Sara Ganz spends her days racing from class to the library and back to her brick dorm a few blocks from Harvard Yard. From time to time, she glances down at her phone and taps lightly on a white app called Hinge.
Ganz, 22, is a junior at Harvard. Vivacious and petite, she exudes a confidence as unrufflable as her coiffed, blonde curls.
She would have no problem navigating the fraught waters of college dating, but Hinge, she says, adds to the fun.
Ganz downloaded the free dating app several months ago. She thought it was less objectifying than Tinder, the popular matchmaking app that puts a premium on photos. Hinge also matched her to the type of people she wanted to meet, the scion of Ivy League institutions, headed for professional success—just like her.
Its spotless record appears to be paying off among young women, who Hinge CEO Justin McLeod says have tired of “more objectifying experiences.”
According to McLeod, Hinge now has slightly more female users than male ones. That makes it unique among dating sites, which usually enlist more men.
Although young women say that Hinge often feels safer than Tinder, its primary advantage stems from how the app lets users connect to people from the same alma maters or similar jobs, filling a niche that Tinder left wide open.
THE SAFER TINDER
McLeod designed Hinge to serve a burgeoning class of young professionals and recent college graduates, who he says experience a “social shift” when they leave college and are no longer constantly meeting new people.
At first glance, the app resembles a younger, hipper spinoff of Tinder. It gives users a fresh list of relationship prospects every day. Users can accept or reject its suggestions and the app then introduces any matches and suggests they go on a date at a nearby location.
Both apps are free, but Hinge lacks the “swipe right” feature that Tinder uses to make its matches.
The app has already begun to take off in Boston. Hinge expanded to Beantown from DC last August. According to McLeod, the app has witnessed a 120 percent spike in users from Boston since January. It has made 500,000 matches here and 3 million across its nine cities nationwide.
So why its sudden popularity?
Hinge manages to leave an ineffable sense of security. It saps the risk from the modern dating world, a new frontier where harassment abounds.
It would be impossible to fathom that the guy you chat with on Hinge might turn out to be the psychopath you read about on Huffington Post last week. Afterall, you know them. Or at least a friend knows them. Or a friend of a friend.
Granted, Tinder also boasts an extended social connection (it shows you if you have any mutual friends), but Hinge only matches people who actually share Facebook friends. It also gives you the full name, contact information, and sometimes even where your match works, rendering users neither shady nor faceless.
“That means no one is really anonymous,” McLeod says. “This transparency resonates well with women, many of whom have tired of more objectifying experiences.”
For Ganz, that holds true.
“Shared experience, mutual connections and similar interests mitigate the risk experienced on sites like Tinder,” she says.
Joanna Rose Schacter, a McGill student who studied in Boston last semester, agrees.
“It makes a person feel like more like a person rather than a nameless ghost,” she says.
A UNIQUE ALGORITHM
Hinge also draws its allure from the way it matches users. The app boasts a unique algorithm that uses past choices to predict future matches. It builds on that data to offer a fresh list of up to 15 new people every day.
Where you went to school and now work, and which friends you share, often indicate which type of people you may want to meet next, McLeod says.
McLeod notes that a Harvard student, for example, might prefer other Ivy Leaguers. The algorithm would then compose lists that include more people from Ivy League institutions.
“The majority of my Hinge matches attended the same college as I do, rendering my matches people who I could have met during normal circumstances, such as in class, at an alumni event or through friends,” Ganz says.
So, Hinge at times resembles a networking tool as much as a dating site, one that matches you to people from your extended social network.
Though there is something vaguely patriarchal about a tool that keeps people within their social strata, it also makes sense. Psychological studies show that people are attracted to people who look like them and earn as much as they do. We are narcissists, gravitating to the familiar and comfortable.
No where has that trend become more evident than the Ivy League.
Years after students leave the brick walls of Harvard or the gothic buildings of Yale, graduates disproportionately marry other Ivy League graduates. At Dartmouth, the smallest Ivy League school, which cloisters its about 4,000 students inside to weather the brutal New Hampshire winter, more than 10 percent of graduates marry other Dartmouth graduates.
Overall, about 71 percent of college graduates marry other college graduates, according to the Atlantic.
That is the backdrop that McLeod has sought to exploit. A graduate of Harvard Business School, McLeod probably knows that graduates from the Ivy League and its peer institutions often look for mates from similar milieus.
The app he created simply offers a digital platform to facilitate the search. And because Hinge matches people based on similar backgrounds rather than a few Tinderesque photos, McLeod believes it generates better results.
“Matches are more than just skin deep,” he says.
Hinge recently obtained a $4.5 million investment—albeit long before the Tinder debacle, McLeod hastened to assure me—but the funding speaks to how Hinge has already begun to generate momentum.
If things continue the way they are going, Hinge may be poised to upstage its controversial predecessor.