What Are Dating Apps

Online Dating

What Are Dating Apps? History, Popularity & Impact

Lexi Inks

Written by: Lexi Inks

Lexi Inks

Lexi joined the DatingAdvice team with several years of lifestyle journalism experience. She grew her writing prowess through reporting on the topic of sex and relationships, and she loves continuing to cover content in this niche while working toward becoming an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator. You can find Lexi's writing in Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, Bustle, Well + Good, and Women's Health, among other publications.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Reviewed by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is a dating and relationship expert who has penned over 1,800 lifestyle articles in the last decade, and she still never tires of interviewing dating professionals and featuring actionable advice for singles. She has been quoted by the Washington Times, Cosmopolitan, The New York Post, and AskMen.

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While many people view dating apps as a necessary evil on the journey to finding a partner, others see them as a fun and relaxed way to meet new people, if nothing else.

But what are dating apps, and how did they come about?

OG dating sites — like Match and eHarmony — set the precedent for meeting potential partners and lovers online. In the last few decades, smartphone applications have become the norm, and even those long-established websites have stepped into the dating app world.

Whether you’re on the subway headed to work or fighting off boredom before bedtime, dating apps have come a long way in ensuring that it’s easier than ever to connect with new people. 

History | How It Works | Success Stories

The History of Dating Apps

Online dating sites have been around for several decades, but the very first mobile dating apps were truly the platforms to disrupt the industry and revolutionize how we connect with other singles on the web.

Grindr logo

Grindr, a popular gay dating app, was the first of its kind when it launched in 2009. This may surprise many people who assume Tinder was one of the first dating apps available.

Tinder didn’t come along until 2012. Its claim to fame is being the first swipe-based dating app on the market.

For the first time, Tinder users had the power to — with the slide of a finger — sift through the basic details and photos of profiles of potential matches.

A left swipe meant that you were, well, left in the dust and a swipe in the opposite direction affirmed that you just may be the “right” one. 

This feature has become standard among many popular dating apps nowadays, but there’s no denying that it completely transformed both the ease of use and attractiveness these platforms had to offer.

Types of Dating Apps 

Since its inception in the 1990s, the online dating industry has exploded — and has become a staple in the lives of millions worldwide. According to Tidio, over 1,500 dating apps operate around the globe, and there are no signs of business slowing down. 

The most common types of dating apps are probably swipe-based options and those with an algorithm-based matching system. Like Tinder, the pioneer of swiping technology, many apps require very little effort to pair users with compatible matches.

swiping dating apps

It takes seconds for users to scroll through a new person’s photos, scan over their bio, and determine whether they like them or not with the swipe of a thumb. Who would have thought that such a minor action could have such an influential impact on our love lives?

For singles who prefer a more intentional experience, dating apps like Match, OkCupid, and eHarmony take a different approach. Each of these platforms have created a unique algorithm-based system for recommending matches to the individual user.

These dating sites rank or rate potential matches for users based on an in-depth personality assessment or the answers they give to comprehensive questions on their values, interests, and beliefs each person answers.

Popularity and User Demographics

If you are single or know a few friends who are, one or more of you likely have a collection of dating apps on your phone right now. For most singles who use app-based dating, trying several different platforms at the same time is common.

Because each app has a slightly different algorithm or a slightly different user base, it makes sense to cast a wide net and try a few popular options simultaneously. Among the most well-known apps to use concurrently are Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and Feeld.

dating apps

Tinder has held its own as the top dating app for the majority of its existence, followed by apps Hinge and Bumble. Tinder currently sits at #1 with over 75 million active users around the world Among these massive global user bases are plenty of different communities and demographics. 

Dating apps are particularly popular among singles in the United States. According to a 2022 survey by Pew Research, nearly one-third of American adults have used dating apps.

Curiously, the same survey found that 34% of men and 27% of women in the U.S. have tried them. The top app options allow users to connect with people of all identities and orientations.

But the rise of LGBTQ+ specific apps (like Grindr and HER) has increased the user base of queer and trans-identifying singles. Pew Research reports that a whopping 51% of American adults who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual say they have used the apps. 

COVID-19 Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how we connect with other humans. Although we were well into the digital age when the pandemic hit, the historical event arguably transitioned our society into even more of a remote world in more ways than one.

A large portion of the workforce transitioned into virtual work full time, and people dealing with immunocompromisation had no choice but to withdraw from normal activities out in the world. 

covid impact on dating apps

Despite all the trauma and loss involved in COVID-19, the dating app industry saw a boom in users and prominence during that time.

A study published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass found that during COVID-19, apps like Bumble, Grindr, and Tinder significantly increased the popularity and acceptance of “virtual dating.

Each app uniquely promoted features like video chatting, encouraged people to flatten the curve by staying home and opting for Zoom dates. And reality TV shows like “Love is Blind” — popular in early 2020 — reiterated the idea that in-person connection wasn’t the only way to date.

How Dating Apps Work

Using most popular dating apps — especially those that are swipe-based — is easy. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of what to expect.

  1. Sign Up & Create a Profile

Many online dating apps offer integration with widely used social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram, so you can sign up and start building your profile in under a minute.

Dating sites that do require personal information usually limit it to your name, age, location, and email, so you can get matching and chatting quickly. 

sign up for online dating

Once you’ve registered for an account with the app or apps of your choice, then comes the fun part: building your profile.

On most platforms, you can choose a selection of photos that show off your personality and “good side,” write a bio to tell other users a little more about who you are and what you’re looking for.

