If you’re on Tinder, you know you’re being judged. Not by your friends – Tinder was, arguably, the app that destigmatised online dating for good – but by those faceless ‘people in your area’, selecting or rejecting you with the swipe of a screen. But in slightly disconcerting news, other Tinderers aren’t the only ones deciding whether you’re hot or not.
The app itself now ranks its users based on how many others find them attractive, using an algorithm to place everyone on a desirability scale. If you’re popular on the app, you’re more likely to have the chance to match with similarly desirable people. And if you’re not – well, you get the idea.
Tinder staff have named the internal rating system the ‘Elo score’, the score used in chess to rank players’ skill levels. “Every swipe is a way of casting a vote: I find this person more desirable than this person,” Tinder data analyst Chris Dumler told the Fast Company. “It might be because of attractiveness, or it might be because they had a really good profile.”
Ah, yes. Tinder bosses have been at pains to stress that this is not a simple matter of matching hotties with hotties. Neither is your ranking determined purely by how many people swipe right on you. “It’s very complicated,” said Tinder chief exec and co-founder Sean Rad. “It took us two and a half months just to build the algorithm because a lot of factors go into it." Rad doesn’t specify what those factors are, but they could be anything from what users have listed in their bio to how many successful matches they make.
Users’ scores are not made public, but journalist Austin Carr was given the chance to find his out when he interviewed Rad for Fast Company. He discovered he had a desirability score of 946, which is apparently "on the upper end of average". Carr wrote: "It's a vague number to process, but I knew I didn't like hearing it."
Some 1 million first dates are organised over Tinder every week. But if you’re wondering why your feed isn’t now flooded with eminently appropriate matches, remember that the Elo score can’t work as a universal ranking of attractiveness – mainly because not everyone finds the same things desirable.
“People are really polarized on even just a photographic level: some people really favor facial hair, while some do not,” Tinder data engineer Tol Solli-Nowlan told Fast Company. “Same thing with tattoos, photos with pets or children, excessive outdoors shots, or photos of you with a tiger.”
So while you’re more likely to match with someone with a similar level of Tinder popularity, it’s by no means guaranteed. Desire is just too fluid to be predicted by an algorithm – which is oddly reassuring.