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The Paradox of Choice in Online Dating

Updated: Mar 2

Bing! A notification pops on your phone. It's that dating app you had installed, informing you of a new match. Now, you might feel excited at the prospect of a new pursuit and check the app immediately or you might be indifferent to it, letting this notification join the pack of others you ignored from the app. This difference in reaction depends heavily on how frequently you get matches. If your matches are scarce you might tend towards the former reaction and if they are a common daily occurrence, you’ll likely lean towards the latter. 

Dating apps offer immense convenience and have revolutionised finding love. Yet, they also breed dissatisfaction among users, stemming from two prevalent experiences: some users facing an overwhelming amount of options, while some users getting discouraged and disappointed by the very few successful matches. This blog delves into these dichotomies, presenting strategies employed by dating companies to guide users through the online dating landscape.

To better understand these two very different experiences, consider the following narratives:

Hrishi's journey

Hrishi had always been a bit skeptical about dating apps, but the stories of friends finding meaningful connections convinced him to give them a try. With a mix of excitement and nervousness, he meticulously chose photos that captured his personality and interests, and crafted a bio he hoped would spark conversation.

Initially, Hrishi checked the app several times a day, swiping with the hope of finding someone who shared his zest for adventure and love for indie music. However, as days turned into weeks, he noticed his matches were few and far between. Each notification brought a surge of hope, but these moments became increasingly rare.

He tried tweaking his profile, opting for different photos and changing his bio to something more generic, hoping to appeal to a broader audience.  He even paid for a premium subscription but to no avail.  Despite these efforts, the scarcity of matches didn't significantly improve. Hrishi began to feel a creeping sense of rejection. Was it their profile, or was there something more fundamentally unappealing about him?

Hrishi is facing 'choice scarcity', a phenomenon where the limited number of options leads to a heightened sense of rejection and discouragement. This scarcity amplifies the importance of each potential match, often resulting in increased anxiety and a diminished sense of self-worth among users.

Ira's journey

Ira dove into the world of dating apps with an open heart, excited by the prospect of meeting diverse individuals. Ira's profile, a vibrant collage of her hobbies, passions, and a witty bio, quickly garnered attention. Soon, she was inundated with likes and messages, each one a potential story, a possible connection.

Initially, the abundance of choices felt like a luxury. She enthusiastically swiped, chatted, and planned dates, marveling at the sheer variety of people interested in meeting her. However, as the weeks passed, what had once been exhilarating began to feel overwhelming.

The endless cycle of swiping, matching, and messaging without meaningful progress became exhausting. Ira found herself unable to remember details about the people she was chatting with, mixing up conversations and losing interest rapidly. The realization hit Ira hard—despite the plethora of matches, she felt a deep sense of loneliness. Each interaction felt superficial, a shallow exchange rather than a step toward genuine connection.

Ira is experiencing 'choice overload,' a condition characterized by having too many options to choose from, which can paradoxically lead to decision paralysis and dissatisfaction. This overload makes it difficult to make meaningful selections, as the abundance of choices overwhelms the user’s capacity to evaluate them effectively, leading to a sense of loneliness and disconnection despite the numerous interactions.

Which journey do you relate with more?

  • Hrishi's journey

  • Ira's journey

The two journeys are markedly different. However, unhappiness and loneliness is the common thread tying these narratives together. It becomes clear that the ease and abundant availability of potential partners offered by dating apps is not a panacea for achieving romantic bliss. 

The experiences of choice overload and choice scarcity on dating apps stem from a variety of interconnected factors. Profile presentation, which includes the curation of photos and bio content by the user, plays a crucial role in shaping the first impressions of the profile. The app’s algorithm exercises immense control over who gets seen by who and is known to prioritise users based on their popularity. Individual user behaviours such as engagement with the app, swiping behaviours and interactions with matches can also influence visibility of a profile. And finally, demographics like age, location and sexual preference and the overall user base in specific areas significantly impacts whether individuals face an abundance of options or a dearth.

