The Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Sociology recently published a collective monograph on socio-technical barriers to the production, distribution and consumption of digital technologies entitled Adventures in Technology: Barriers to Digitalization in Russia. A number of chapters were written by HSE University researchers Konstantin Glazkov, Olga Logunova and Alisa Maximova who, in their spare time, also host the WrongTech Telegram channel devoted to the latest issues and news in Science and Technology Studies (STS) in Russia and the world. Here, IQ publishes one of the chapters from the book devoted to Tinder, a popular dating app.
Modern means of communication are developing at a rapid pace, influencing every new social sphere and radically changing traditional practices, rituals and models of communication. This now applies to practically all everyday activities: a trip to the store has shifted to online retail, parents check their child’s school grades online and there are even dating apps to help you find a partner.
The study was funded by a grant from the Russian Science Foundation (project no. 17-78-201664).
The spread of technology is changing the way we communicate, in the broad sense of the word, with most communication occurring in messenger apps and social networks. It is also influencing the search for a partner and the nature of romantic relationships. <…> Online dating, carried out with phone apps that users can access at any time, combines two seemingly incongruous things — romantic love and economic rationality. Researchers found that Tinder users feel as though they are goods ‘on the romantic relationships market.’
Such apps have become increasingly popular due to trends towards the rationalization of interpersonal relations — that are examined according to the concept of emotional capitalism and consumer culture in all areas of life. The Global Web Index confirms this, reporting that 41% of people who are not currently in a relationship have used dating apps during the last month.
This study focuses on Tinder, the popular online dating app with more than 1 billion downloads. Approximately 8,000 online dating services currently exist, with the number growing yearly. Although they can be grouped according to a range of criteria, — from the makeup of the desired couple and location to the principle by which the apps select partners — all fall into one of three major categories: services based on whether the character of the applicants are compatible, location and whether they target a specific audience.
With the market dominated by major international players that use opaque algorithms to select partners, niche sites and apps are now trending. These include services that specialize in searching for people who want serious relationships such as MonAmour and Teamo in Russia and eDarling in Germany.
Dating services are classified according to a range of criteria, but one of the most detailed approaches identifies 14 types of romantic online dating apps.
The researchers chose to study Tinder for a number of reasons. First, it was a pioneer among mobile apps, first released for smartphones back in 2012.
Second, according to data on search queries for online apps, Tinder ranks second among dating apps. It is also a typical example of such apps, offering advantages such as mobility, instant messaging and the opportunity to meet with potential partners—features that broaden its audience base.
Another important reason researchers chose to study Tinder is that, unlike other apps that serve particular geographic areas, Tinder has a broad international reach that makes cross-cultural comparisons possible. This article also cites research data from other countries, and those findings almost always match the results found in this study.
This text examines users’ experience of online dating applications, the options they utilize to construct their online identities, how they develop their various practices and strategies and which barriers they encounter. The question researchers sought to answer can be formulated as follows: How do the functionality and technical features of the Tinder app affect the user’s interaction with the app and which barriers do users encounter?
Barriers to the adoption of technology are broadly understood as restrictions and features preventing the free spread of the technologies. The first such research appeared in the 1950s and 1960s and served as the basis for classifying the difficulties that arise with the spread of technologies.
This work focuses on user barriers—the difficulties that arise when a user interacts with an online dating app and how the perception of technology is influenced by the individual’s specific characteristics (value system, user experience). It also examines technological barriers that differ depending on the level of the technology’s development and its implementation, as well as institutional barriers related to societal structures.
The first thing a user encounters with an online dating app is the download process. This depends on a number of factors but is generally a function of the person’s involvement in the digital environment and their skill level working within it. The latter is explained by the concept of digital literacy. This concept, developed in the 1980s and 1990s by Paul Glister, focuses on the socio-communicative aspects of human activity. The criteria for determining digital literacy are the skills to find the desired information and the tools to work with it — as well as the ability to quickly master those tools. It also includes the skill of working with other users as well as the ability to create content in various formats.
According to Russian research data, the level of media consumption and digital literacy skills differ primarily according to geographic region. Accessibility and use of technologies differ considerably across Russia, and this affects user practices in interacting with online dating apps. The regional aspect of the global context is studied in fragments. Studies in the Netherlands, Japan and the United States indicate that Tinder is used differently according to region.
