My reverse engineering on Tinder
I am simply amazed by the times we are living in. I would have never imagined that the digital services are becoming this popular. Even my 60+ years old parents started buying groceries and ordering food online, which they would normally not prefer because they would assume it would be expensive and low quality.
Obviously, this digitization era also made online dating more “normal”. The first time we met with these products, I remember people being ashamed of using them because of accusations by other people on how digital chats can be chosen over real meetings.
It is not my expertise area to talk about relationships or why people use online dating etc. However, due to being a single person and a software engineer, it is my expertise area to think about how they work. Being one of the oldest and biggest in the industry, I was and am a loyal customer of Tinder for so long, which caused me to think more on the background of Tinder more than other applications.
By being a customer who tried all tiers, paid features, cracks or hints etc. I had the chance to examine Tinder very thoroughly, from a customer perspective. In this article, I would like to share my assumptions on how Tinder works, which may give you ideas on how to create a better appearance there.
Before diving deeper, I would like to explain some terms for readers who are not familiar with them. If you are already familiar with the concept, you can skip to the Facts section.
Swiping: In most dating applications, you see a profile with a photo and some information. Then you swipe them on your mobile phone to the right, left, and even top or bottom sometimes. Swiping right, in most applications, means you liked what you see and swiping left has the opposite meaning.
Active users: In software applications, an active user means someone who was recently online in your platform. This is sometimes important because seeing someone inside the platform does not mean that they still use the application. Sometimes, mostly after finding someone or giving up, people delete the app but keep their accounts. This might cause them to still appear for some time.
Queue: Swiping happens based on a queue of users. While you swipe people to left or right, if there are still people available for you based on your preference filters like distance or age, you will be continuously seeing people one after another.
Matching: In most dating applications, the matching happens based on mutual likes. If I swipe you right and you swipe me right, it is a match!
I will start with the most important fact we need to understand and acknowledge before using dating applications first; they are here to earn money. Matching you with someone is also a good feeling, but it won’t pay the salaries of hundreds of professionals working for online dating products.
Simply speaking, 100+ professionals working for Tinder are not simply working for a “swiping” app. There is much more going on in the background. You can check what awesome things they are doing from Tinder Engineering Blog. Please keep this main purpose in mind while we are moving on to my assumptions.
Some groups are a bit unlucky/eager/excited in matchmaking applications which causes them to swipe “everyone” right. Even there is an account with a flower as their only photo, these people would still like them since they don’t check who they are liking.
… they mostly match with anyone who they swipe right to…
This causes opposite sides to be picky and overwhelmed, because they mostly match with anyone who they swipe right to, due to these “robotic swipers”. There is a dire consequence of this behavior, which is, the “picky” group only sees 5–6 of 99+ likes they got. So, you need to be in the first 5 people who your target audience sees, otherwise you have very minimal chance to get a match.
There is also a theory mentioned in here which states that Tinder gives females more likes than males on the free tier.
Connected to the above topic, the most important thing to get as much likes as possible, is to be visible.
In order to be liked, you need to be seen.
How can you be more visible, everybody is shown only once on the swiping queue, right? Wrong. You can appear multiple times in the queue which can increase your chance to be seen earlier, which increases your chance to be liked or disliked, as customers are only swiping a limited number of people.
In the assumptions part, I will be connecting these facts with my findings so let’s get started.
I would like to underline one thing while we start talking about my insights. These are solely my personal assumptions as a customer. Please don’t sue me Tinder, I love you.
One of the major inputs you need to become successful if you are operating a matchmaking social network is having “baits”, which are attractive/popular/beautiful people who lures others in to your platform. The first thing you can realize about Tinder’s algorithm is that they are always showing really popular accounts when you first land. So, the first account on your swiping queue is, most of the times, moderately popular, beautiful, sexy, and/or attractive.
This can be understandable as other platforms also try to attract you into their platforms by showing you their most popular/liked content first. However, in online dating platforms, this might be a waste of your limited likes if you are not up for a challenge to be 1 person among 99+ other likes. Just saying.
