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Why do you Super Like people on Tinder?

We investigate Super Likes on Tinder and SuperSwipes on Bumble in the first episode of the Why'd You Push That Button? podcast.
Animation by Garret Beard / The Verge

Our podcast has arrived. You made it. Thank you. In Why'd You Push That Button, my friend and colleague Kaitlyn Tiffany and I, Ashley Carman, ask the questions you're probably already talking about with your friends. We analyze the small, seemingly insignificant decisions we make every day with technology, and how they impact our social lives. This week, we investigate Super Likes on Tinder and SuperSwipes on Bumble. Why do people use them?

We talk to a man named Matt who I describe as a "reformed Super Liker," and a woman named Rachel, who has been on the receiving end of Super Likes. She doesn't love them. We also talk to Nick Saretzky, director of product at OkCupid, about the platform's decision to forego Super Likes. Match Group owns both OkCupid and Tinder, so the topic has come up at product meetings, and Nick has thoughts.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Although it probably wasn't his intention, Nick explains why we're all doomed to die alone (just kidding, kind of), why women should send the first message, and why you continue to see the same 10 people you've already rejected on every app. Apparently dating apps recycle matches, so that's a bummer. Listen to the full podcast and check out the transcription of Nick's interview below. Please click play, though.

You can also find us everywhere you find podcasts: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, and our RSS feed.

Ashley Carman: Nick, can you tell us what you do at OkCupid?

Nick Saretzky: Sure, so at OkCupid, the director of product is effectively working with the CEO, the other product thinkers, and the company. We’re trying to figure out what the next big thing is going to be, and then we’re working with the development team and the designers to bring that stuff to life.

AC: As you know, this episode is about Super Likes. Has the Super Like come up in product meetings? And then what are those meetings like? Have you tried to build out a Super Like? Have you considered adding this functionality?

NS: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s true, I spend a lot of time staring at dating apps. I’ve checked out Tinder, Bumble, the whole lot of them. When Tinder came out with the Super Like, we actually went to the drawing board and came up with our own version of the Super Like. We had some mocks of it, we were playing with it, we were thinking about it, and we were kind of turning it over in our hands and we realized, you know this thing works for Tinder. It works well for them, but it doesn’t feel like an OKCupid feature. And as we started thinking about why a Super Like doesn’t make sense for OkCupid, we realized that on OkCupid we already have something that works like a Super Like, only better, and it’s called a message. So the reason the Super Like works on Tinder is because you’re swiping right, you’re swiping left on people, there’s no way to reach across to that person and say “Hey, I’m uniquely interested in you. It’s not just a regular right swipe, this is like a super right swipe, I’m really into you, we have so much in common.”

But on OkCupid, you have this big rich profile, we’ve got photos with comments on them; you’ve got essays; you’ve got questions with answers; there’s so much to go on. So for us, the Super Like on OkCupid is really sending the first message.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: In another one of the interviews we did, with my friend from college, she said “When I do it, I feel like it’s cute, I feel playful,” but when she gets one, it’s kind of this knee-jerk reaction of “Oh gross, why are you already so interested in me, you don’t know me at all.” So I understand why there are no Super Likes on OkCupid, but I’d love to know if you think the Super Like, with your personal expertise, is a good idea for Tinder. What do you mean by “it works” for Tinder?

NS: I think what works about the Super Like is you’d like to express a significant interest in someone. You don’t want to just be heaped in the pile with other options. You want to say, “Out of everyone I think I’m going to see on Tinder today, you’re my favorite.” So one form of what works for them is that you get one a day for free, and if you’re on the paid versions of Tinder, you get five. So when you receive one you think “Oh, I was their favorite for the day.”

But you don’t actually know who you’re going to see later. Like, I don’t think people stop after they Super Like someone. I think they keep going. I think why it doesn’t feel good on the receiving end, though, is that you haven’t had that shared context yet. You haven’t had a real meet-cute. You’re just kind of reinforcing the thing that you’re using when you swipe right and left so predominantly, that’s a big photo, right? Every year, the photos get bigger on Tinder, they want them to be clearer and larger, and then you’ve got age, location, some basics for where you work, and if you have friends in common. You’re Super Liking that.

So something we like to think about for OkCupid is when you receive a “hey” as a first message, it’s really below your expectations because you already put so much else out there. You’re putting in more work to your profile because you don’t want to get “hey’s” back. You want to get something more substantial. Kind of the gold standard for us is that we want introducing people online on a dating app to feel like how you would actually introduce your friend to someone else who is looking. So you wouldn’t say “Hey, here’s the photos, let’s swipe through on my phone, check out these photos of her, by the way she’s this age, and seven years ago she liked a couple pages on Facebook, here’s the ones that those are.” You would actually want to bring up the best elements about someone. So Double-Take, which is where you’re swiping right and left on people on OkCupid is designed to do that. We highlight things we call “compatibilities,” and again, we’re just trying to get you to send... not a “hey,” kill the hey. We want you to send a considered ice-breaker moment, your first impression. We want you to have the best first impression both on the receiving side of “Here’s our compatibilities, here’s something interesting about the person, you can read about them,” and also on the sending side, that their first impression of you is as good as possible.