‘According to research, Tinder users are looking for love’
Research on online dating apps examines various stages of user experience. The first stage is creating a personal profile and presenting yourself to an audience of potential partners. This requires combining visuals and text. In the context of a mediated dating environment, users are highly motivated to control the impression they create. They optimize their self-presentation by combining ‘accuracy, self-promotion and desirability.’ This motivation stems from the high probability of a face-to-face meeting, and this means it is better to make a realistic presentation that will meet expectations and have a better chance of leading to further communication.
After creating a profile and determining the scope of the geographic search, the app displays potential partners. Tinder presents them as profile cards containing a text description and photos. Two options are available at this point: if the user likes the partner and wants to create a virtual couple, he or she should swipe right. If the user finds the person unappealing, he or she should swipe left.
To ‘swipe’ — ‘to move one’s finger across a touchscreen to activate a function’.
If one of the partners you selected also swiped right on your profile, a match is created. Researchers study the process of selecting a partner and precisely how matching occurs—the speeds, strategies and indicators involved, and which profile data, such as appearance and level of education, users base their choices on.
Much of the research is devoted to studying the motivation behind the use of the app. One study finds that four factors are involved: communication, acceptance, establishing intimacy and entertainment. One study found that people used Tinder primarily to gain social approval and improve their self-esteem. Due to the gamified mechanics of decision-making, a large number of matches gives users the feeling that they are attractive, thus increasing self-esteem. Of course, Tinder, like other online dating apps, is becoming a tool for entertainment or procrastination. A study of Dutch users found they shared a desire for love, casual sex, ease of communication, and better self-esteem.
The research on which this paper consisted of two parts. First, researchers analyzed the content of user profiles. According to Tinder statistics, one-half of its audience is between the ages of 18 and 24 and 85% of users are between the ages of 18 and 34. We selected two for this study: 18-27 years and 28-37 years. As part of the chosen case study strategy, four groups containing 100 profiles each were selected according to gender and age.
In December 2016, data was collected from four profiles in each of the groups simultaneously, with all groups located within a 25 km radius of the centre of Moscow. Of course, this method of gathering data is a limitation of this study because the app developers do not disclose the algorithm they use for selection, such that biases can be associated with both the age distribution and user geography. However, by expanding and dividing it into two groups while simultaneously searching for male and female profiles makes it possible to diversify the profiles obtained for analysis.
In addition, only completed profiles were used—that is, those with a photo and at least one line of description. This excluded ‘empty’ pages from the analysis. At the time the data was collected, profiles could contain no more than 500 characters of text and six photos, and this served as the fullest unit for purposes of analysis.
Twenty-five categories were constructed and encoded for content analysis. The first stage involved encoding the text, sorting the personal information that users provided according to style and exposition, message length and the reasons for registering. In the second stage, the visual content was encoded according to the object of the image, the number of people in the photo, the layout and type of photo, the location and surroundings. An analysis was also made of the general data—the volume of text and the number of photos, the use of emojis and links to social networks.
The quantitative data was supplemented with in-depth interviews that were also conducted within the specified s in November-December 2017 after interpreting the results of the content analysis. Three interviews in each of the four clusters were conducted, making 12 total. Targeted recruiting was carried out through the Tinder app.
The content analysis in this chapter follows the structure of a user’s interaction with the app. It begins with the filling out of the profile, following by the evaluation of partners and matching and, in cases of mutual selection, communication and interaction with a potential partner. The main actions that users carry out and the barriers they face are described sequentially. We also look at user motivation and their interaction with customer support.
People have many different reasons for using online dating services, from the search for serious relationships and improving self-esteem to having an enjoyable evening while travelling. Several suggested typologies can be combined to determine the main motivations, such as the desire to start a relationship and build a family, one-night stands, communication, improving self-esteem, obtaining approval, entertainment and a sense of excitement.
There is a debate in the non-academic press about whether people primarily use Tinder to arrange one-night stands or to look for long-term relationships. Many studies look at how motivations differ between genders. They show that men are significantly more likely to use Tinder to arrange one-night stands and are more motivated by a sense of excitement and the chance to communicate.
‘One-night stands are still the main motive, not communication’ (woman, age 18-27).
‘For me, this is a way to think carefully about who I am interested in and to make an informed choice. The correspondence helps a lot in this regard. It doesn’t obligate you in any way, but it enables you to get to know the woman a little more’ (man, age 28-37).
‘Divorced. A son and a dog. Smart, attractive. Open to communication. I want to meet the right man for me and build a family’ (profile, woman, 28-37).
Regardless of their motive—and often, they have several—users said that relatives, friends or society as a whole stigmatized them for using the app as a means of meeting people—especially if they use it for one-night stands—and that this was a barrier.