Many even have multiple-choice options for things like your relationship style, sexual orientation, zodiac sign, and even whether you have pets. 

  1. Make a Match

The more personal information you provide in your dating profile, the more likely you are to make quality matches.

online dating match

Once you feel confident with your profile, it’s time to get swiping! Or liking. Or messaging.

Whatever form they come in, the matching system on each app is meant to help you connect with others compatible with you.

Each dating site or app will have a designated area for you to swipe and “match” with profiles you find interesting.

The most common setup requires mutual matches — meaning you can only chat with people who are also interested in you.

  1. Chat (Text or Video)

After you make your first match, the fun part begins. Chatting with people who mutually swiped on you can be both a confidence boost and a stepping stone along the path to reaching your dating goals.

Many dating apps have both private messaging, photo-sharing and even video-chatting features so you have full control over how and when you communicate with your matches. 

  1. Stay Safe!

Your mother probably warned you from a young age, as mine did me, not to talk to strangers online. Well, in the age of online dating, doing just that has become one of the most popular ways to meet new friends and potential partners.

stay safe online dating

Regardless, it’s always a good idea to keep internet safety tenets in mind when you’re browsing profiles and chatting on dating apps. 

Each online dating platform will have its own privacy and security features. Online daters should expect standard tools like blocking and reporting suspect accounts.

Popular dating apps employ teams of real humans in addition to their algorithm to moderate the wide base of profiles and keep you safe from bots, scammers, and predators.

If you’re concerned about your personal information or safety while you’re online dating, you can always upgrade to a premium or paid account to access extra safety and privacy features.

If you aren’t willing to invest in extra safety features, refraining from sharing information like your home location and reporting anyone who asks for things like intimate photos or money can go a long way. 

Success Stories and Criticisms

Any major search engine can serve as a wealth of knowledge about the trials and triumphs of online dating.

You’re just as likely to find hundreds of sweet, romantic accounts from couples who were married thanks to matching on Bumble as you are to read scary retellings of happy hour dates gone wrong that were set up on Hinge. 

Everyone has their own opinion and experience to share about dating apps, so it’s up to you to decide whether it’s a good option for you.

Testimonials from Users

Some unhappy “customers” are to be expected among the millions of dating app users, but others have been lucky enough to find exactly what they’re looking for on dating apps. 

dating apps success

In a Tinder review on the App Store, user Pedrotheoboe said that she met her now-boyfriend on the app. They chatted, discovered they attended the same college, went on a few dates, and the rest was history.

“Little did I know downloading Tinder would lead to meeting the love of my life,” she said. “Just thought I should share my ‘Tinderella’ story to let everybody know that while Tinder is super fun, it can also lead to something more than just somebody to text or talk to.”

Concerns About Addiction and Superficiality

While they have become almost a necessary evil at this point, some people have chosen to opt-out of using dating apps after giving them a shot — and being let down. 

For example, a now-deleted Reddit user shared in their review of Hinge that the cost wasn’t worth the results, and they don’t understand how the app became so popular.

Speaking about their matching experience, they said, “I have found the quality to be really bad on average, I am not talking about the look (that it’s not great either) but personality: a lot of broken, boring, selfish and narcissistic people.

The other problem is the prompts and the fact that most people don’t fully fill out their profiles. My opinion of Hinge is therefore very grim: another app with a worse design than others, that is mostly used by people wasting your time and is very expensive to use.”

Success Statistics 

Each dating app has its own way of promoting itself and sharing the success stories that have come from the services it offers. One of the best-known online dating sites and apps that does a great job of quantifying these wins is eHarmony.

According to eHarmony success stats, not only are they responsible for over 2 million love stories, but they claim that a user finds love on their platform every 14 seconds. If that isn’t an enticing message, it’s hard to say what is. 

dating apps

In general, daters seem to have a positive experience using the apps, even if it doesn’t lead to a long-term relationship.

Pew Research found in 2022 that 53% of U.S. adults who have used dating sites said they view them positively, and 10% of respondents even found their current partner or spouse on a dating site or app. 

Harassment and Discrimination

As the saying goes, what goes up, must come down, and dating apps are certainly no exception. Just as quickly as dating apps grew in popularity, so too did the presence of scammers and predators lurking on dating apps for their prey.

The same 2022 Pew survey found that 38% of people dating online said they had been sent unsolicited messages that were sexually explicit, and 24% had been called an offensive name by someone else on a dating app. 

Women and people in the LGBTQ+ community seem to be especially at risk for these behaviors, with 56% of women saying they’ve received an offensive message while online dating and 64% of users identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual saying the same. 

The Future of Dating Apps Looks Bright

Dating apps are here to stay if their surge at the top of this decade is any indication. You can’t go more than a few days without seeing or hearing mention of Tinder dating horror stories or seeing ads — like the aforementioned Bumble billboards — for a variety of digital platforms.

That said, there’s a reason why people are so quick to join and use dating apps again and again.

Many popular dating apps offer users around the world free features, and they are accessible and welcoming to people of any identity and lifestyle. They are, for the most part, safe (and often fun) ways to meet new people. 

There is a dating app out there for you, whether you’re shy when meeting a new crush or you treat each date like an opportunity to collect a good story to tell at parties.

Dating sites cater to a wide array of communities and personalities, and many of them welcome anyone — no matter what they’re looking for or who they love.

They all have flaws, and plenty of criticism about the online dating industry, in general, is valid. That said, dating apps have been responsible for connecting millions of singles around the globe, and they will continue to be a fun and user-friendly way to facilitate human connection.

All you have to do is swipe right on the chance to find it.