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Tinder just wants to be friends.
You want to hook up. You have an iPhone. What’s the next step? When it comes to mobile dating apps, Tinder is the most obvious answer. The app dominates the market. It’s the Michael Jordan of apps you can use to find sex.
But remember how Michael Jordan quit basketball, the thing he was objectively amazing at, to pursue baseball, the thing he was objectively mediocre at? And everyone thought it was a foolish, borderline-dickish decision for this savant to turn his back on his craft, denying the world the privilege of watching him excel? And then Jordan realized his folly and fate and returned to the world of basketball following Space Jam?
Tinder is trying to pull a Michael Jordan: It wants out of the hookup app game it has mastered.
At a conference in San Francisco this week, Tinder co-founder Jonathan Badeen said the team wants the app to become a more general platform for connecting with people. This is not news. I interviewed Tinder’s other cofounder, Justin Mateen, last summer, and he made it clear he saw Tinder becoming a popular app for messaging friends. And now Tinder has released a major update with a feature called “Moments” that allows users to send their matches photos that disappear after 24 hours.
The update basically folds the Snapchat Stories feature into Tinder. The ripoff is so blatant, it may start a brawl between the two Southern California startups. You can even draw on the photos you send, just like Snapchat. People can swipe right to like. “You can see who is interested in you based on liking content,” Rad told TechCrunch. “And people love using Tinder for the joy of swiping, so we wanted to use the same experience to help people get to know each other.”
People who don’t want to see these Moments can opt out.
Rad portrayed this update as a step towards Tinder exiting the hookup game, emphasizing that it will help all sorts of people get to know each other. “It’s about sharing these moments, and just because you match, doesn’t mean you need to date that person; you could match with a friend who you want to share a moment with,” he told TechCrunch. He also referenced future updates that will be friendship-based, underlining that Tinder is no longer all about romance.
This is a bizarre strategy to make the app more friends-oriented and wholesome. Snapchat, after all, has perhaps a sleazier reputation than Tinder, and this is just lifting one of Snapchat’s features wholesale. Anyone want to bet how long this update will go released without some guy sending a closeup of his ballsack to all his matches? Chances are, it has already happened.
But beyond “Moments” being an odd choice to launch the company’s campaign to reinvent itself as a friendship app, the entire idea to reinvent itself as a friendship app is a bad one.
Tinder needs to embrace what makes it unique, not run from it. There are already general interest social networks. The world does not need another Facebook. Instead of rolling out upates to get people to use the app differently, the company should push updates that make it more fun as a dating app. It would’ve been a smarter move to roll out disappearing person-to-person messages instead of only giving people the option to share with all of their matches. If you’re going to rip off Snapchat, do it right.
The update also allows users to “go dark” so people can’t find them in Discover mode (they’ll still be able to chat with existing Tinder matches). I approve of that.
Tinder has gained some negative attention for sleazy antics happening between users, but it also owes its entire existence to sleazy antics between users. The company should keep innovating, of course. But the Moments feature is not at all innovative, and the logic behind it (that it will make people want to be friends on Tinder and thus make Tinder a friendship-finding app) is dubious.
People will probably like the update, but they’ll like it because it offers another way to talk to their matches—that is, the people they are considering as coitus partners. They will not like it as a way to become friends with people they decide not to be coitus partners with. Tinder will have to do much more to completely overhaul the way people use it besides lifting a B-class Snapchat feature. But it shouldn’t completely overhaul the way people use it.
Let Tinder be Tinder, sleaze and all. Not every social app needs to be the next Facebook.
Kate Knibbs is a notable tech reporter and pop culture essayist. A former staff writer for the Daily Dot, her work has appeared in Gizmodo, the Ringer, AV Club, Digital Trends, Popular Mechanics, and Time.