The apps strategically restrict choices to shift users out of a bad equilibrium – low-quality messages and low response rates – into a better one.
While the dating market will always have a heart of its own, many other markets face similar challenges in the internet age.
And yet, on many apps it’s difficult for one user to signal to another that he is deeply interested in her specifically and not merely trying his luck with everyone.
In one sense, the problem is simply that sending messages is too “cheap” – it costs nothing monetarily, but also (in contrast to real-world dating) requires vanishingly little time or even emotional investment.
The Hourglass Theory explains the phenomenon most of us became familiar with as early as high school, but it personally hit me the hardest in college..then again in the real world. The shape of the top half of an hourglass represents the available dating pool for a man and the bottom half represents that for a woman.
Kang reports that American dating apps traditionally had a ratio of roughly 60% men to 40% women, “which doesn’t sound that extreme, but if you actually take into account activity level – guys are twice as active as women – the gender ratio becomes even more lopsided; in the active user base it’s more like .” This kind of skewed ratio can have huge effects on users’ incentives; as Tim Harford, an economist, has written, even a slight imbalance in a market radically shifts power away from the over-represented group, as they are forced to compete hard or remain single.
One way to view the problem is as a tragedy of the commons, where users acting in their (narrow) self-interest over-exploit a shared resource and therefore harm the common good, ultimately harming themselves.
Even for the men, the benefits may well be worth the price.
Bumble has several other features that strategically influence users’ behaviour in order to lead more users into real conversations.