While I’ve been lucky enough to be in a relationship through the pandemic, this Valentine’s Day has got me thinking about how dating has changed because of Covid-19 restrictions. Since there are significantly less opportunities to meet someone organically in person these days, online dating, which was already popular (30% of US Adults had tried at least one in 2020), has become extremely important for anyone trying to meet a new partner. How have the popular online dating applications, like Tinder and Bumble, adjusted? Can they use the huge amount of data they are gleaning from their hundreds of millions of users to help improve dating struggles in 2021? I did some research on how these apps are using our data and what kind of dating trends they’ve seen since the pandemic began.
According to Vox, most dating apps are collecting data from more than just the information you type into your profile voluntarily. Not only are these apps saving every message you send to other users, they are analyzing your social media (if it’s connected to your page), tracking what other websites you are visiting, and looking at who you are liking and interacting with. This ends up being a huge amount of data for each person, creating truly a 360-degree view of anyone who uses these platforms. For example, one writer for the Guardian discovered that Tinder had 800 pages of information on her. From there, each site’s algorithm takes that information and begins matching you with other users. These sites have been so successful because they have been able to leverage this wealth of information to accurately understand what their users are looking for on a personal level – whether it be a lasting relationship, a one-night’s stand, or anything in between.
What has changed since March of 2020? Dating websites’ “big data” is only getting bigger. For one, the volume and velocity of the data that has been collected since the pandemic started has increased significantly simply because more people are using these apps a lot more often. According to Fortune, Tinder recorded its highest number of swipes on a single day and OkCupid saw a 700% increase in dates in 2020. In addition, the variety of the types of data collected by dating apps is only continuing to grow. For example, one of the biggest trends on dating apps since the pandemic began has been video chatting (according to Yahoo News). Since many people are weary about meeting a stranger during the pandemic and potentially risking exposure to Covid-19, video-chatting has essentially become the new “first-date.” This presents a challenge to data analysts because it’s harder to track all of the information exchanged on a video call than it is to gain insight from text conversations. Finally, the veracity (or the uncertainty of the data) has also increased because people are no longer using these apps the way they used to. Users are turning to dating apps for new reasons – many are looking to escape reality and to fight off their loneliness rather searching explicitly for new partners. Because of such a dramatic shift in motive, companies like match.com or Hinge have had to rethink their algorithms and how they play match-maker. Some sites are even having their users state their Covid comfortability in their dating profiles so others know right away if who they are talking to is okay with meeting in person or not.
Have the algorithms that online dating websites and apps rely on bee able to adjust to all of these changes? It sure seems like it – the pandemic is raging on, and online dating is not getting any less popular. Investors seem to feel the same way. This past week, Bumble went public and its market share increased to over $13 billion. It will be interesting to see if data scientists at these companies will be able to continue to help users find what they’re looking for as this year goes on and the world (hopefully) starts to shift back to normal.