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The new wave of online dating apps is right under your nose.
When it comes to hookup apps, two platforms dominate the market for queer men: Grindr and Scruff. Launched in 2009, Grindr quickly became the most successful app in the world for men seeking connection with other men—with more than 10 million users worldwide. Meanwhile, the Scruff app boasts 8 million members. (Full disclosure: I am one of those users.)
But while these are the most popular options, they are far from the only apps out there. You might not have heard of platforms like Hornet or Jack’d yet, but as the app market continues to grow, don’t be surprised if you see the guy next to you on the train updating his DaddyHunt account.—Nico Lang
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Created by Josh Liptzin and Andrew Vurlumis, VGL hit the already crowded app marketplace in 2013. What sets it apart from the rest? It’s the hookup world’s answer to Hot or Not: The app allows users to rank each other with a “Drink,” “Fave,” or “Hot.” The highest-ranked profiles are sorted into the “Hottest” category, which allows you to weed out all those pesky Threes and Sixes in your geographic area. The only problem is that to actually click on their profiles and talk to these alleged hotties, you have to pay for the premium version. Free users have to go fishing in the general pool.
The bigger annoyance is the interface itself, which is poorly designed and has a way of obstructing users’ profile images. When you click on anyone’s individual profile, their information—including their age, location, and ethnicity—appear on top of the main photo, meaning that the picture is obscured. In order to view their entire face (or bod), you have to tap the screen and wiggle the image up and down. With the VIP version costing you $9.99 a month, it’s something of a pricey game.
However, VGL users can “follow” each other in order to build a network of updates from favorites’ photo posts. “Likes” and comments can even be left for extra flirting, and a scroll down “My Feed” shows the latest photo uploads around the globe. This allows for a much better spotlight than the overwhelming checkerboard menu of men with tiny profile thumbnails.—N.L., C.I.
It would seem that the Tinder boom is over. Now, as a gay man at least, a session with the swipe reveals a much less veritable pool than it did a year or two ago.
This, unfortunately, dims the appeal of Surge, known for being way too similar to Tindr. It’s all men looking for men, has peskier advertisements, and allows for more in-profile stats—and that seems to be where its differences from Tinder tap out. While non-premium users can get one “power like,” they can also get tempted by seeing a locked gallery of men who have swiped right on them.
Going premium (for $9.99/month), though, actually offers quite a bit of tricks, like the ability to reverse swipe decisions and manually select geographic areas for swiping. Plus, being able to go incognito and chat with only your selected favorites filters any riff raff you may not want to come across. Hey, its immaculate five stars in the App Store must be indicative of some success or another.—C.I.
Jack’d is a more affordable alternative to Grindr and Scruff—with premium rates as low as $2.08 a month. But you know the old saying when it comes to saving money: Are you getting what you’re (not) paying for?
Let’s start with the good: I like that Jack’d (which markets itself to gay black men) is predominantly populated by people of color, as apps like Grindr have notorious issues when it comes to racial inclusion among their users (comments like “no Asians” or “it’s just a preference” are common). While the design is passable, what I miss is the ability to signal your interest to users you like without messaging them first. On Scruff, the “Woof” option is similar to a Facebook Poke: It allows you to get someone’s attention. It can be depressing to spend your time devising the chillest version of “Hey, what’s up?” just to have no one answer back, and the “Woof” cuts out that overt rejection.
There’s also a swipe game to be played, albeit made slightly more cutthroat by tapping “Yes” or “No” in order to bypass any initial-message rejection. In addition to acceptance, another plus with Jack’d Pro is that by upgrading (and paying) for this plan, users are only spending $4.99 a month, less than most other options. With this, one gets an experience with more options and no ads. But most curiously, it offers touch ID. That may seem a little overdramatic, but if you really don’t want any nosey friends messing up any of your late night plans, it’s a nice safeguard.
But the real drawback about the app is that it’s a memory hog on your smartphone. The most common complaint, by far, about Jack’d in the iTunes store is that it takes up way too much space (some claim even up to 2Gs). Others maintain that the new version freezes regularly.—N.L., C.I.
Unsurprisingly, there are few actual daddies on DaddyHunt. The app is primarily populated by guys who are likewise seeking older men, but if you can get over that, the platform does a lot of things very right.
My favorite thing about DaddyHunt is that the browser—in which photos of men in your area are stacked like tiles on a chessboard—allows just three profiles per line. That means each image is larger and easier to see without clicking on the photo first. Scruff’s standard is four photos per line, and you might find that a guy who looks cute in a teeny, tiny photo isn’t when you see that image blown up. Whereas Grindr is populated by headless torsos, DaddyHunt is surprisingly face pic-centric, which gives the community a warmer, friendlier vibe.
