Online dating on the go: Apps shake up traditional dating websites

Why users have fallen in love with online-dating apps.

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    The Tinder app runs on iPhone.
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For many people, dating was once about love at first sight. But now, with the creation of dating apps for smart phones, it’s become easier for people to fall in love at first tap.

Tap of the phone, that is.

“Apps are the new rage,” says Julie Spira, a leading online dating expert and author of “The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love.”

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Ms. Spira, who has made a career out of helping singles improve their online profiles, says apps such as Tinder are “popping up everywhere.”

“It’s like a game,” she says. “It’s a fun and easy way to meet someone really on the fly, same day and same night.”

Roughly 40 million people in the United States use some form of digital dating, according to online dating site Match.com.

Tinder, which launched in October, is a free anonymous dating app that “matches” people with other users within a 30-mile radius based on mutual interest and mutual Facebook friends.

Alexa Mateen, the social media director at Tinder, says the beauty of Tinder is that it is “kind of a second chance to meet people you wouldn’t naturally meet.”

“There’s nothing too binding about it,” says Ms. Mateen. “What’s scary about other websites is people were afraid and embarrassed to be on it.”

From friendships to relationships, Tinder is whatever people want it to be, she says. The app shows users other users who are interested and then it’s up to them to make the virtual first move.

This type of dating is increasingly becoming norm.

“There’s something beautiful about meeting someone without any technology,” Ms. Mateen says. “But at this point I think [digital dating] is the closest thing to meeting someone naturally.”

Online dating is one of the ten industries that will be affected by smart phones the most, according to market research group IBISWorld. 

In 2011, “Americans spent a greater share of time on mobile dating apps than they did on dating websites,” according to the report. “Today, the vast majority of online dating companies have a mobile app.... the advent of this location-based feature is enabling users to take advantage of proximity and convenience and facilitate real-life meetings.”

IBISWorld found that mobile-dating revenue grew by 29 percent in 2012. And the market is expected to double to more than $415.3 million by 2017.

So what does this mean for online dating websites? While the traditional sites have always been around, dating apps have caused these sites to change or expand their platforms.

Marc Lesnick, the founder of iDate, an annual trade show for the online dating industry, called apps a “disrupter” to traditional online dating sites.

“Digital dating is heading in a million different directions,” he says. “My philosophy is the following: If you’re an online dating site and don’t have a mobile dating app or a mobile version by about this time next year, you will be out of business.”

Balazs Alexa, the co-founder of website Date My School, wrote in an e-mail interview that new apps are “indeed a threat but usually profitable and large incumbents can defend themselves easily.”

“Also, online dating is not like the auto market: every user may be a member of several platforms at the same time or shortly one after the other – we call that ‘multi homing.’ So competition is a little different from traditional industries,” he says.

Date My School, an online dating site for students and alumni from different schools, plans on creating its own app in the near future, according its website.

Mr. Alexa says his company hopes to “shake this status quo” with a cooler, safer, more private, and more efficient way of dating.

“It's all about the ability to learn and the willingness to change: innovation spreads always faster with young people,” he added.

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