Cyberspace itself is highly stigmatized for its lack of emotions and mutual trust, factors that naturally affect the process of projecting an image and maintaining personal relationships. The same stigma has been applied to online dating as well as to computer-based romantic relationships in general.
Previously, in the early 1980s, people who sought partners through personal ads in the print media often felt embarrassed and discouraged. However, with the spread of the Internet and online dating sites and the emergence of computer-mediated relationships, people can now look for partners without society’s knowledge or scorn. Dating apps have become the next step towards anonymization, but there is still a stigma associated with their use.
As a rule, the very fact of choosing to meet people online is stigmatized, although using an app to order a taxi or to have food delivered to your home has long been accepted.
‘I don’t have any type of stigma or association with this, that is, I don’t feel like I’m somehow, I don’t know…either completely desperate or somehow deprived because I use such an app. On the contrary…my life only becomes more interesting because of this app, really, so I have no stigma whatsoever associated with Tinder at all’ (man, 28-37).
Attitudes towards online dating now change as various media portray it in a positive light. Movies about online relationships and happy stories of people finding each other through online dating services are reducing some of the stigmas. Now, finding a partner through an online dating app is becoming an everyday practice. What’s more, 46% of the subjects in one study pointed out that Tinder users have a wider choice of potential partners than would be available to them ordinarily.
‘I don’t hide the fact that I use Tinder, but I don’t advertise it either. I like this app and I use it in different ways—to pass the time, improve my mood and sometimes to find an interesting man’ (woman, 28-37).
When using the app, users must first create a personal profile. This largely coincides with similar profiles on social networks. Users must provide information about themselves using photos and text. We will look at how users fill out their profiles and what barriers they face at this stage to their interaction with the app.
An analysis of the textual data reveals how users talk about themselves and what information they prefer to provide. Men wrote an average of 7.1 lines of text as compared to 5.45 for women. Men speak more about themselves and about what they expect from a potential partner. Interestingly, women spend more time studying profiles than men do. Thus, men are justified in providing more information about themselves because women need it to reach a decision.
‘I think that, in principle, there’s no point to say a lot about yourself for one simple reason: it will be more interesting to talk about it (laughs)…when there’ll be a match. But something, something alluring to get their interest is just the thing’ (woman, 8-27).
Men tend to write more about themselves and create the image of having an active lifestyle, while women are less forthcoming in filling out their profiles and present themselves in more emotional terms by, for example, using emojis, close-up photos, etc. Women use emojis more often (in 38% of profiles) than men do (24%). This form of communication is also more common among the younger groups of both genders, differing in frequency by only about 5 percentage points.
‘It was very difficult to write anything at all there so that it would be short but at the same time interesting and even funny, yeah. It has taken me five years to find what I think I need. It’s not very long, and it even contains a joke. It reads like this: “I read the existentialists, rock the boats of the righteous, and I’ll write to you first’ (man, 18-27).
Thus, the second barrier concerns privacy. It comes into play with the need to reveal personal information, to write about yourself. Users must also decide what to write, how to write, how much to write and how to communicate why they are using the app while catching the interest of the desired audience. The users interviewed said it was necessary to write something catchy, and best of all, funny. This is quite difficult, and most often, users modify their initial message and redefine it depending on the reaction of the potential partners and their own changing goals for using the app.
The women interviewed noted that it was quite difficult to write something about themselves for public view and that they planned to share personal information only in private, targeted communications. All of this concerns the barriers of online privacy and personal boundaries, the limits to how much of the truth users are willing to publish. In studying online dating in Japan, researchers discovered that users considered computer-mediated communication as the least intimate, followed by text messaging, and finally telephone conversations as more intimate.
Looking at the correlation between length of the message and the use of emojis, an interesting trend appears: women who use emojis write text averaging 6.59 lines in length, but those who don’t use them write a text of only 4.77 lines on average. Thus, women have two types of profiles: either more information with a colourful presentation or only a minimum of information.
Foreign languages can be an additional barrier—not everyone knows them or is ready to use them in communication. What’s more, users themselves can use a foreign language to screen candidates. For example, not everyone would be able to translate the text of this profile into their language without a dictionary:
‘Looking for a whole with the appearance of a nun for a joint march to ballet ^) / When I see the phrase “serious relationship” fall into catatony :))) I’m great fairytaly storyteller. If you like it, I can tell you a lot’ (profile, man, 18-27 ).
In our data, Russian is the predominant language. However, 35.5% of men use English, as compared to 22% of women. This might be because those men are located in the centre of Moscow where there are more tourists. Approximately 12% of both gender groups use a combination of Russian and English, increasing the share of foreign languages in the messages.
