Sorry for the long wait since Part 1. In Part 2, I'll talk about the main features of the app and how it's different from existing dating apps (and hopefully better). This is the second and final part of this post, but I am planning on writing more posts about this project as I work on it.
I have a name in mind for what I want to call the app, but I'm going to keep it a secret for now. So instead of putting the name in this post, I'll refer to it as XXXXXXX. Your computer isn't broken, it's supposed to look like a black rectangle.
XXXXXXX is a video-centric dating app that respects your time. XXXXXXX was designed from the ground up around the question "What is the optimal dating experience when you can't safely meet other people in-person?" The "goal" of most dating apps is to schedule an in-person meeting with someone, so what does a dating app look like when that's no longer possible? And although the concept for this app was born out of the circumstances of the current pandemic, I believe that XXXXXXX will offer a superior user experience over existing dating apps even when things go back to normal.
How it works
After you create your account, you're brought to a list of all users who match your preferences and are currently online. Rather than swiping through profiles one at a time, you'll scroll through a list of users.
When a user's profile catches your eye, just tap the 📞 button to start a video call with them 😱
I know that calling a complete stranger might seem a little scary to some of you. But the good news is your other option is you can always just wait for someone to call you instead 😌
If someone calls you, you'll see the incoming call pop up on your screen and you can decide whether or not to accept it. Before you accept, you can view the person's profile. If you don't accept the call within 30 seconds, it will automatically be declined.
Once a call is accepted, you'll immediately begin a 3 minute video call where you can get to know each other. After the call ends, you'll be able to message each other through the app or set up another video call.
If you don't want to hear from that user anymore, you can block or report them.
To make the initial video call a little less intimidating, everyone will have the option to write their own conversation starters which are displayed in their profile. For example, you could put "What's the last thing you watched on Netflix?"
Why I think it's better than existing apps
As far as I know, there's no app that works quite like this. It does share many similarities with other dating apps though. I think of it as a hybrid between "traditional" swipe-based dating apps like Tinder and virtual speed-dating apps. I'll explain why I think XXXXXXX is better than either of those types of apps.
Most popular dating apps have adopted the Tinder-style swiping system. The hallmark of these apps is that you see profiles one at a time, and you are forced to make a decision about the person you're looking at (swipe left or swipe right) before you're presented with the next user-profile. Some examples of this type of app are Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and OkCupid. Here are the ways that XXXXXXX is better than those apps.
Doesn't waste your time
This is the big one. In Part 1 of this post, I said that this is the main shortcoming of current dating apps. With most dating apps, you don't actually find out if you have chemistry with a person until your first date. But getting on that first date takes a lot of work: you need to write a compelling profile and find flattering photos of yourself, then you need to spend hours swiping through profiles hoping you get matched, next you need to do your best to have an interesting text-based asynchronous conversation with your matches (which can drag on for more than a week), and finally you need to schedule a date and commit an entire evening to getting to know that one person. And if the date doesn't go well, you're back to square one and need to repeat the entire process. It's exhausting.
XXXXXXX, on the other hand, bypasses all of those steps. In my opinion, you can learn a lot more about someone from a 3 minute video call than you would learn from a week of text messaging. Although you can set up a video call with someone you've matched with in a traditional dating app (and some people do), my instinct is that asking someone to do a video call right off-the-bat would be a turn-off for some people. In dating apps there's an unspoken etiquette that you need to message someone for a certain amount of time before you can propose moving onto the next step, be it a video call or an in-person meeting. Hinge actually added a feature that lets you privately indicate when you're ready for one of those things, and the app notifies you when you've both stated your readiness for taking the next step. This takes the guesswork out, and is a great improvement, but it still likely requires you to spend some time messaging the other person before they feel ready to move on to a video call.
In my opinion, needing to send any text messages is a waste of time. It's unlikely that you'll learn anything of value from those messages, and you'll only know if you like the person after a video call or meeting. So why not just skip straight to that? XXXXXXX solves this problem by forcing everyone to have the video call first, and then making text messaging an optional second step. There's a stigma with asking for a video call or in-person meeting in your first message in a traditional dating app, but this stigma is avoided by forcing everyone to interact in a more efficient way.
No fake profiles
There are two types of "fake" profiles you'll encounter in dating apps. The first type, the real fake profiles, are profiles for people who don't exist. A well-known form of this is catfishing. There are multiple reasons why someone would make a fake profile, but in my experience they're mostly scammers who try to get you to send them money either by offering some service or trying to blackmail you.
The second type of "fake" profile are real people who are intentionally dishonest or misleading in their profile. Everyone does this to some extent (choosing the most flattering photos to use in their profile), so my point is not to judge people who do this. But not knowing exactly what you're getting into until you meet the person on the first date is a problem that many dating app users face.
XXXXXXX solves both of these problems by making the first interaction you have with a user a video call. Without wearing an elaborate disguise, it's very hard to fool someone about your identity or appearance over a real-time video call.
