Why There’s No Swiping on Hinge: A Q&A With Tim MacGougan, VP Member Experience
Note from the Editor:
Whenever I tell people I work at Hinge, the first question is always, “That’s so cool! What is it like working there?” followed by what feels like several thousand additional inquiries into the “secret world” of dating apps.
“Inside Hinge” is a new series that deep dives into that “secret world,” answering your questions about the app itself, our work culture, and more.
First up? Tim MacGougan. Tim is the VP of Member Experience and go-to guy for the commonly asked question, “Why do I have to like content on Hinge profiles, as opposed to the entire profile itself?”, or, in simpler terms, “Why is there no swiping on Hinge?”
Check out our Q&A with Tim, and don’t forget to comment below with questions or comments for Tim and the rest of the Hinge Product Team.
Q. The “new Hinge,” launched in October, is devoid of one feature many users associate with dating apps: swiping. Now, instead of swiping on a person’s profile, Hinge users are prompted to like either a photo or a profile prompt answer. Why is this?
A. To answer this question, we need to go back before our relaunch in October of 2016, when Hinge was a swiping app much like our competition. For months, we tested variations of our format with large beta groups, enlisting thousands of users in multiple cities. Through these tests we learned volumes about how the seemingly subtle design choices we make can have dramatic impact on user experience.
Our goal was to fix the core problem of the swiping system, what we call “Signal vs Noise.”
Q. What exactly is the “Signal vs. Noise” problem?
A. Here’s the thing with dating apps: the desire to know who likes you is powerful, and it’s exactly what swiping apps seemed to offer when they started popping up a few years ago. You can like people anonymously, and if the feeling is mutual you’ll match, the assumption being you’re both interested in meeting in real life.
So, why do so few matches turn into conversations and dates?
In the double-opt-in format of swiping apps, you only find out who likes you when you express interest yourself, so it’s tempting to swipe right just to see if they like you too.
Curiosity and vanity factor heavily in those right swipes, and the real intentions of everyone involved become obscured. Match lists balloon with the “noise” of people only vaguely interested in one another, and the “signal” of genuine interest gets lost.
Swiping apps counteract this inefficiency by dumping as much volume (people) at the top of that funnel as they can. By making likes easier and faster, and by encouraging you to “keep playing,” they’re betting on people achieving the desired outcome (dates) from a horde of long-shots.
For some people that sounds great, and it can feel good at first, but eventually the wasted effort and emotional detachment takes its toll, resulting in “dating app fatigue.”
We set out to actually solve the problem, not just mask it with overwhelming activity.
Q. Having identified the problem with swiping apps (not knowing who is truly interested), how did Hinge go about solving it?
A. We began our journey to solve the Signal vs. Noise problem by removing the anonymity of liking. On Hinge, you can see who likes you, no strings attached. We’re the only major match-based dating service to give this information away for free. Most of our competition uses it as a hook for their paid offering, and maybe we’re crazy, but we felt it was necessary to create an environment where people only like each other when they’re genuinely interested.
Removing anonymity split the connection process into two steps: initiation and reciprocation. You initiate by sending likes in your “Discover” feed, and reciprocate by connecting from the “Likes You” screen. Seeing who likes you removed curiosity from the equation, but initiation still had a problem: the right-tilt.
Q. What does “right-tilt” mean in this context?
A. When you’re not sure whether to like someone, and it’s just as easy to like as pass, the like becomes a deferral. You can ignore the person or disconnect later, so you may as well like someone you’re on the fence about. This pattern is reinforced with every swipe, to the point of muscle memory. It’s as though the deck is tilting to the right, nudging you to like everyone.
Solving the tilt problem turned out to be the key to building a product that consistently generates dates.
Q. During the testing phase, before relaunch, what were some of the ideas the Hinge team tried out to solve this problem?
A. One of the early ideas we tested required writing a message to like someone – no heart button, no swipe. In theory, this would not only solve the Signal vs Noise problem, but also get conversations started without the stalemate of an empty chat.
It didn’t work. We set the bar of intention too high, which resulted in most users scarcely liking anyone at all. We had overcorrected, creating a middle school dance with hopeful attendees glued to the sidelines.
Compounding the participation issue was the disappointment that messages were typically just: “Hey.” With nothing in particular to talk about, most openers are quite generic, a common complaint across dating apps. Imagine walking up to someone in a bar and saying “I like you.” The awkward silence that would invariably follow is the equivalent of a swiping match’s starting point.
Q. So, if a “like” button is too easy, and a message is too hard, what’s left?
A. We originally gravitated toward liking specific elements of profiles, what we call content, to address the problem of generic conversations. We still love it for that reason and we often reference that in marketing and PR because it’s easy to understand and communicate, but in my opinion the bigger value is its impact on the right-tilt problem.
It turned out the ease of the swipe wasn’t the main issue – it was the ease of the binary decision. Yes or No. The extra step of choosing what to like, and not just whether to like, required enough mental energy that it shifted “maybe’s” from “yes” to “no.”
The likes that remained were strong signals of actual interest, not just indecisive deferral, and we see that play out in dramatically higher conversation rates. That seemingly small wrinkle was the final piece of the puzzle to achieve the happy balance of participation and intentionality.
Q. What’s next for content liking?
A. We plan to allow users to like and comment on more than just the photos, videos, and answers on profiles, starting with mutual friends and “Virtues” (work, school, religion, hometown, and politics). People are already talking to each other about these things, so it makes sense to better facilitate those interactions.
We also plan to expand the ways that people can represent themselves in their profiles. That will be an ever-evolving area of focus for us, starting with sharing your interests, and describing your Virtues in your own words.
Have a question or comment for Tim or the Hinge Product Team? Want to weigh in on product features? Leave a comment below.