This confirms the hypothesis that people use the app for a variety of reasons because a significant percentage of foreign men use it to search for female Russian partners.
‘My profile is in English…I am not trying to pretend, but I don’t intend to say upfront that I’m Russian because the purpose of my dating usually isn’t women from Russia…Accordingly, it is important for me that if English is not their native language, they know it well enough to understand my message’ (man, 28-37).
‘I only communicate with the Russian-speaking public. Well, in terms of English…I read very poorly and I am not ready to express any interesting ideas for myself yet’ (man, 18-27).
In fact, the use of a foreign language expands the scope of the search. It opens up new opportunities because it demonstrates the users’ educational level. This makes it possible to screen out certain members of the audience and, in a way, position the profile.
Links to social networks are another important element in a profile. Instagram is the most popular, with 11% and 14% of the respective s posting links to the social network. Few users mentioned other social networks. On the one hand, a social network page offers additional information, and on the other, it serves as a sort of guarantee of the user’s identity. We see not only the user’s photos on Tinder, but also supplement those with photos from Instagram. This helps overcome the barrier of virtual space.
‘Instagram is like this, you know, a guarantor of reality: it’s like “I’m real. Here’s my Instagram…” So, if there’s a link to Instagram, the profile is a little more trustworthy’ (man, age 25).
This barrier is generally unavoidable for anyone immersed in the digital environment, including in social media. It also affects online dating. According to one study, the degree to which a profile is candid and fully completed reflects the search for a balance between a person’s desired and actual image.
Thus, we see the need to fill out the profile as completely as possible, thereby increasing the odds of ‘being chosen’ and reducing the risks associated with anonymity and the resultant failure to couple with a potential partner. Subjects affirm that fully completed profiles are far more likely to be chosen. However, this immediately raises questions concerning the difficulty of composing that text when the user does not know how to make it interesting or how to ensure their personal security. What’s more, in mediated interactions, users are motivated to create a certain image and modify it according to circumstances.
Users also encounter the barrier of working in virtual space when they complete the visual component of their profiles. The data confirms that men are more open than women in this regard as well, with the gents posting 4.89 photos on average and the ladies just 3.47. After the U.S. version of the site eliminated the six-photo limit, users there began posting an average of 5.62 photos.
The chart below shows that the most common combination is women with one photo in their profile (40%) and men with a full set of six photos in theirs (47.2%). By posting a certain number of photos, users are able to somewhat neutralize their mobile app-mediated communications. Posting the maximum allowable number of photos gives the impression of a complete profile, eliciting greater trust. This makes it possible to achieve greater accuracy in creating the desired image.
Research shows that personal appearance is a significant factor in choosing a partner. The interviews confirm that men are willing to post more information about themselves and even provide additional visual information if requested.
‘I usually post from four to six photos to my profile. In my opinion, this is what it takes to understand how I look. Some of my correspondents did not agree, in which case I offered social networks and instant messengers. I occasionally include Instagram, but this is more of an exception’ (man, 18-27).
‘It is important that I feel at ease with a man, and the earlier the better, so that’s why the photo is important…And if I can tell from the photo this he’s not my type, I don’t match up with him’ (woman, 28-37).
The type and quality of the photos are also important. For example, selfies are popular among women, with 37% posting them, as compared to only 24% of men. The use of selfies helps explain why 54% of the photos posted by women are close-ups, whereas 50% of men prefer a wider-angle shot.
‘Some were made with professional equipment, but not by a professional. As a rule, these photos are from somewhere…from other places — that is, I have photos… well, so that, I can’t say…’ (man, 28-37).
It is also interesting that, despite the fact that men are more open in their profiles and present more complete information, they use techniques that make it difficult to recognize them. In particular, men’s profiles are much more likely to have photos of two or more people (every tenth profile). This makes it difficult to understand who is the man in question.
Women devote more attention to choosing quality photos. They might have fewer photos, but those show a greater diversity of locations, are higher quality and are often the result of photo sessions. Only 69% of women use photos in their profiles that they took themselves, as compared to 83% of men.
Popular locations differ only slightly between men and women:
How each gender presents itself is also worth noting. Users show themselves in locations and situations of which society would approve. Women focus on cosy home interiors and nature, men on city life with its clubs, bars and symbols of travel and sports. Users create their image according to gender stereotypes, creating profiles that they think will strike a chord with potential partners.