One of the most pleasing messages you can get: “Somebody liked you!”. You get excited and don’t know how to react most of the times. You slowly open your dating application but somehow, you cannot see who liked you. There is a blurry photo which sometimes can give you a clue and in some applications, including Tinder, a name.
I have seen on Tinder that most of the times, if the person who liked you is active and nearby, they are the 2nd person on your swiping queue. If you don’t see them there, you can close your application and try again.
I couldn’t locate the second like in the queue precisely, but I have seen them appear around 5th or 6th in the queue. This assumption is less trustworthy though, compared to the above one.
Due to above mentioned gender-oriented fact, some groups get mostly the people who liked them in their queue even among the first 5–10 people. So, the algorithm does not place you on the 2nd, 5th, 8th positions in the queue; the number of likes you got also matters on the frequency.
Connected to the visibility fact, moving around and using Tinder in different locations within the same day also helps because you appear on multiple regions as most people are using these apps with a distance filter. Let’s consider most people are using the app with a 5-kilometer radius filter, which means they can only see users who are less than 5 kilometers away from them in their queue. If you move at least 10 kilometers away from the first point you have used Tinder and start using again, this means you should appear in both regions due to most users using these filters.
Hint: Don’t miss out popular points. If you visit the city center that day, don’t forget to swipe a couple of people to left/right to be active in that region because city centers or popular locations are also popular on Tinder.
In order to attract new users, I have realized Tinder gives some privileges to new users, like showing them more in the queues etc. This makes sense because you can get the grasp of what you can get from Tinder in the first couple of hours/days and then the monetary fact comes into place and you lose your privileges, pushing you slowly to “purchase” them.
An illegal action in here (there is a chance to get banned due to Tinder fair usage policy) can be deleting your account and opening a new one from time to time. I would strongly recommend against it as it is kinda cheating, but this was also something I realized was effective.
I believe that Tinder has some kind of “desperateness” level assigned to each user
This is the most controversial assumption I would like to make. I believe that Tinder has some kind of “desperateness” level assigned to each user that is used as the primary metric on most features.
I have an unproven hunch that Tinder is labeling or ordering people based on the level of desperateness they have for matching with someone. The more desperate you are, the more Tinder pushes you for getting a paid membership. How they do that? Making you less visible, not showing you people who liked you etc. so in the end, by decreasing your chances of matching with someone. This is also supported by internal messages or push notifications like “you are great but with a paid account you can be awesome” or “the problem is not you, it is just that the competition is fierce”. Connected to the monetary purposes they have, this is expected. I will touch this topic more under the following subjects.
Never like the first photo
You are wandering around and checking people in your queue. You have seen someone you might potentially like. Try to spend some time on their profile by checking their bio or checking a couple of photos before swiping right. Based on my experience, if you like everyone from their first photos and not spend much time on their profiles, this increases your “desperateness” level.
This is more like an accusation but I feel like some of the accounts I see frequently can be fake accounts with stock or AI-generated photos. In order to understand your taste better or to assign your desperateness level, I assume Tinder is doing some tests on the users with these fake accounts. This assumption is highly opinionated but it is worth to keep in mind. If you swipe right a fake account which you should not like for sure, again, this increases your “desperateness” level.
Similar to above topic, Tinder shows you the same people from time to time. If they have some updates on their profile or if you are running out on possible matches in your queue, Tinder might re-show the people you already have swiped to left or right again to you, sort of like a second chance thing. Again in here, inconsistencies might end you up getting a higher “desperateness” level.
When I first started to think about my conspiracy theories regarding Tinder, my main aim was not to create a “suggestions for Tinder101” but I feel like that part was inevitable.
All in all, there is more than you anticipate going on the background of dating applications; product decisions, engineering magic etc. From my humble perspective, I wanted to explain how, as a customer, I “decipher” Tinder. I hope we can have a very productive discussion following this article.
Please challenge, support, or refute my assumptions with your comments. I will be very happy to correct myself :)