Does Online Dating Work? A Look at the Matching Algorithms of the Most Popular Dating Apps

Does Online Dating Work

Understanding the math behind matchmaking can help you on your quest to find love. 

Finding love these days isn’t as simple as meeting the right person and hitting it off. To be at the mercy of the app’s algorithm, you have to do more than be good at navigating dating applications and create an impressive dating profile bio. 

Those of us who have not had much success on dating apps rack our brains about what we could be doing wrong. Ever thought, “If only I knew how the app was finding matches for me, I could be more visible to those with similar interests?” Well, you don’t have to wonder any longer! WE are going to show you how some of the most popular online dating algorithms work and why they might be hampering your chances of finding a match. 

Tinder’s Elo score

Most proprietary dating platforms are hesitant to reveal how their applications work. But in 2016, a Tinder employee divulged more information about the “Elo score”—a secret system Tinder uses to make matches. The Elo score, or Elo rating system, is a mathematical rating system named after and invented by physicist and chess player Arpad Elo to measure the relative skill of players and update the ranking over time. It is widely used in various fields, including chess, National Football League predictions, poker and education.

Essentially, all users would have a certain Elo score, determined by how many people swipe right on them and who these people are. If they are people with a high rate of right swipes, then your Elo score would be high. The company’s idea was to connect people with the same level of desirability to each other based on matching scores. 

As of 2019, Tinder says it has moved on from using the Elo score, but the process described in their blog post seems fairly similar to the Elo score. To pick better matches for users, the team did mention that some new factors are being used, including age, proximity, gender preferences and how active you are on the app. 

Ultimately, Tinder wants people to form connections. So, if you just use the app to boost your ego by looking at how many matches you get and don’t actually message anyone, you are likely to see fewer profiles. Some suggest that messaging people would make you more active on the app and thus, would positively influence how many matches you see. 

Bumble’s match queue

Bumble differentiates itself from other dating apps by letting women make the first move to start a conversation. It uses an algorithm called “match queue”, which is a list of potential conversations that women can start responding to within 24 hours upon matching. If a woman does not start a conversation during this period, the match expires. Men can reset the timer afterward if they really want to connect with a specific woman. 

Profiles in the match queue are presented based on who swiped right on a woman first and also how good of a match they are with her (based on the Elo score). While Bumble hasn’t outrightly discussed how their match queue works, some have theorized that Bumble puts popular users from your area higher on in the queue. Another hint on how the algorithm works can be deciphered from Bumble’s suggestion that users put work in their profile. This should tell us that if you didn’t fill in your profile completely, chances are you wouldn’t get that many matches. 

Hinge’s Gale-Shapley algorithm

In terms of messaging, Hinge is an app similar to how Tinder works, where a conversation can only be started by either party after a successful match. Yet, on Hinge, you have to like a profile’s picture or prompt response to match with others.

Unlike the previous two applications we mentioned, Hinge uses the Gale-Shapley algorithm. This algorithm matched users to each other based on their level of engagement, whom the users have engaged with and how similar their interests are. 

Let’s say you are looking for a match on Hinge. The Gale-Sharpley algorithm will match you to a person on the basis of the previously mentioned conditions. If that person is not interested in you, then it would move on to the next best option. These matches are considered stable when no one person in the dating pool prefers another user over their current match. Logan Ury, the director of relationship science at Hinge says that the app learns your preferences over time based on who you like and to whom you send comments. 

Why it is a struggle to find matches 

Algorithms rely purely on the information they have. Hence, if they didn’t have the right information to predict attraction, they simply wouldn’t work. Figuring out whether you like someone isn’t a straightforward process, as you wouldn’t simply like someone just because they share the same interests as you. Sometimes, you might fall for someone who is the complete opposite of your ideal type. 

Helen Fisher, the chief scientific adviser at says that dating apps cannot change the basic brain chemistry of a person. She says that to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices on dating apps, people need to stop after nine matches. It is because that is the highest number of choices our brain is capable of dealing with at once. If none of them work, you can swipe again.

So yes, a dating app cannot guarantee you will find the right person and can also confuse you with the number of prospective matches. However, this is not to say that dating apps are all bad. They can introduce you to people you would otherwise never come across. Experts emphasize that success in dating takes time. Even if apps cannot predict what your real-life dates or eventual relationships will look like, they can make some good guesses as to whom you would be suited for. 

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Header image courtesy of Freepik


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