‘As a rule, the photos are from other places, but not so that someone could say, “Hey, I know that spot!” That is, I have photos from Stockholm where it is almost impossible to say that it is Stockholm. There are two photos from St. Louis, but if you don’t live in St. Louis, you probably wouldn’t recognize it all because it is not the most popular location…’ (man, 28-37).
Thus, the quantity and quality of the photos that largely determine first impressions and the desire to continue getting acquainted are connected with one more barrier—the barrier of how fully one is informed: if it is adequate, communication continues, and the greater the number of matches based on that information, the longer people will use the app. The research confirms this, finding that personal appearance is an important factor when choosing a partner. When selecting photos to fill out their profile, Dutch users take their desirability in the eyes of a partner into account but try to present an ideal image of themselves that is close to their true selves in order to find a partner who is similar in character.
‘So, just to avoid wasting time, if, for example, the profile is incomplete or I see something, well…things that I find strange, I don’t try to figure it out, but just swipe left’ (man, 28-37).
‘Well, I really like the eyes. They are my, I don’t know…my favourite part of the face. Of course, the description is also interesting, but lately, I’ve been paying less attention to it. That is, I just looked…at the photos’ (woman, 18-27).
A profile also includes a few additional important elements. First, workplace or job. Sixty-seven per cent of those analyzed did not fill out this information. Of the rest, people more often filled in both the workplace and job (13%) and less often, just the job. Note that men are more likely to indicate their professional status (25% vs. 15% among women), thus emphasizing social status. Even fewer, 28%, indicate their place of study, even though subjects said this factor was important. It offers an additional litmus test that raises the chances of a match if the two parties continue to communicate.
‘The place of study is very important to me. I always pay attention to that. If only a few other factors coincide, I can put a “like” despite anything else. Education means that there are already some basic things in common’ (man, 18-27).
The chart below shows the style in which people present personal information. As noted earlier, users can write a maximum of 500 characters, but very few take advantage of this option.
Most profiles are written in a formal narrative style, more as a seriously worded message to a potential partner. This applies to 67% of the women and 59% of the men. These messages often contain a range of personal data such as height, weight, age, marital status, zodiac sign, place of work, etc. For example: ‘I am looking for a serious relationship with the prospect of starting a family. 25-164-67’ (description in a woman’s profile). Men more often (10%) employ humour (for example, ‘There’s a kink in my keister’ [man, 28-37]), and the same percentage of women resort to self-deprecating humour.
‘— Can I meet you?
— There’s no point: you wouldn’t understand and I’d be bored.
— Because you’re already confused, and I’m already bored.
— Why do I say that? Young women who are looking for ‘someone smart with a sense of humour” think they’re up to it, but are you sure that’s what you want?’ (profile, man, 28-37 ).
‘Fat, bald, vindictive. Looking for like, you know, a prince’ (profile, woman, 18-27 ).
‘Educated. Employed. Cooks. Been to the Dominican Republic. Jumped from a 111-meter bungee in Africa. For 30 years, I’ve been happy and lived, lived and been happy J Dream of someday becoming the co-founder of a family dynasty;*’ (profile, woman, 28-37).
Profiles also have a certain dynamic: most of those interviewed spoke of ‘experimenting’ with their signature, saying it takes time to find the right wording. They need to see how potential partners will react, whether they should remove or add some information, a joke or some personal description. This dynamic in how people present themselves through text indicates the need to continually develop the profile and change it according to the user’s current objectives, status and mood.
‘Well, I wrote just the same basic things—that I like to travel, chocolate, kind people, creativity and…I guess that’s it. A couple of times I put in quotes from a couple of my favourite movies. Before that, I, let’s say, expanded the list (laughs) of my interests. The previous time there was such a request, a call, rather, to meet and, I don’t know, go and do some cool things together. If I remember correctly, at that time my description read: “Let’s meet and go for a walk, chat, drink wine, dance” – something like that’ (woman, 18-27).
As for the personal description of appearance and character, 72% of profiles contain no such information, even though collected only those profiles that contained at least one line of description. Here are some examples:
‘Looking for my man’ (profile, W, 28-37)
‘Constants: 182, Pisces. Everything else according to mood, upbringing and opportunities’ (profile, W, 28-37).
Of the remaining profiles, 15% provide a generally positive description of personal character.
It is also rare (only 28%) for profiles to describe what type of partner the person would like to see. Both sexes often focus on hobbies, making it possible to find others with the same interests.
‘A charming Muscovite would like to meet a charming young woman. Cheerful, with a sense of humour, positive, kind, well-mannered, wonderful. I’m a Taurus. Creative, athletic, tasty cook’ (profile, M, 28-37).