How do dating apps deal with this issue?

As one would imagine, there's a positive correlation between the attractiveness of a dating app profile and the number of right swipes the profile gets. As we can observe, profiles that are less attractive face choice scarcity while profiles rated with higher attractiveness experience choice overload. In order to help users facing choice scarcity, dating apps nudge the users with UX solutions that help make their profiles better so that they form a better first impression. On the other hand, to aid choice overload, dating apps curate profiles and offer better filters to limit choices and help make decision making easier.

Different dating apps have employed a variety of strategies to help users navigate the divide between overload and scarcity. After examining the UX of major dating apps, specifically Tinder, Bumble and Hinge, here is a list of strategies that we observed: 

Helping users facing Choice Scarcity 

To combat choice scarcity, dating apps have developed a suite of features aimed at improving user profiles, thereby increasing their visibility and the likelihood of making meaningful connections. These strategies are centred around optimising user profiles through various means, from photo selection to detailed personal information, ensuring that users can present themselves in the most attractive and authentic way possible. Here's how dating apps are turning the tide against choice scarcity:

1. Profile Photo Testing- Dating app platforms offer users an option to enable profile photo testing. The platforms tests the photos the user has added to their profile and picks one photo which is the most popular and displays it as the headliner of the profile. This is helps users optimise their profile and ensure they are making best first impression possible

2. Profile Completion Prompts- Dating apps encourage users to fully build out their profiles by highlighting how detailed information can improve match potential. This not only enhances profile attractiveness but also aids in finding more compatible matches.

3. Premium Features- Dating apps offer premium features like unlimited likes and priority likes, which ensure a user's actions are seen before others. Spotlight and special likes further enhance visibility, helping users stand out in the crowded digital space, thereby increasing their chances of finding matches.

4. Enhancing Profile Depth- Since conception dating app companies have innovated with what makes the content of a profile. Today, a complete profile offers a wealth of information about a person including dating intentions, lifestyle choices, love style and other interests. This helps a user to fully portray who they are through their profile. Integrations with Spotify and Instagram also adds more depth. 

Reducing the Overwhelming Choice Overload

To address Choice Overload, dating apps have devised mechanisms to streamline the selection process, making it more focused and manageable. By curating matches and limiting interactions, these platforms aim to enhance the quality of connections, providing a more satisfying and less overwhelming experience for users. Here's a closer look at the innovative solutions deployed to manage choice overload:

1. Curated Matches- Some dating apps offer a curated list of profiles to users that is separate from the general profile stack. These recommendations are based on compatibility algorithms that the companies have developed. By limiting the available options, companies help users navigate choice overload.

2. Swipe and Profile Limits- Each app had a daily limit on the number of right swipes an user could make during the day. Other apps like The League, have a cap on the amount of profiles users can go through in a day irrespective of right or left swipes. These measures help avoid binge swiping and by imposing a daily limit, aid in preventing choice overload. 

3. Explore and Interest-Based Collections- Tinder's Explore feature organises profiles into collections based on hobbies and interests, allowing users to navigate through a more targeted selection, reducing the overwhelming feeling of unlimited choices.

4. Premium Features- Subscription to premium versions of dating apps allow users to take more control of who sees their profile and offers advanced filtering features that allow users to see profiles that meet their specific criterias.  This helps with choice overload as users do not have to sift through many profiles to find what they are looking for.

Wrapping up

Exploring the journeys of choice scarcity and overload on dating apps helped bring to light the intricate measures platforms like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge undertake to balance user experiences. Despite innovative features aimed at curating matches and managing interactions, these challenges persist. This showcases the complex nature of human connections in the digital age. The continued existence of these two journeys underscores the limitations of technological solutions in navigating the nuanced landscape of online dating, leaving us to ponder the future of finding love in a world that swipes for it.

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