Tinder launched in September 2012, quickly becoming the world’s most used smartphone dating app, at a time when many dating websites struggled to convert into successful phone apps.
Now, in June 2021, Tinder’s ten-year anniversary isn’t too far off. A decade is a literal generation in terms of technology developments, but Tinder is still the world’s leading dating app, currently believed to have 57 million active users.
However, a new generation of dating app is emerging, led by startups largely focusing on video rather than photos. Apps such as Snack, Feels and Lolly are vying for the attention of Generation Z: people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, currently in their late teens or early 20s.
Inspired by the tearaway success of TikTok, the entrepreneurs behind these new dating apps are hoping that Gen Z connects with their products instead of the Millennial-focused likes of Tinder and Bumble.
Basically, they want to make Tinder seem like something your much older and not very cool sibling might use.
Feels is a new French-owned dating app with functionality inspired by Instagram Stories and TikTok. US-focused Snack is almost wholly inspired by TikTok, being all about uploading videos to your dating profile. Lolly, which launched in late 2020, is also video-based, and was founded by two Gen Z guys in their early 20s, based in the US.
While Tinder and Bumble are still mainly based around static selfie photos, these new apps have been launched off the assumption that Gen Z members store videos on their phones like older generations would photos.
Kaplan said that this generational dating shift could become as significant as dating sites such as Plenty of Fish, which she worked with, launching off Google search habits in the 2000s. The later shift that propelled Tinder’s success was the move from computers to smartphones.
Now, according to Kaplan, it’s video’s turn to shake online dating up.
“If you think about people that are using a Tinder or Bumble, they’re a lot older, and it’s not a video-first generation,” she said. “Yes, TikTok is ageing up, so you’re getting more Millennials engaging and using it… but it’s just not there yet. So to all of a sudden switch Tinder or Bumble to be video-first would be really challenging. You have this huge swathe of your user base that just isn’t comfortable on video.”
While Tinder and Bumble attempt to retain Millennial users, the likes of Snack, Feels and Lolly sense a chance of grabbing the attention of the next generation in line.
The real deal?
Daniel Cheaib, CEO of Feels, believes that the popularity of TikTok and Instagram Stories among Gen Z shows that this generation places more value on online authenticity than Millennials do.
Tinder use, he said, is “based on one picture and a short description, and completely ignores the traits of personality and what actually makes every one of us unique. The whole experience is focused almost only on the physical appearance. Physical appearance will remain an important aspect, but Gen Z is particularly sensitive to humor… and more realistic profiles.”
He added that during research for Feels, dating app users “mentioned to us that they feel like a piece of meat in a supermarket or in a giant human catalogue.”
Apps such as Feels encourage users to make regular uploads, with users reacting to new videos and other content, as they would on TikTok. The aim for users to be impressed by personalities rather than filtered images.
“People filter their lives on Instagram, whereas TikTok doesn’t really have those filters,” said Kaplan. “It’s more about humor and showing yourself off and dancing, and being a bit more authentic.”
She added: “You have this generation – and Snapchat is a great example of this, because the videos disappear in a short period of time – willing to share the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Making Gen Z tik
Kaplan’s observations about video and authenticity raise a question. Why is there a need for new dating apps that function similarly to TikTok or Snapchat, when Gen Z members are uploading and interacting on these existing apps already?
From sliding into Twitter DMs to sprinkling heart emojis in Instagram comment sections, there’s already plenty of matchmaking going on within social apps. Indeed, Kaplan said that Snack’s research found that Gen Z dating app users often used Tinder or Bumble, but moved private messaging to other apps as soon as matches were made.
Both Kaplan and Cheaib believe that Gen Z members still want to be able to explicitly get across that they are interested in dating, and be connected to people near them. The likes of TikTok and Instagram do not present new profiles with proximity as a priority.
“TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and any other social network serve [many] purposes: entertainment, discovery, following what your friends have been up to… you name it,” said Cheaib. “But none of them serve the sole purpose and give you the opportunity to meet someone [just for dating], physically or even virtually.”
He added: “This [matchmaking] happens on all these social networks. But it’s like comparing a business exhibition, i.e. Twitter, with a bar with a special singles night, i.e. dating apps. You can meet people in both cases, but if you are single, would you rather go to a business exhibition?”
David Minns, dating app developer and entrepreneur, isn’t convinced about this model. The likes of Snack and Feels rely on users spending time regularly uploading new content and building profiles, rather than just honing in on matches.
The founders of these apps see this model as adding depth and authenticity that the likes of Tinder and Bumble don’t have. Minns said this would sit well with Gen Z users who “want recognition and use that as a way to attract a match. They will infer the other member’s personalities from their creative content over a well-honed description and personal interests.”
However, according to Minns, “The disadvantage is that users may become distracted from the purpose of the app: finding a date. Once a Gen Z dater has built a following on a social dating app they may be reluctant to delete their account even after finding a partner. This is great for the app owner, not so great for singles.”
Minns added: “If you’re single you want to find someone and date, not waste time with a platform that doesn’t get to the point and has a number of members there only for likes and an ego boost. Users will change and become more focused on results and efficiency. Failing that, as Gen Zs become older and mature they will want something different. You don’t want to play with Lego Duplo all your life.”
A clean swipe
Most of the new video-led Gen Z dating apps are barely out of development stage, with low amounts of users. Snack does not release statistics about its user base yet, with one reason probably being that they are modest. Feels has around 100,000 users, mainly in France.
Today, toppling Tinder seems a distant prospect for any of them. What might be more likely in the longer term is one of them becoming prolific among Gen Z users, while Tinder retains an ageing user base.
Both Kaplan and Cheaib acknowledge that launching apps can be a precarious business, and that acting on Gen Z video trends is no guarantee of success.
“Feels, as much as any other app that has launched recently, might die in the coming months or years,” said Cheaib. “The market is much more mature, more professional, and requires technical and financial resources that will necessarily give an advantage to the very few able to attract investors and talents.”
Kaplan is optimistic about this new Gen Z dating app mini-sector, and has attracted impressive investment. It was recently announced that the app had received $3.5 million in venture capital funding.
“There hasn’t been a shift in consumer apps for a while,” she said, before again underlining the Gen Z focus on video as a “fundamental” pivot. “It’s fun to be a part of it,” she added.
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