‘I am positive. I mindfulness. I bit of philosophy’ (profile, W, 28-37).
‘Looking for a girl outside relationships, without children and with broken past relationships’ (profile, M, 28-37).
‘I travel. I’ll hug a good bearded fellow. ) Summer in Russia, winter in Asia. Looking for someone who is free from the office, the schedules of bosses and stereotypes, non-smoking and independent. Ready for anything. My happiness is yours. Hobbit 155/45’ (profile, W, 28-37).
Men most often say they want someone with a sense of humour, while women are looking for good character.
‘I prefer slim, up to 65 kg’ (profile, M, 18-27).
‘I love intelligent, caring, loving, generous men, faithful to their promises and their women’ (profile, W, 28–37).
Thus, the absence of a description once again underscores the limitation caused by the lack of information necessary for making a selection. This also stems from how the app works: subjects had anticipated that they would be able to answer a sort of questionnaire like those on dating sites, as an alternative to filling out a profile. This, in their view, would lead to a clearer, uniform description and a more informed choice. When the app does not use a uniform profile like those in most social networks, where users fill in fields for age, hobbies, political and religious views, etc., it creates a barrier to how one’s personal information should be structured.
Thus, apps in which the user must choose what and how to write about themselves do not always provide the audience with the necessary information, and this becomes a barrier to its use. Every profile is a set of indicators that either facilitate making a choice or, conversely, make it difficult to decide. Many such filters exist and a number of researchers have already demonstrated the importance of having such criteria as ‘appearance, personality, sexual tastes and preferences and risk management’ in the profile. Height and weight, as well as the level of education, become important. A swipe does not just indicate that the person met expectations: users also look for profiles in order to figure out how to present themselves to attract such people, and they use these tips when constructing their personal presentation.
After creating and finalizing the profile information, the big moment arrives—the selection process. After entering parameters such as age range and the geographic radius of the search, the app’s algorithm offers the profiles of potential partners from which to choose. Technically, this is how it looks: you scroll through the pages of partners and their profiles that you can study in more detail by tapping on the page of the partner that interests you. You then decide whether you want to begin communicating with the person.
‘Probably, sometimes I can, well, really sit and look at photos, yes, there, scroll through them and look at all of them, even if a person has several photos, even read the description and, and, and… decide whether to “like” or “not like,” yes, for example, whatever. But sometimes there’s a pattern of behaviour and I simply… swipe my diary quickly to the right, well, and start communicating with the rest with whom I share mutual interests. I expect that everything will hit a snag and then show who my match is’ (laughs) (W, 18-27).
Research data indicates that women devote more attention to studying the profiles of the opposite sex, spending an average of 8.5 minutes reading them as compared to an average of 7.2 minutes for men. Our research confirms this data: subjects indicated that women are more selective and demanding of the information provided. The data does not show us the profile selection statistics, but another study based on a survey (n = 1,000) indicates that 2.93 profiles of every 10 viewed receive “likes.” However, because not all receive reciprocal “likes” and become matches, the number of “likes” exceeds the number of matches.
The subjects also focused on psychological factors. In this regard, the difficulty of interacting with a potential partner is related to the possibility of getting feedback — that is, whether the person receives a mutual “like” or goes unnoticed. This is important in any dating situation. This fear of rejection can be called a barrier of reciprocity. For this reason, the moments spent waiting to see whether a match forms are the most nerve-racking. Using an algorithm, the app offers users the option of paying for additional profile features such as ‘superlikes,’ etc. to reduce this barrier.
‘There are fewer difficulties of a psychological nature if a woman “likes” you back. Then, everything is clear: you can start communicating’ (M, 18-27).
Data on the speed at which users respond to a match reveal that 5% do so immediately and another 24% within a few minutes. These concern the most desirable matches that occurred almost immediately after users made their selections. However, some users take up to a few hours to respond and 25% take that step only after a few days. Just 3% of such matches remain unanswered.
When two people ‘like’ each other, they have the option of corresponding. According to one study, for every 10 matches, a dialogue begins with 2.8 partners on average. A different study puts that figure at a more optimistic 50%, or 5 of every 10. Men usually write first. There is a stereotype that the man should take the initiative and take the first step in relationships. This same principle applies to online dating apps. People spoke about this in interviews and mention it in their profiles.
‘My good fellows, in the future I will be happy to take the initiative in every possible way, but in my subjective opinion, taking the first step after a mutual “like” is not the woman’s job J Please understand and forgive me’ (profile, W, 28-37).
