I mashed this up on my desktop in Paint. Please don’t sue me.

Tinder is Uber, but for Dating

It wasn’t until I started reading up on the ‘Sharing Economy’ that I finally figured out what bothered me about dating apps.

I’ve realised something important about dating apps. They’re sharing economy platforms. It’s a big claim, I know — but stick with me here.

  1. they have in-built rating systems that provide algorithmic regulation,
  2. they turn individuals into micro-entrepreneurs, and
  3. they take a non-market phenomenon powered by human relationships and turn them into a market exchange.

A peer-to-peer platform that does not provide services

In a way this is the most obvious point of commonality between Tinder and Uber. Even if it’s mediated by friends or family, the norm of the couple means dating is always a direct peer-to-peer connection. And it is also obvious that dating apps are platform-only offerings. With a small number of specific exceptions, dating apps don’t curate or manage dates, they only deliver the connection, and leave the rest up to the users.

Algorithmic regulation through a rating system

At first Tinder operated on a simple premise: swipe right for ‘hot’, swipe left for ‘not’. As the number of users grew, problems emerged. Even with a geographical filter that limited potential matches, there were too many people to swipe through. There was no way that the app could guarantee that an unrequited swipee could ‘close the loop’ by swiping right back, because there were just too many people in the queue.

Micro-entrepreneurs

Tinder ratings and the algorithms they drive are based on the entrepreneurial investment users make into what might be thought of as their ‘dating capital’. A Tinder profile is based on a few photos and a line or two of text, but the difference between a good profile and an average one is how much work goes into those elements. This work is understood as effort towards making the self more attractive and appealing, to maximise likes, followers, and — on dating apps — right swipes.

Turning human relationships into a market exchange

Tinder abandoned its Elo ranking system in 2018. It seemed that the vast majority of users without the skills or resources to make their profiles stand out didn’t enjoy seeing that failure reflected in the unappealing profiles they were served up by the algorithm. Disenchantment was one predictable response. So Tinder changed the algorithm again, probably to something called the “Gayle-Shapley algorithm”.

PhD in Modern History and government functionary. One-time historian of peace and protest, now researching and writing about work.