Mashable’s series Algorithms explores the mysterious lines of code that increasingly control our lives — and our futures.
For years, singles have tried to game dating apps in their favor or questioned why the apps would serve up potential matches that are so not-their-type.
Dating apps are basically search tools. They use algorithms to make match recommendations using your data, which includes personal info (like location and age) as well as preferences you set and your app activity.
Some say dating apps are poor search tools precisely because of algorithms, since romantic connection is notoriously hard to predict, and that they’re “micromanaging” dating. To get better matches, the thinking goes, you need to figure out how these algorithms function. While that’s not exactly the case, we have been able to glean some helpful information by digging into the algorithms behind your matches across a few services.
So how do the most popular dating apps work? We’ve broken it down by service below.
Tinder is ubiquitous at this point, boasting 75 million monthly active users, which means it regularly has users of Reddit and the internet at large wondering why they can’t get more desirable matches. Is the algorithm “really screwed up,” as one Reddit user asked?
The Tinder algorithm used to be based on the Elo rating system, which was originally designed to rank chess players. As revealed in a 2019 blog post, Tinder’s algorithm previously utilized an “Elo score” to gauge how other profiles interacted with yours. In addition to logging your own Likes (right swipes) and Nopes (left swipes), Tinder “scored” you based on how potential matches swiped on you, as well.
Today, however, according to the Tinder blog, “Elo is old news at Tinder” and the score is no longer used. The blog post claims that the most important thing a user can do is…use the app. The more you use Tinder, the more data it has on you, which in theory should help the algorithm get to know your preferences more. The blog post further states that the more time you spend on the app, the more your profile will be seen by potential matches who are also active.
The app’s communications manager, Sophie Sieck, confirmed to Mashable that the blog post is current and that Tinder hasn’t made any algorithm changes during the global COVID-19 pandemic. She reiterated that being active on Tinder is the biggest factor in who shows up in your “stack.”
Tinder’s current system adjusts who you see every time your profile is Liked or Noped, and any changes to the order of potential matches are reflected within a day.
Bumble is similar to Tinder in that it uses a swipe model. Where it differs is that only women can message first, and matches can disappear if no one messages within 24 hours.
Bumble declined to comment about its search algorithm. There’s no blog post about it, either. When you search “algorithm” on Bumble’s site, the only post that comes up is about Private Detector, an algorithm that determines if a match sent you a nude photo.
A Bumble spokesperson told Mashable that anyone users see on the app has been active within the last 30 days — so there’s no need to worry about matching with inactive accounts.
Hinge, the dating app “designed to be deleted,” doesn’t have swiping, nor does it use the Elo rating system. Logan Ury, Hinge’s director of relationship science, told Vice that Hinge uses the Gale-Shapley algorithm. This Nobel-prize winning algorithm was created to find optimal pairs in “trades” that money can’t buy — like organ donations.
A research paper in Nature lays out how the Gale-Shapley algorithm is used in matching. Say there are 10 single women and 10 single men. How do they get paired up? Well, tell one group (either the men or women) to pick their first choice, and if they get rejected they move on to their second choice. Continue until none of the people left want to get matched anymore.
Ury pointed out — like Tinder did in its blog post — that matching is not just about the profiles you swipe on. It’s also about how potential matches interact with your profile.
“It’s all about pairing people who are likely to mutually like one another,” said Ury. The more you use Hinge — the more you like other users, engage with profiles, tell the app when you’ve met a match in person — the more the app understands who you’re interested in.
See Also: EliteSingles vs. Match: How a career-oriented site fares against the OG
OkCupid is an OG dating site that has more robust user profiles than the aforementioned apps. You can list lots of personal info on OkCupid, with over 4,000 questions to choose from. You can display your political opinions with badges — like the latest pro-choice badge — and there are 60 sexual orientation and gender options as well.
Unlike other apps, OkCupid calculates a match percentage with other users to see how compatible you are. OkCupid didn’t respond to Mashable’s request for comment about the algorithm, but it does have a blog post about how its match percentage is calculated.
Basically, if another user has similar search preferences and responses to questions as you, and is looking for the same things relationship-wise, you’ll have a high match percentage. You can see someone’s match percentage with you on their profile.
Grindr, a queer dating and hookup app, predates Tinder as one of the first apps to use location data to pair people.
According to a blog post, Grindr only uses algorithms for security purposes, like detecting spam accounts.
Grindr confirmed to Mashable via a spokesperson that it only uses AI and Automated Decision Making (a kind of algorithm) for purposes such as sniffing out spam accounts. (Though, as stated in the blog post, that process isn’t perfect and sometimes spam gets through.)
So how does Grindr serve up matches to meet? When a user searches for people nearby, the post states, the app displays other users who were online that day and applies the user’s preference filters (such as age and relationship status) and sorts everyone by distance.
“Sometimes a little randomness is thrown in to keep results fresh. That’s it,” said Grindr’s blog. “There’s no recommendation algorithm to speak of on Grindr today.”
For proprietary reasons, these apps will likely never reveal all their algorithmic secrets. But while we can’t control an app’s search results, we are always in control of the most important factor in our matches: how we swipe.
Related video: Should dating apps have non-monogamy filters?
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