KT: So, I guess the key difference that I feel like maybe I’m imagining in my mind, is that Tinder’s algorithm, the way that it serves you to people, it’s pretty much a hot-or-not ranking. I mean, they score people based on how many right swipes they get, and if we’re all being honest, the swipes are based on appearance. So when you Super Like someone, correct me if I’m wrong, Tinder has to kind of override that algorithm and serve you to the person you Super Liked. Correct?

NS: Yeah, exactly. So I can kind of show the OkCupid behind-the-curtain where we have to do things, the algorithms that go into this work. If you have a stack of people — you know we’re in New York City, there’s tens of thousands of OkCupid users here. So, if you sign up, we have to figure out who to show you, and not just in general, but who comes first. Who’s in the front of that line? Who’s the best possible match? We’re looking at all the different factors, like someone’s age, the age range you’re looking for, your gender, your orientation, the answers to questions — all these different factors — and we’re also factoring in things like if someone liked you, that’s a sign they want to connect with you. Also that person should come up closer to the front of the line, and if they sent you a message, well that’s great, that’s even more interest, they should come up even further up in the line, right?

So if we think about the Tinder use-case, it’s the same thing but they don’t have quite as much to go on. So they’re using your attractiveness, which is based on the number of swipes you get and the ratio of your swipes. They’re using things like “did someone already swipe right on you?” Because of course they want more matches, that’s what everyone's here for. But then, if I Super Like someone, like your friend you mentioned earlier, they Super Like models, well from the model’s experience, they would like to see other models. They at least want to see model-esque people, and that’s probably what makes the most sense for their line of people. But if someone Super Likes them, well Tinder’s kind of obligated to provide some value to that Super Liker. People aren’t going to keep paying for this feature if they’re not ever getting any matches out of it. So they’re going to move you up to the front of the line, which is going to change the experience from the receiver’s perspective.

KT: I’m just wondering if Super Likes are, not only putting people into the “model pool,” who wouldn’t get swiped right on, but also the people who are spending money on Super Likes are wasting their money on the models. So for both of them, they’re missing connections with people they might actually connect with. Not that everybody uses Super Likes for aspirational swiping…

AC: Maybe I’m getting too dystopian, but for some reason I’m thinking of casinos. It’s gamified, they want you to keep using the slot machines so they throw you a few coins here and there to make you think you’re going to win big if you keep going. And they identify people who have these tendencies. I’m wondering if it’s possible that Tinder could identify someone who is more likely to spend money on a Super Like. There might be someone out there who has spent at least five dollars, and they could be like, “We should keep surfacing hot people for them, or as many as we can find, to keep them using this feature.”

KT: We might be getting into conspiracy theories here.

NS: If we take the casino conspiracy theory to the next level, you have to win sometimes. You might not net a gain, but feeling like you’re clawing your way back in some way is going to keep you addicted. I don’t want to speak to the success of Super Likes on Tinder. They say they significantly increase your odds of getting a match, let’s just take that at face value. But it’s still something you have to use judiciously. If you’re getting bottle service at the club, that might make you more attractive to some people and less attractive to others, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that some random person is suddenly going to start attracting model-esque people. It’s the same thing in general with swiping on Tinder. If you’re only swiping right on models, and you swipe left on everyone else, you’re probably not going to get any matches. You could still be addicted to Tinder even if you’re not getting any real connections out of that. It’s probably the same for the Super Like. It may improve your odds, but it’s not going to totally change the game. I would imagine there’s a judicious use of Super Likes that makes sense for people. But if the perception of them is that when you receive one it’s creepy or feels off-putting or pushes guilt on the recipient then no, you definitely shouldn’t use them.

KT: This brings me to my design question for you. I think that the Super Like’s blue gradient over someone’s face just looks really dumb. And the bouncing blue star. I just think it looks nuts, and part of the reason I wouldn’t swipe right on someone who had Super Liked me is because their pictures would look better without the gradient.

AC: What are your thoughts on gradients?

NS: Rowan, if you’re listening to this, I’m going to rep gradients right now. Rowan’s a new designer we hired recently. We like just a touch of gradient. We think that’s going to make a comeback. I know everyone’s all flat right now. I think a lot of people are just broadly following what iOS does. iOS 7, 8, 9, every year, the font weights get a little heavier. All of a sudden in iOS 10 and 11 you have massive, chunky block lettering on tons of stuff. I think a little gradient goes a long way, and a lot of gradient is… no, thanks.