Screengrab via DaddyHunt
That feeling is built into the interface itself, which allows users to not only “Poke” each other but send up to six different Shout Outs, which include “handsome,” “burning hot,” “dateable,” “funny,” “inspiring,” and “great smile.” In addition, the FotoFeed allows users to upload photos of themselves into an Instagram-style RSS that offers a unique way to browse photos of guys you might be interested in.
Aside from the mismarketing, my major complaint is something that any startup app is going to be dealing with: numbers. Given that DaddyHunt has a smaller user base than Grindr and Scruff, it means your options are limited, but growing. Also, because the free version doesn’t allow you to filter by geography, interests, or body type, you really have to update to the Premium version to get to make DaddyHunt’s platform work for you.—N.L.
According to Hornet’s CEO and co-founder, Sean Howell, the platform stresses conversation and community among its users. “People don’t just use us for dating,” Howell told the Huffington Post. “They’re using us for business networking, to get a job, to explore moving, [and] to plan their vacations.”
Photo via Hornet
If that sounds a bit like DaddyHunt, the two apps share a lot of the same upsides—and the designs are strikingly similar. The sleek browsers look nearly identical, lacking many of the banner ads that bog down other free apps, but where Hornet bests DH is quantity: There’s no limit to how many profiles you can search, meaning that you can keep scrolling all day and never reach the end of the feed. You actually get a lot of bang for your buck with the free version of Hornet (although upgrading to the paid version does allow you to see which users visited your profile).
Howell bills Hornet as “less sleazy” than other apps, but what distinguishes Hornet is its simplicity. And it’s been doing good on its promise to be a little more immersive and communal. The social media-minded news feed and likes are here, as are opportunities to gain followers and “fans”—which may sound a little sickeningly hierarchical like VGL, what really gives Hornet an extra sting is its acquired database of suggested spots nearby to meet up for a date, which could especially be of use when traveling.—N.L., C.I.
Having launched way back in 2001 as a desktop site, Recon is actually far from new. However, it does constantly top itself when it comes to innovation and is now a deluxe hub for those in the kink community—whether that’s leather, rubber, dom, sub, or something far more specified.
Be prepared for a more menacing interface to go along with the darker desires of the kink mindset, though. There are many faceless profiles and users can rate their percentage of “Active” or “Passive” in order to cut to the dom/sub dynamic chase. However, Recon does provide a safe space for individuals to connect beyond the “leather” tribe over at Grindr. Friend requests can be sent and accepted while scrolling through a newsfeed of YouTube videos that help humanize the kink community. Recon even holds its own events and AIDS fundraisers, too—just be prepared to hop a plane for them since most are across the pond, in Recon’s Euro homeland.—C.I.
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Another more obscure mainstay, GROWLr may be the answer to DaddyHunt’s overcrowdedness of twinks and otters. The app, which launched back in 2010, is geared towards bears and their chasers. A scroll through the honey-sweet interface, after dodging annoying tool tips and pop-up ads, reveals a cuddly playground of furry faces who are willing to chat.
GROWLr also kindly includes options for stating HIV and PrEP stats in profiles. Even cooler is the likes of Pups and Sirs being included in “Looking For” options. This could help ease guys into kink communities without taking the potentially menacing cannonball into the Recon pool.
Not only is there also an event calendar to peruse, but users can also send out a “Shout!” to those in their current community or a geo-set location. Users can also preview the estimated reach of their post promoting a business, event, or greeting so they know just how many growls they may get in their neck of the woods.—C.I.
If you were anywhere near one of your straight girlfriends this summer, you’re familiar with Bumble, the app that operates as a safe space for females-seeking-males. The service forces the ladies to initiate conversation after sweeping around swipes. But a lesbian test drive proved Bumble to be a Tinder twin, allowing either same-sex suitor to make the first move; plus they had to wade through men.
While Bumble has yet to answer to its queer women problem, the company has unveiled an iTunes app for gay men based in London. Chappy’s angle is letting men make the choice with whom to associate: Mr. Right, Mr. Right Now, or Mr. Who Knows. Those looking for more serious romance may be coupled together in Mr. Right; those searching for friskier and more fleeting interactions get matched under Mr. Right Now; and those unsure get grouped with either and then feel it out.
The co-founder is Made in Chelsea reality star Ollie Locke, who told Inc. that part of the app’s inspiration came from his intimidation of Grindr’s body image judgments. The sleek promotional ads purr, “Part Romance. Part Rendez-Vous. All Gentleman.” —C.I.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Illustration by Max Fleishman
Nico Lang is an essayist, movie critic, and reporter who specializes in the intersection of politics and LGBTQ issues. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, Esquire, and BuzzFeed, among other notable publications.