Every February 14, the prices of chocolates and flowers skyrocket and restaurants tend to be full with couples looking for a romantic date. Some singles may feel left out of the celebration, but with many dating sites and apps, the new “swipe” culture makes it easier to find a partner or mate in an instant.
In 1995, Match.com became the first major online dating site in existence. In 2009 and 2010 respectively, dating apps Grindr and Scruff were launched. Both apps were commonly used by the gay community, which helped connect users – single men within a specific geographic radius. In 2012, now a dating app giant, Tinder was introduced to the world and quickly became one of the most popular dating apps today. Tinder started the “swipe” trend where users find matches by swiping left or right on their mobile phone.
Since then, there has been a plethora of dating apps developed like Bumble, OkCupid, and Paktor. Even Facebook jumped on the dating app bandwagon and launched Facebook Dating in 2018. Some apps even cater to specific target markets such as Minder which is similar to Tinder but for Muslims. The dating market is estimated to be worth around US$12 billion worldwide.
According to Whitney Wolfe, co-founder of Tinder and CEO of Bumble, dating apps have become great tools for meeting new people. Mostly, social media is used to keep in touch with those who are already in one’s circle, while dating apps are expanding users’ networks to different types of people at a very rapid pace. Ng Jing Shen, co-founder of Paktor – a Singapore-based dating app, claimed that by “spending 10 minutes on a toilet bowl scanning potential matches, you essentially ‘meet’ more new people than you ever did. would probably do it in a year.”
Dating apps are also breaking down barriers and changing social norms. An example of this is Bumble – which only allows women to start a conversation with the man they’ve been matched with on the app. “Traditionally, in real life, women wouldn’t have made the trip. They usually don’t because society says it’s not the right way to do it and society judges them for it,” Wolfe explained. In the United States (US) and Europe, online dating has also become inclusive for the LGBTQ community – like Her, an app for lesbians and bisexuals. It has also been reported that 70% of gay Americans meet online.
ASEAN countries are not far behind when it comes to online dating. Local sites and apps such as Paktor from Singapore and Noonswoon from Thailand are some of the go-to dating apps in the region. Nevertheless, despite the growing number of dating apps available in Southeast Asia, online dating has historically been frowned upon, especially in conservative countries like Brunei and Indonesia. Initially, Tinder didn’t even include Asia as a target market, as premarital sex and “hookup culture” are strongly condemned by society.
Nonetheless, in recent years, dating apps have still managed to make their way to ASEAN, especially among busy executives who prefer a faster way to meet people than the time-consuming traditional approach. In 2019, Singaporeans spent US$7.1 million on dating apps, up from US$5 million in 2018 and US$3.9 million in 2017, while Malaysians and Indonesians spent about US$5.8 million on dating apps.
Paktor has become one of the biggest dating apps in Asia and has 15 million users in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. The team found that the successful methods used by Western dating apps didn’t translate as well to Asian societies due to their more conservative dating standards. Paktor differentiated itself by drawing on its knowledge of local culture and people. For example, they introduced features like Paktor Group Chats which provides an environment to facilitate discussions within a collective community. According to Joshua Phua, the co-founder of Paktor, Asians prefer to meet other users first in a group, rather than a more intimate one-on-one date.
Apart from that, Peekawoo from the Philippines made headlines in 2014 with his unique approach to online dating. It has been described as a female-friendly dating app that emphasizes safety and quality. It was reported that at one point they even offered chaperone services to users to avoid any monkey business from their matches. However, the company’s current status is uncertain as its site appears to have been down since 2018.
Despite these new approaches to ASEAN’s own dating apps, Tinder is still a leader in Southeast Asia. In 2019, Tinder announced plans to focus on “emerging markets” by revamping its leadership team in the Asia-Pacific region. It was also reported that Tinder was working on a slimmed down version of its flagship app in a bid to attract more users in Asia.
The marvels of technology have a price. Last year, a Malaysian man was sentenced to five years in prison for tricking and cheating a woman for SGD68,000 (US$48,000) by impersonating a money trader named “Daniel” on an app of encounters. In December 2018, a British backpacker, Grace Millane, was killed by a man in Auckland, New Zealand, after they met on Tinder. Numerous cases of rape, fraud, voyeurism, and other crimes related to dating apps have been reported over the years.
Do dating apps work in terms of creating successful relationships? The media claims that a significant number of marriages and unions happen because of dating apps and sites. Technology has paved the way for strangers to network and fall in love. Potential matches on dating apps seem limitless — despite the many flaws that come with them. On a positive note, it is believed that 30% of relationships will start online by 2026.
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