How are online dating services and matrimonial apps dealing with the 21-day lockdown imposed throughout the nation?
A combination of self-isolation and closure of businesses means that most people are missing out on the daily exchanges that make us human. The need of the hour is to isolate oneself and practice social distancing, but thanks to technological advancements, it doesn’t mean that one has to be disconnected. An increasing number of people are using dating apps and matrimonial sites ever since the lockdown began. Granted that face-to-face interactions may not be possible now, but users are utilising other features of dating apps and matrimonial sites that will eventually lead to (physical) meetings.
Tinder has reported an increase in the number of individuals who’re using its app. A company statement reads, “This epidemic is also changing the tenor of connection in the hardest-hit places. More people are using Tinder bios to show their concern for others (‘how is everyone’), instead of their life motto. Many of our current subscribers are even reaching out across the world, using the Passport feature, to find solidarity with matches thousands of miles away.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tinder announced that it would make its Passport feature free. The feature allows an individual to interact with other Tinder users all over the world. “Our hope is that our members can use the Passport feature to transport themselves out of self-quarantine to anywhere in the world. They can check in on folks in their hometown, college town, or sister city, and find those across the world who are going through the same things. And if nothing else, they can learn how to say “hey” in another language,” says the statement. Passport is typically a paid feature for Tinder Plus & Gold subscribers.
OkCupid has also witnessed increased traffic. “You wouldn’t believe it, but when people can’t meet in person, they still find a way to date. In fact, there’s actually been over 50 million intro messages sent across the world on OkCupid over the last month among daters connecting for the first time. With restaurants, bars, gyms, offices and entertainment establishments around the world temporarily closed, people are looking for human connection now more than ever before," says Ariel Charytan, CEO, OkCupid.
OkCupid allows daters to match and get to know each other through thousands of in-app questions on various topics. "From your thoughts on chai and pakoda on a rainy day to women working after marriage, that'll help you get to know each other without physically meeting. We don’t have to go through this isolation period completely alone. Staying connected is so important right now, whether that’s through OkCupid, video chatting with friends, or phone calls with family,” adds Charytan.
And then there is TrulyMadly. “We’ve also seen an influx of new users coming into the fold. Some of our engagement metrics have increased by up to 6x. People are spending more time on the app, sending more messages, more people are joining and coming back every day, too. So far, we’ve seen positive impact as a result of the spread of COVID-19. I believe this will be the case not just for TrulyMadly, but for any app that relies on social interaction (for example, gaming apps). Personally, I don’t remember the last time I played a game, but I picked up on my phone to play PUBG the other day…,” says Snehil Khanor, CEO of TrulyMadly.
He explains that for every 100 profiles that we see, a woman chooses 10. Of those, she chooses to have a conversation with, say, five of them. On a normal day, a woman would have an average of 32 conversations (with different people) before deciding on meeting with one person.
“The pattern is that people meet and talk for a few days on private message first, exchange numbers and then talk on WhatsApp – which goes on for a few more weeks. After this, they decide if the connection is going well enough for them to meet in person, at a public place, such as a café. After the first meeting, there is usually a follow-up meeting. After which, if things go well, they get into a courtship/relationship. This whole process, from meeting on an app to beginning a relationship or deciding to get married – it takes 18-24 months,” says Khanor.
He adds that a common phenomenon in Tier II cities is that most of the app’s success stories have emerged from long distance relationships. So, in today’s day and age, you don’t really have to meet someone to get emotionally connected with them.
“I believe this lockdown will only last three weeks. There will be social distancing advisories, but not a curfew-like situation… There may be another lockdown after the cooling-off period, if there’s a second peak in the spread of the virus (as was the case with Singapore and Hong Kong). Then, it’ll be a lockdown for another two or three weeks, and when you’re looking for your ‘forever’, three weeks doesn’t really matter. We’re not a hook-up app and that makes a difference – since most of those apps rely on a five-kilometre radius based on the user’s location,” says Khanor.
Adhish Zaveri, director – marketing, Shaadi.com, agrees that it’s during times of isolation that people feel the greatest need to form new connections. “The key focus for the business right now is to continue to encourage people to form connections virtually, with one simple message – ‘Social distancing ke waqt mein, dil toh mil hi sakte hai’.” Like Tinder, Shaadi.com is also offering free access to its premium features, until the lockdown ends.
Zaveri adds that even though users aren’t meeting each other in person, they’re staying connected through group video calls, multiplayer games, and so on. “Togetherness is a virtue that will help us emerge stronger. The future is uncertain, and we don’t really know how this will play out. Will we continue to be a little more distant physically? Or will things go back to normal? Only time will tell. The one thing we know for sure is that when this is behind us, we’ll walk out knowing the immense value of companionship and the people in our lives,” he concludes.
Says Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and CEO - Matrimony.com, “We want (our) members to stay safe. During this time, we encourage (our) members to continue exploring their partner search, and keep in touch by chatting through our app and even calling potential partners. Once the situation is under control, it’s likely that they will be able to meet and take the discussion forward. Let’s not forget that social distancing is temporary, marriage is permanent.”
Janakiraman acknowledges this is an unprecedented, but temporary challenge that is affecting relationships. “I believe the capacity of humans to overcome challenges is phenomenal. They’ll tide over this and go back to normal conversations and in-person meetings soon,” he says, adding that video calling is a feature that can be added to the app, for the future.