Hinge is a mobile dating app on the rise. It recently secured $4 million in funding, positioning itself as a classier, more romance-minded cousin to Tinder.
Hinge connects users to potential connections by sending out a batch of possible romantic match-ups every day at noon. Like Tinder, you use Facebook to connect to Hinge, and there’s a “Hot or Not” -style rating system. Hinge is still small — according to TechCrunch, it has around 60,000 users in New York, Boston, and D.C. — but with this funding, it’s poised to grow, and CEO Justin McLeod is branding the app in a smart way. Instead of protesting comparisons to Tinder, McLeod accepts them but emphasizes that there is a distinction in user intention. As he told TechCrunch, “When we ask our users, they say they use them differently. ‘I use Tinder when I’m out and about or bored or want to mess around, and Hinge is where I meet the people I want to date.'”
Tinder remains enormously popular — it’s the current king of mobile dating apps, and Hinge has a long way to go to unseat it. But Tinder is seen as skewing younger and casual, and tales of Tinder Weirdos have inspired many a novelty Tumblr account. Hinge has a savvy strategy to try to appeal to the kind of person who’d like a more adult, upscale Tinder but like the idea of a mobile-first, no-muss dating service. But McLeod’s app isn’t special because its users are more high-minded, or because the app’s structure for choosing potential mates is substantially different — after all, users are still asked to quickly rate possible matches based on a simple profile dominated by a Facebook profile picture, so it encourages snap judgments based on looks just as much as Tinder does.
Hinge isn’t special because it’s less superficial or can only be populated exclusively by non-creepers; it’s special because it only connects users with friends of friends on Facebook. It’s a dating app with a purposefully limited pool of potential matches for each user. Your potential matches will know someone that you probably know (unless you’re in the habit of requesting or accepting randoms on Facebook). This gives users a safety net; they know their prospective romantic partner can ask the mutual friend about them, and vice versa.
I can honestly say that were I single, I would use Tinder. Most of my non-partnered-up friends use it; some use it explicitly for sex, but most actually want to try and date the person they’re meeting up with — it can be casual or serious, depending on the user, and it’s painting Tinder in overly broad strokes to dismiss it merely as a hookup app. But Hinge’s decision to highlight matches that share Facebook connections is brilliant. I’ve noticed how excited my friends get when someone pops up on Tinder that they have mutual friends with on Facebook — it’s an instant moment of connection, an indication that your social circles might overlap, that you’ll be able to fall back on chatting about the people you both know if dinner conversation runs cold. It would be a smart move on Tinder’s part to add this filter and undermine Hinge’s best feature.
Of course, if Tinder adds a filter so you can only search for people who are friends of friends on Facebook, Hinge will be in big trouble. Hinge also uses a “romance graph” to further filter matches looking for compatible professions and hobbies, so if it manages to tweak this graph enough that users notice a high number of potential winners, Hinge could succeed — but, of course, that would be nothing short of astounding, because developing a precise formula for predicting romantic compatibility is a tricky wicket.
So, unless Hinge successfully develops an algorithm to predict attraction (in which case it may become the most popular app of all time), its main hook is the “only Facebook friends of friends” limit. And if Tinder ends up adding a feature that lets users limit their search to that same category, Hinge will really have no special element to lure users away from Tinder — except its branding strategy.
And even though it’s not necessarily true that Hinge users are more interested in serious relationships than Tinder users, if McLeod and company can continue selling that idea, it might become true, and the app may grow into what it wants to be.