Honesty through game theory, compatibility from your social data and making your words count… South African-made Predict Dating App has set out to fix swipe-style dating

Let’s not pretend that dating hasn’t always been superficial. That people haven’t always misrepresented their intentions, in order to sleep with you. That finding a compatible partner wasn’t depressingly hard work. At least, when Tinder exploded on the scene in 2012, it solved that other well-known dating truism: the numbers game.

More than anything else, it is the increase in the number of profiles actively considered on Tinder that is the reason for its success. Tinder’s single file presentation of people as photo cards to either like or not (no sitting on the fence or ignoring them) meant that its users were interacting with, and giving a verdict on, far more people than ever before. You have to swipe – right for ‘yes’, left for ‘no’ – in order to see the next person.

Older dating sites had offered a matching system like this, but it was auxiliary. Most users simply searched, browsed and interacted with only a tiny subset of the people on the site. Tinder’s breakthrough was to make swiping the only way to find people. And by allowing its users to communicate only once they’d matched by mutually liking each other, it meant that you couldn’t be approached unless you’d consented – something hetero women particularly appear to value.

Now, though, Tinder and its spin-offs make dating feel like having run full speed through a dozen cheesy singles’ bars

So, yes, in most cities today there are virtually limitless young single people to wade through on apps.

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What, then, to make of the fairly new, free, South African Predict Dating App which claims to help solve the superficiality, intention and compatibility problems, along with the numbers game?

For starters, that name. Why the hard-edged, clinical, even hubristic sounding Predict? Its founder, Ayal Belling, says that he wanted to depart from the superficial cutesiness of other dating apps starting with the name. That he wanted it to be fun, but by serving up awesome dates rather than just a sequence of cheesy photos that don’t give you the faintest idea of a person. The app claims to be able to help predict (get it?) the intentions and compatibility of its users.

In fairness, you notice something different about Predict as soon as a profile appears. The bio always shows, and prominently. Gone is the photo card that encourages you to deliver a verdict without ever seeing what the person might have written. Belling says that this emphasis on words makes people more inclined to write, giving you more to go on.

And then there’s the social match percentage that appears on each profile, that’s meant to give you a sense of your compatibility with that person. How do they work this out? Through your social data on Facebook, of course. Twitter too if you’re that way inclined. Q&As are so last decade.

And finally, the saucy bit which probably got you reading this in the first place and which, along with the above, may make Predict the best dating app yet for hetero women.

They’ve just added a third option to the usual ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of swipe-style dating which, they say, makes people more honest about whether they’re after a casual or more serious relationship. Now, on each profile, you choose whether you would consider the person you’re looking at for casual, short-term or non-monogamous dating (middle button) or for longer-term, monogamous dating (right-hand button). Or you can still just say ‘no’, of course. The clever bit is that you might only match when you both use the same button.

So why, you may ask, has an anti-superficial dating app just added an option that sounds like the hetero answer to Grindr?

“Game theoretical honesty enforcement,” is the answer Belling gives. “Here’s the thing, apparently half the people on other swiping apps write nothing. No, not just the men, it’s true also of the women. And of the hetero women who write anything at all, perhaps half state explicitly that they’re not interested in hookups.” It turns out that hetero men on dating apps behave exactly the way they do offline. Surprised? Didn’t think so.

So Predict decided to un-complicate the whole process by adding a dose of honesty to it. To be clear though, it is certainly not just for heteros. Not to confuse sexuality and gender but along with its beyond binary gender choices, general anti-superficiality and now its honesty about intentions, Predict does appear to be a firmly socially progressive dating app.

But why the pretentious game theoretical spiel?

In its simplest form, game theory applies when your actions depend on your expectation of someone else’s actions. Also, there must be a reward and cost associated with your choice of action. As the name suggests it can be helpful to think of it in terms of a game like poker, where your actions – raising, bluffing, calling, folding – are based on your expectations of other players’ actions and the outcome of the action you choose is associated with a reward or cost to you.

The idea behind Predict’s saucier and more serious buttons is to reward you for being honest about your intentions. It is possible to match when you use one like button and they use the other, but only if you have both chosen to allow this. This means that you can’t be sure that you’ll match when you use different buttons. Also, if you choose to allow only same-like matching, then the other person won’t know which choice you’ve made unless you match.

Belling believes that giving people the ability to control whether their choice is revealed when a different like is used makes people less concerned about the social taboo of using the saucier button. The reward in this context is the type of relationship or liaison you’re after. The cost? Even if you like each other, you may not match if you express different intentions (i.e. one uses the middle button while the other uses the right one).

Starting to see how this might encourage honesty?

Consider the crude male hetero stereotype – you know, the one recognisable to all women. This guy wants to use the saucier button on all the profiles he fancies. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: he would also like to be in a monogamous relationship at some point.

Now he starts swiping. He sees a woman he thinks is hot. She has written nothing but a string of emojis. Match percent is average: 65%. Middle (saucier) button.

Next up, another woman he thinks is hot. He finds her bio hilarious. 85% match. He goes for the middle button, but then his prefrontal cortex reminds him that he has impulse control (just) and he uses the right-hand button. And so it goes. He ends up using the middle button more often but uses the right one a fair bit too.

Now let’s observe the similarly crude stereotype of the hetero woman. She also wants to be in a monogamous relationship. First up, a guy who writes something pretty smart, but seems maybe a little earnest. No topless or kite-surfing shots. Not bad looking. Right-hand button.

Next up, a George Clooney overdose of handsome. Probably a bit of a player. Clever profile if a little too honed. Middle button. You get the picture. More use of the right than the middle, but the middle gets a showing more often than you might think.

And now, game theory. You may ask why our guy doesn’t rather do one of the following two things.

  1. Pretty much only use the middle button (stereotypical man, remember). Answer: he suspects there’s a better than even chance she’s used the right-hand button on him (if she likes him at all) and he knows they might not match if they use different buttons.
  2. Always lie and just use the right one because that’s the button he thinks she will use. Answer: because women use the middle button occasionally, he won’t want to miss the possibility that the woman he fancies for casual sex, used the middle button on him.

‘The stereotype’

Of course, no one is always the stereotype. There are many women who enjoy only casual relationships or prefer them between more serious ones or even during – the world of ethical non-monogamy is growing after all. And equally unsurprisingly, there are men who don’t conform to their crude stereotype.

What all of this really means is that if you’re a woman who is predominantly looking for a longer-term monogamous relationship, then by using the right-hand button, you’re more likely on Predict than on other apps to match a man who is looking for the same thing. Of course, if you’re only looking for casual or non-monogamous or short-term dating, on Predict, you can find that honestly too.