more about someone than their likes and are often more strongly held.
"It's intentional to not collect a lot of information about women, and we also don't collect a lot of information about men," says Lalande.
The lack of the curation element of the dating profile is also intentional. "You're marketing yourself as a product," says Lalande of other sites. "You're trying to optimise your destiny, which is quite a disturbing thing."
The app originally launched in Lalande's native France, and received a considerable amount of pushback. However, she says that reception elsewhere has been more favourable.
"The feedback I get is that it's more exciting for women in the UK, because feminism is much stronger in the UK," she says, adding that the app currently counts 150,000 users in Britain and has launched in other countries such as Germany.
She says that based on the sparse data the app collects, it employs a clustering mechanism that groups men by women's taste. If two women like the same man, they will be presented with more men the other has liked, on the assumption that they share similar taste. Hinge has said before that it also uses this mechanism, however, now it reportedly incorporates more data such as political preferences and willingness to have children too.
"In reality, tastes are very different. The algorithms have to reflect that," says Lalande, saying that when she shows profiles to her friends, she never gets a universal consensus. But she believes that the app right now prioritises the most important attributes: "They have to reflect age and location. Some people would rather date someone close to their home than someone hot."
Since Tinder's Elo debacle, the app says it has stepped back from the use of the metric: "Elo is old news at Tinder. It's an outdated measure and our cutting-edge technology no longer relies on it." A blog post sharing some ingredients of the app's 'secret sauce' in early 2019 claimed that the most important metric used is in fact how much you use the app - meaning inactive users are deprioritised. Aside from this, the app says it uses proximity as an important factor, but doesn't store the race of users or their professions. However, it also factors in information from other users' tastes, reordering your potential matches every time your profile is liked or noped.
Pickable, like Tinder, only feeds a sparse number of attributes into the matching algorithm. And like Tinder, it could face criticism for prioritising physical attraction in the first instance. However, Lalande says she wants to nod to pre-digital days, when a fleeting glance or lingering look sparked the first interest between strangers: "When I made Pickable, I thought this was like romance 2.0," says Lalande. "Before, you might have bumped into each other in a lift; now you bump into each other on the app."