If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then it would seem that Whitney Wolfe Herd and her female-focused dating app Bumble are in fine company. The ex-Tinder co-founder and marketing director found her innovative ideas in the spotlight yet again as Tinder decided to draw inspiration from Wolfe’s unique women-first online dating philosophy. In early 2018, the company announced that like Bumble, it would implement a system where women could take back control by deciding whether they wanted to make the first move instead of potentially subjecting themselves to armies of ill-mannered suitors.
Could this mark the start of a sea change in how online dating works? In the wake of movements like #MeToo, Tinder’s adoption of Bumble-like features promises to make online dating far more equitable. Here’s what you should know.
Understanding the Shift
When Bumble first hit the scene in December 2014, it was revolutionary because of how its chat system functioned to protect users. Until then, most online dating tools forced women to sift through hordes of men who, more often than not, propositioned them aggressively or abusively, hiding behind the veil of digital isolation to act however they pleased. In some cases, these incidents crossed the line into harassment and outright abuse, but because men made up a huge percentage of the user bases of services like Tinder, these companies were hesitant to implement real positive changes.
Whitney Wolfe Herd’s Bumble app put women in control instead. Its main distinguishing feature was the fact that female users were the only ones permitted to initiate contact with their matches. Although males could respond to any women who contacted them as long as they did so within 24 hours, this represented a clear shift in power. Women could finally interact freely without having to deal with the hassle, discomfort or sheer danger of diving headfirst into the tides of hungry daters.
In the span of three short years, Bumble was able to catapult itself into the realm of success by acquiring a user base of some 26 million eager daters. It also achieved a $1 billion valuation that gave it the fabled unicorn status that so many startups crave. Now, Tinder has decided to let women opt into a ladies-first mode that affords them the same leeway that they’ve been able to get from Bumble for years.
The Social Context: #MeToo
Interestingly, the move comes on the heels of increased societal awareness of the way women get treated in the professional, personal and other realms. The #MeToo movement, which sought to publicize the fact that most women become victimized by sexual harassment or violence at some point in their lives, has significantly changed the conversation about how people interact with each other on a fundamental level.
Such transformations are long overdue, and public discourse isn’t the only area in dire need of evolution. Although giving women more agency in online dating may not result in people achieving true equity in the workplace or other problematic spaces, it’s still a step in the right direction. By helping intimate personal relationships start off on healthier footings, dating apps that strive to level the playing field in the style of Bumble are teaching the next generation to abandon humanity’s unhealthy obsession with gender-based inequity.
What the Change Means for Tinder Users
Tinder users who are accustomed to the way the dating platform currently works may find it somewhat confusing to interact with prospective matches going forward. For instance, it’s unclear how people will know when they’re allowed to start conversations with women. The toxic daters who currently comprise part of the platform’s community may also react to the changes poorly, although this might not be such a big loss for users in search of something better.
Will the act of giving women more freedom of choice increase adoption rates? It may depend on how Tinder publicizes the change and guides people through the transition. Unlike Whitney Wolfe Herd, who started Bumble with the clear intention of making online dating more accommodating and welcoming for women, Tinder has to work through established usage patterns and user habits. While this is definitely a good look for the platform, it may seem like an overdue afterthought to those who’ve kept up with the evolution of the digital matchmaking industry.
What the Change Means for Bumble
It’s no big surprise that Tinder is doing something that seems clearly inspired by Bumble’s genius and Whitney Wolfe Herd’s initiative. After all, Wolfe once served as Tinder’s marketing director until the company’s toxic corporate culture and sexual harassment incidents forced her to strike out on her own and forge a healthier path to success.
Bumble’s triumphs seem to have caught its competitors off guard. Even though Tinder claims that its ladies-first feature is totally independent of Bumble or any other platform’s services, it’s completely illogical to assume that the idea was developed in some vacuum. For instance, Bumble has always had the women-in-control feature, and Tinder parent firm Match Group attempted to acquire Bumble as recently as 2017. In other words, the new move seems like Tinder is simply trying to keep up. This would also align with the idea that Wolfe has successfully adhered to her philosophy of looking at what’s “broken in society, figuring out how to improve it and formulating businesses around the solutions.”
For Bumble, any potential loss of market share might be offset by the fact that it brought the core concept to the table long before any other players did. In the interim, it’s had plenty of time to develop and refine the way its chat system works, so it’s already jumped over the hurdles and stumbling blocks that Tinder now faces. Bumble’s strong established branding also means that in the eyes of many consumers, there will only ever be one original dating platform that caters to female users.
And as for Whitney Wolfe Herd herself? Unsurprisingly, the digital dating innovator took Tinder’s announcement in stride with the same drama-free grace that she previously demonstrated when she started her first charitable company at age 19 and worked with orphanages after graduating from Southern Methodist University. Wolfe noted that her company had nothing but positive things to say about other firms whose “business decisions empowered women,” regardless of their history or market competition.