In August of 2015, Vanity Fair published an explosive article that painted the modern dating scene, fuelled by apps, as an apocalyptic wasteland where people move from one casually dehumanising experience to another.
Tinder’s Twitter account had a public freakout on writer Nancy Jo Sales, accusing her of misrepresenting its users. But Hinge CEO Justin McLeod had a completely different reaction: he took it to heart.
Hinge, which debuted in 2013, had positioned itself as a Tinder competitor that leveraged your existing Facebook connections to find you matches. It was supposed to be less random, and therefore make people both more accountable, and more likely to find compatible matches. But McLeod says he realised people were often using it in the same way they were Tinder: as a game.
Around December, McLeod decided to bet Hinge’s future on a reimagined dating app. He rebuilt his engineering team and focused almost the entirety of Hinge’s efforts on this new app, neglecting Hinge’s previous offering, which saw its app store reviews plummet to a 1.5-star rating.
On Tuesday, McLeod launched Hinge 2.0, the app that holds the future of the company in its hands.
The new Hinge is meant to appeal to people who are “over the game” of popular swiping apps, and looking for a relationship, McLeod explains. The app, crucially, will require all users to pay $7 per month (after a three-month free trial). This is markedly different from competitors like Tinder and Bumble, which operate on the “freemium” model.
“It makes sure everyone has some skin in the game,” McLeod says. He shunned the freemium model because he says the people who pay tend to be “power users” of swiping apps — the exact kinds of daters that Vanity Fair took aim at. That type of monetisation won’t help him build a different Hinge community this time around.
But it’s not just the price that’s different. The design of the app is meant to boost more substantive conversations, McLeod says. The main difference I saw during a demo was that Hinge lets you initiate a conversation by commenting on specific aspect of someone’s profile. Once you’ve commented — let’s say on a picture of them travelling abroad, or an answer to one of the question Hinge poses, they can either ignore you or respond. If they respond — it opens up a chat between you. This makes the app feel more like a social network than other dating apps do. There’s a specificity that makes your first interaction feel less like a pickup line.
Hinge’s new home screen is also focused on your current matches, not potential new ones. You don’t have a hidden list of hundreds of matches or people you never responded to just sitting in a virtual corner somewhere. McLeod wants you to think about who you are matching with, and why. No mindless swiping.
And McLeod says there will be consequences for people who match with people only to never respond to their messages. McLeod wants people to “treat each other like humans,” and will eventually kick users off the app for bad behaviour.
The big question for Hinge will be whether the company will get their users to pay $7 a month for the service — or whether they will cancel once the free trial is up. McLeod is quick to point out that Hinge’s monthly fee is a lot cheaper than Match.com ($42) and eHarmony ($60), but Hinge is going for a much younger demographic. Most of those people aren’t used to paying for a dating app.
In its beta period, McLeod says that 7 times as many of Hinge’s connections turned into phone numbers exchanged. That suggests Hinge’s new way of doing things is more efficient.
But part of the reason people love swiping apps like Tinder and Bumble is that they are fun to play with. It doesn’t feel like a chore looking for matches, so who cares if you have to spend a bit more time trying to find someone you’d actually want to meet in person? Swipe while your in line at the grocery, or waiting for the train. Tinder is a hybrid of a dating service and a cell phone game.
For Hinge, simply proving it’s more efficient won’t be enough to unseat the heavyweights. It has to prove that not only will it get you better matches on average, but that it can get you better dates, and eventually, better relationships.
If it can’t do that, it’s just Tinder wrapped up in relationship rhetoric.