KT: But you don’t think that actually affects people swiping right or left, I’m just being a weirdo?

NS: I mean, if it makes you look tawdry. If it turns your card into a personals advertisement. There’s something about the intimacy of romance that something that’s a gradient, or bouncy, or throbbing, or rotating, just kind of spoils the whole thing. It feels too much like sales and not enough like romance.

KT: Yeah! It’s like a pop-up ad of a person. You’re on night shift, you’ve got your brightness down, you’re half-watching Gossip Girl out of the corner of your eye, swiping on Tinder — this is what I do every night of my life — and then all of a sudden it’s like BOOM.

AC: You said OkCupid uses an algorithm to surface people. We live in New York, so there’s a lot of people here. But there’s my question: Isn’t everyone eventually going to surface for you? There’s not an infinite number of people in the dating app world.

NS: Hypothetically, if you were to swipe on enough thousands of people, you could go through everyone. That kind of highlights a different problem of, if you’re on an app where you’re doing swiping and you’re going through people one at a time… you’re talking about a line of people and we put the best options up front. It actually means that every time you swipe, the next choice should be a little bit worse of an option. So, the longer you’re on an app, the worse the options get. You’ll see Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, we all do recycling. If you’ve passed on someone, eventually, someone you’ve said “no” to is a much better option than someone who’s 1,000 or 10,000 people down the line.

Eventually you run out of all the people who are on the same political team as you, and think the same way as you do, and are active users and good message-senders and now you’re just left with all these people who are like your personal antihero. You’re much better off going back through the people you started with.

KT: Okay, so this explains why I frequently on Tinder, am served the profiles of people I’ve matched with, gone on dates with, and unmatched.

NS: Interesting.

KT: Is that supposed to happen on purpose because it’s messing with my brain!

AC: Nick, you’ve been great at dealing with us. Is there anything you want to talk about or put out there.

NS: Yeah, I guess the only thing I would say about the Super Like, research-wise, is the thing Tinder is working on is, if you Super Like someone, what’s the increased likelihood that you’re going to get a right-swipe back? And they make some claim about it. So, the thing we looked into is, what is it that you can do to express interest in someone that gives you the best chance of getting a like back. In addition to that, it’s about women making the first move. Whoever makes the first move is improving their chances significantly, whether it’s a like or a message, but it’s particularly for women.

If women make the first move, sending the first message, they’re 20 percent more likely to go on a date on OkCupid than the women who don’t. To the victor go the spoils.

AC: This is interesting because I used dating apps before I was dating someone and I still believe that sending the first message would do nothing for me. I really in my heart believe that the guy will message you if he’s interested. I just believe it.

KT: Okay, I’m going on a date today after work with someone I messaged first.

AC: See, you’re so bold. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just my face. I don’t know, guys.

NS: See, this is the thing. You have a small sample size. Even if you sent dozens of messages and then some fraction of those get replies back, you can’t zoom out and get the macro view of… Okay, here’s a woman who’s sending first messages, here’s a woman who’s not sending first messages, the ratio of right swipes and left swipes and messages being sent and received and something we call a four-way, which is not a sexual position but when the conversation goes he says something, she replies, he replies, it goes back and forth four ays, that’s a really key metric for us. That is the beginning of a conversation. That correlates to exchanging contact info, like here’s my phone number or my social handle or something.

KT: Wait, Tinder tracks when people are giving out their cell phone numbers?

NS: Everyone tracks everything.

KT: Tinder is going to think I have no self control or security measures. I’m just like, “Uh, texting in this app is hard.”

NS: Google reads your email. You’re the product on Facebook. We’re all pretty comfortable with this trade-off now, right?

KT: Wow, okay.

AC: Here’s my question: is New York just a death-zone for dating? Have you studied across the country / world and just realized that it’s not going to happen in New York for anybody ever?

NS: There’s a really neat entry on our blog actually, where we compare the different pockets of dating behavior and how they separate geographically.

AC: Oh, come on. Can you just tell us?

KT: Can you give me a thumbs-up / thumbs-down on New York so I know whether to go home and kill myself?

NS: Two particularly interesting examples are New York and San Francisco. Women outnumber men in New York, and men significantly outnumber women in San Francisco, so the dynamics of dating do change and you can actually measure the difference in relative attractiveness between the genders based on the availability of the gender they’re after. So probably, in New York, more than elsewhere, women should be making the first move, to negate the fact that there’s not enough men.

AC: It’s crazy that romance / dating is really just statistics. I feel like if I had enough access to data and was actually good at math I could maybe game the system.

NS: There’s a guy who claims he hacked OkCupid because he answered the questions in a certain way. He married a woman off of OkCupid, and we’re really happy about that. But the funny thing is that that woman made the first move. You’re telling me you have a PhD math and you hacked OkCupid, but no, a woman just saw you and sent you a message. OkCupid is actually working exactly as intended.

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