After people select each other and a match is made, communication begins, users get to know each other, and they might schedule a physical meeting. The substance of further communication usually develops in one of two directions. The first is a personal description that includes height and weight and a more detailed discussion of hobbies. The second goes further with a search for common values and a discussion of current events.
How I hacked online dating / Amy Webb
Whether communication succeeds depends, among other things, on the technical capabilities of the app, on the limitations of its functions. In this case, the inflexibility of the technology acts as a barrier: the app is programmed for a narrow set of functions. This is especially evident in the communications process: Tinder does not support the same type of communication to which people have become accustomed to using on messenger apps and social networks.
Online dating apps offer only limited messaging capabilities: sluggish sending, an interrupted chain of replies, difficulties in sending photos and messages, limited functions for posting symbols, etc. All of this leads to people frequently switching to alternative programs.
‘Tinder’s technical features—notifications, for example—do not always work as quickly as third-party messengers, which was the reason for choosing them. You just can’t send multiple messages at the right speed. You also can’t use it to send photos. It has reduced functionality’ (W, 18-27).
‘Maybe the first 20 to 40 messages are sent in Tinder, but then we switch over for convenience’ sake…Either I will suggest, or even the girl will suggest going over to, for example, Instagram, or Telegram, or WhatsApp…Yeah, mostly in those messenger services. Um, yes, in a sense it’s more convenient, you can send photos, for example, and so on’ (M, 18-27).
In their interviews, subjects said that the next stage of interaction after establishing contact was switching to social networks or messenger services to exchange profiles. Also, communicating in social networks is considered a new level of relationship in which you trust your partner with your personal account on those sites.
‘And, by the way, if I remember correctly, on social networks also. Well, with a small number of people, we ended up, or rather, exchanged links to social networks. Because, well, it was usually enough… I don’t know, a messenger and personal meetings, and then, after some time, you realize that you are interested in communicating with the person and you already exchange links to social networks’ (W, 18-27).
In addition to the motives already described, the interviews revealed an interesting issue — the need to use GIFs. As a functionality of social networks, GIFs have become an extension of communication, an opportunity to convey meanings as accurately as possible. Users wanting to communicate, including on dating apps, want to be able to use their familiar range of tools.
‘I added a GIF. And… That was enough. Yes, it is a very good addition, it greatly expands, as it were, the functionality. That which is impossible, for example, to express, well, there, verbally… I also understand that… to put a GIF in just the right place is like, I don’t know, there, in a dark room, somebody closing their eyes is trying to stab someone with a knife…’ (M, 28-37).
The features to which users are already accustomed given the multiple options for communication that messengers offer translate as disadvantages of Tinder. These include ineffective notifications, the inability to exchange photos and instantly receive messages and others. All this underscores the inflexibility of the technology and users meet their needs with other apps.
In addition, the virtual space barrier again comes to the fore at this stage—the search for a profile in social networks is intended to verify the partner, to show that he is who he describes himself to be. Other studies reached the same conclusion: after a match is made, the user tries to find an account in Facebook to confirm that the partner exists and that the information provided there matches that in the profile.
Discussions on the process of searching for partners often referred to the geographical factor as important in influencing how the app was used. On the one hand, a new geographical area is an important motivation—using online dating services as a way to explore a new city or country. On the other hand, it is a way to expand the audience—to see potential partners in a new place.
‘If I installed it there in Perm, yeah, well, I looked at the photos for a couple of days, I realized that there was no one at all in Perm and… I didn’t want to open it every day to see two people, well, I didn’t really want to. People probably follow the same pattern as me, that: well, it’s kind of empty, we probably won’t look here either. And, and… moving to another city, you could look to see what’s going on here’ (M, 18-27).
The geographical factor also affects the technological side of how the app is used because the Internet infrastructure of Russia’s regions varies, affecting the implementation and use of mobile communications <…>
The availability of the necessary technological equipment plays a significant role in the spread of any technology. Research subjects most frequently mentioned limitations concerning the app’s functionality: a loss of geolocation, the inability to forward images, and the transmission of messages and notifications—all of which are largely due to the level to which Internet infrastructure is developed in each region.
‘I had difficulties with the mobile Internet like, I think, everyone else. But the significance of this aspect is minimal… If such difficulties arise, they are close to being statistically insignificant’ (M, 18-27).
In this case, we encounter an institutional barrier—Internet infrastructure—that varies with the geographic location of use: the degree to which the Internet connection is developed at the level of the provider affects the usage of the app. The size of the locality also plays a role: the residents of large cities behave differently than those in villages, with the interactions of the latter more stigmatized such that they are more likely to communicate personally, rather than indirectly.