As an added bonus, I believe that prioritizing video-based interaction would reduce the pressure to spend a lot of time hunting through your Facebook or Instagram profile for that perfect dating app profile picture. My hope is that people would worry less about their photos if a video call that let's you see what the person actually looks like is just a click away.
This is a relatively new category of dating app, and so far none have managed to become very popular. These apps seek to replicate the format of in-person speed dating events, but online. After creating a quick profile (age, gender, name, picture) and setting some basic preferences (gender, age range, max distance), you get randomly paired with people who match your criteria and engage in a brief video call with them. If you both indicate that you liked the other person, you get connected so you can continue communicating or schedule a meeting. Also, to ensure that there are as many users as possible for you to meet with, these apps typically schedule specific times when you can use them, like Thursdays and Saturdays at 7pm.
XXXXXXX is very similar to these types of apps. The main difference is that it doesn't randomly pair you with users but instead lets you choose who you talk to. This is important because it gives users a greater sense of agency in the dating process, and also ensures that you're not wasting your time talking to people you have no interest in. Liking specific users (i.e., swiping-right) is also one of the few fun parts of dating apps, so XXXXXXX preserves that element of the experience.
If these apps are the digital equivalent of speed-dating, XXXXXXX is the digital equivalent of meeting people at a bar. Like in a bar, you choose who you approach and try to strike up a conversation with and immediately begin with a face-to-face conversation. XXXXXXX is better than a bar though because you know that everyone you see in your list is someone looking for someone like you, conversation starters are built in (no need for corny pick-up lines), and you don't have to worry about someone physically harming you.
There are some risks with XXXXXXX over other dating apps. I've done my best to think through all of the things that could go wrong with an app like this or ways it could be abused, but I'm sure there are others I haven't thought of yet. Below are what I view as the two biggest risks to XXXXXXX.
Sooner or later, a user will expose themselves to another user during a video call. Unfortunately, if you create a service that lets people video-chat with strangers on the internet, it's inevitable that some of them will use it as a tool for flashing people. I would obviously forbid this kind of behavior in XXXXXXX, but that won't stop most people who want to expose themselves to strangers. I need to do everything I can to ensure that flashing is rare on XXXXXXX, both for ethical reasons and to ensure that XXXXXXX is an app that people want to use.
There are two ways to limit flashing: preventing people from getting flashed in the first place, and making sure that people who are caught flashing are prevented from doing it again.
There's no bulletproof way to prevent people from flashing other users, but I've seen some technical solutions to the problem. One measure some apps use is they require your face to be in frame at all times, otherwise it blurs your video. This would definitely make it harder to flash someone, but I'm sure any system like that could be outsmarted.
For that reason, I'll also need to figure out what to do when someone does flash another user. My plan is to report flasher, and then after the claim has been verified, I would permanently ban the flasher from the app. But how do you stop that person from just making a new account? I have a few different ideas on how to stop banned users from creating new accounts, so maybe I'll talk about them in a future post.
Not enough users online
In the "How it works" section I mentioned that you would only be able to see the profiles for users who are currently online. This is different from apps like Tinder where you can view the profiles for all users in your area at any time, even if they're not currently using the app. So, if there aren't enough people using XXXXXXX when you're using it, it will feel very lonely. If you open the app and only see one person in your list, and they either don't answer your call or it's not a good call, now what? If this happens repeatedly, you would most likely delete the app.
If XXXXXXX has as many users as Tinder, this wouldn't happen very often. No matter when you're using the app, there will always be people online. But of course, XXXXXXX won't have many users as Tinder in the beginning, so how do you ensure it doesn't feel like you're the only person using the app?
One solution is to restrict when people can use the app to specific times. This is what speed-dating apps do, and may be what I do for XXXXXXX. Another option is to send a push notification whenever a certain number of people are using the app. That way you don't need to randomly check the app all the time to see if people are using it. But the downside is it requires an initial group of people to start using the app to get the ball rolling. My least favorite solution is to make XXXXXXX asynchronous like most dating apps and show you offline users too. But what do you do with an offline user? Leave a message? Swipe right and hope they swipe-right you back? My fear is that if I go down this road, I'll sacrifice all of the key benefits of XXXXXXX, like not wasting your time.
I have a pretty good idea of what the initial version of this app will look like and what features I'll include, so the next step is to start building it. First I'm going to create a minimal backend API for the app to use (the "brain" of the app), then I'll start working on the code for the app itself. The first feature I'll implement is the video-calling, because the success of the app hinges on the video-calling working flawlessly. Once I've got the minimum functionality working, I'll release an alpha version of the app to my friends and family for early testing. Getting to that point is at least a few months away, so I'll provide another update once I've hit that milestone with further next steps. While I'm working on the app, I plan on publishing updates on this website. I have an RSS feed you can subscribe to if you want to be notified when there's a new post.
Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think about XXXXXXX in the comments!