Are dating apps actually the best way to find new friends?

Forget finding love, dating apps are now for finding friends.
Image: Bob Al-greene/mashable

Are dating apps even for love anymore, or are we just messing around on them the same way we do on Snapchat and Instagram?

The answer is complicated just like the relationships that often spring from these apps.

There are still plenty of people out there in search of the perfect match, but the dating app Hater, which matches people based on the things they mutually dislike, has discovered an interesting trend among its users.

Brendan Alper, the app’s founder and CEO, told Mashable he’d recently noticed that a lot of them just dont seem to care where their potential matches are located because they have no intention of ever meeting them IRL.

When the app first launched back in February, it got a lot of international attention, with people signing up in many different countries. There werent always enough users in any given region, so the app expanded the radius for people in those areas, allowing users to start matching all over the globe.

It may sound counterintuitive given that people usually go on dating apps to find people in their vicinity, but it was a hit. So much so that the feature ended up crashing their servers, and they had to pull the feature to rework things.

By April, theyd rolled it back out, calling it Global Mode. Its turned on automatically if you decline to give the app your location, but you can also opt in yourself. Once you do, it allows you to match with anyone across the world.

Image: giphy

Hater soon saw something fascinating: Their user base split in two. One side was still interested in meeting and dating in the traditional sense. But about 20 percent of their user traffic is in Global Mode, and those people are mostly using the app just to hang out and talk.

That segment also skews much younger. In fact, the younger a user is, the more likely they are to be on Global Mode. So what, exactly, are these kids doing? From user surveys, Hater has been able to establish that theyre mostly just chatting. Its often somewhere between flirtation and pure friendship.

Alper suspects the popularity of Global Mode is due to it mimicking real life more than location-based matching does: When people want to meet someone in real life, theyll go to a bar. Bars arent just for single people. You go with your friends, whatever.” And conversations happen more naturally.

It’s not just Hater that people are using this way. One recent survey found that more than 90 percent of college students are using dating apps for purposes other than hooking up or finding love mainly they’re there for entertainment and the ego boost you get from being “liked.”

They may be onto something. If you remove the weight of trying to find your soulmate or a hookup, dating apps are a lot more fun. They essentially become social networks except they’re set up for meeting new people. In comparison, most of the social media youre already using is best at letting you interact with people you already know.

Image: giphy

On a dating app, though, youre guaranteed to be matched with fresh faces in your age range, and theres the excitement that this could turn into something, even if youre not super invested in that happening.

There are plenty of apps that have been released specifically for the purpose of chatting with strangers, even focusing on flirtation without consequence, like Phrendly. There are even more straightforward friend-finding apps, like Me3. But something about Haters interface seems less intimidating.

The process of swiping on topics you love or hate feels almost like playing a game. So, as Alper explains, it’s a lighter and friendlier atmosphere. He adds, The expectation of dating is hanging over everyones head with a lot of apps. This is more of an ice breaker. Just a fun conversation, and that can go wherever.

That may also be why Hater has had a more organic transition into friend-matching than some of the bigger players.

Plenty of people use the major dating apps as a way of expanding their social circles. In an effort to capitalize on this, Bumble added BumbleBFF in early 2016, and Tinder launched Tinder Social a year ago. But they havent exactly taken off as the premiere way of finding new pals.

Alper says he thinks it’s because there’s still a stigma attached to the idea that you need help finding friends. The stigma that once hung over online dating, however, has dissipated as it’s become such a common way of finding love.

Image: giphy

There’s a line drawn between the friend zone and the bone zone in other apps that’s not there for Hater, which could explain why people feel free to take things wherever they lead.

So what does it mean if the once purpose-built apps for finding dates morph into a more general way of meeting people solely for entertainment?

There are some serious downsides. For one thing, it dilutes the pool of potential matches for all the people who are on Tinder and the like who actually want to find real romance or at the very least want to find people to hook up with in the flesh.

It also allows people to recede further into the little tech-enabled bubbles we’ve created for ourselves. Alper says it’s part of a larger shift in culture: “People would rather go to the Grand Canyon to get likes on their Instagram than to experience the Grand Canyon. These online connections are replacing the need for the physical connection.”

That’s a bleak thought, though he adds, “It’s not true for everyone. Most people do want real connection. And using dating apps in this way does accomplish that on some level. It gives people a low-key way to find friends and maybe even a community they wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere.

So maybe it’s time to set aside Snapchat and start swiping around for your next BFF.

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