Geographic location also has a bearing on user experience, another important aspect of deciding whether to use a technology. Users refer to what already seems clear from their personal experience and make use of their previously acquired knowledge and skills. Positive experience makes it easier to accept new things and creates a favourable basis for introducing technology into everyday life, while negative experience prompts people to reject new technologies.
It is important to note that the longer a person has been part of the digital environment, the wider their user experience and the more effectively they can use negative experiences to expand their competencies and build skills. People often rely not only on their own accumulated knowledge but also refer to the experience of acquaintances and friends. This helps them form a final opinion and understand whether they are ready to accept the new technology.
‘Difficulties arose, I couldn’t get in, Tinder asked me to complete the identification process through Facebook again, and errors came up. But overall, a fairly user-friendly app, everything is intuitive all the time, which is an advantage over other apps. If you use social networks a lot, then everything is simple with Tinder — you swipe instead of like’ (W, 18-27).
Thus, we can define another barrier—the barrier of user experience. This includes skills in working with different types of apps as well as how those skills are applied to online dating apps as a function of the overall digital literacy level of the users in a particular region.
The efficiency of tech support is another important technological barrier. Users cannot always learn how a technology works and how to overcome problems by referring only to guidelines and tutorials, and personal experience might not always be enough.
The lack of clear and transparent instructions for using the online dating app, as well as the constant changes and updates it undergoes are the source of numerous difficulties. Users who cannot cope with the problems that arise have the option of calling tech support to receive what they hope will be a quick solution. However, it can be inconvenient to call if the user is in the process of moving, dependent on roaming services, or unable to talk at the moment. What’s more, the specialist cannot always help solve the problem.
‘I once wrote to tech support to solve technological difficulties of geolocation. Only the third operator could help me. I don’t have a problem with other issues — I understand that the technology is still developing’ (W, 28-37).
If users are not familiar enough with a new technology, they might discontinue its use or ignore it altogether. Such unfamiliarity can also lead to an inaccurate image that does not reflect the product’s actual qualities, in turn causing users to reject it as irrelevant to their experience.
This is a barrier of technical support mediation, where the customer service rep. is not always competent and might be unsure of the sequence of actions needed to solve the problem. Every technology has a specific set of functions, knowledge of which influences our actions in one way or another. This, in turn, affects how we perceive and use it. In this case, the app as a technology changes the social practices of its users.
Online dating is becoming an everyday practice and the apps for it are digitalizing romantic relationships. Soon after personal conversations and correspondence had shifted onto instant messaging services, people are now entrusting their search for various types of partners to online dating apps with their algorithms for displaying and selecting potential partners. In this regard, individuals adapt their social practices to overcome the barriers associated with computer-mediated communication and, in particular, the use of online dating apps. We note the importance of such factors as mobility, structuring self-presentation, the ability to regularly change and adapt the profile, and the use of technological tools (in particular, emojis) to reduce the misunderstandings associated with the absence of familiar verbal cues.
Observing how people interact with the app, we identified three groups of barriers that users encounter. The first and main group concerns the users themselves and includes such issues as privacy and stigmatization, virtual space and awareness, having to structure personal information and user experience. The second includes technological barriers such as the inflexibility of the technology and the barrier of mediated technical assistance. The third is the institutional barrier of Internet infrastructure.
The barriers do not all appear simultaneously, but over time as the app is used. Some arise at specific stages of interaction with it, while others occur constantly throughout the cycle of usage.
Even at the initial stage of choosing an online dating app, a barrier of stigmatization is present and persists until the user succeeds in choosing a partner. The barriers of privacy and virtual space occur when users complete both the text and virtual components of their profile, and again during the process of communication following a match. These barriers are characteristic of online communications in general but are particularly evident in online dating because the correlation between a partner’s virtual and actual image plays a key role in further relations.
Later, when filling out the profile, users might encounter a barrier related to the quantity and structure of information they provide. When choosing a partner, the barriers of reciprocity and inflexible technology come to the fore. Technological barriers can arise at any stage but are most common while actively interacting with partners.
The study of barriers caused by technology suggests models of adaptation and ways in which it influences social constructs. Users adapt the app to their needs: they try to find familiar ways to communicate and transmit information, experiment with jokes and photos, honing their profiles to achieve different goals. It is important to note that the user experience is dynamic and develops over time. All this helps users to overcome and rethink barriers, and to revise their view of the technologies they use in general.