D.C.’s Hinge: In hotbed of networking, locally grown app mines friendship capital


(robert wagt)
December 26, 2013

If there’s one social situation Washingtonians are familiar with, it’s networking. So it’s no surprise that a mobile dating app with headquarters in the District treats matchmaking as the ultimate networking event. Hinge makes “real connections” by using members’ Facebook friends as personal Cupids.

“It’s hard to find good people. Really hard,” said co-founder Justin McLeod. “Hinge is a nice balance between ease of use and finding real connections without being weird or creepy.”

Hinge started as a dating Web site in 2012 but made the switch to mobile-only and relaunched this year. The largest set of Washington area users are in their late 20s and early 30s. “At first, we were targeting a younger demographic, people right out of college, but found that our users were older,” McLeod said.

Hinge — which is focusing on daters in Washington, New York, Boston and Philadelphia for now — culls each user’s name, age, recent photos and “likes” from Facebook to automatically create a profile on the app. A series of recent upgrades gives users the option of adding height, religion and “personality tags.” These tags — descriptors that users select from a list that includes “Zombie Survivalist,” “Conflicted Omnivore” and “Lawn Game Champion” — allow some wit to show without too much pressure to be creative.

“We want people to use it to have great relevant conversations on their dates, and now the introductions and the personality tags help,” said Sophie Vinograd, lead copywriter/community manager.

Using that data, Hinge starts users with a set of five to seven potential matches every day at noon. They respond by rating each of them with a “heart” or an “X.” When two users give each other hearts, they get an introduction — an exchange of data that reveals both users’ jobs, suggests things they have in common, and offers suggestions for local restaurants and activities curated by Hinge employees.

In a survey of Washington and New York users, 54 percent said they have “found someone” through the app.

One of those is Jayne, a doctoral student at George Washington University who wished to provide only her first name when discussing online dating. She said she is dating a man she met on the app and considers herself “a cheerleader for Hinge.”

“I believe in dating as meeting friends of friends. Hinge is allowing you to do that without being in the same city as the one setting you up,” Jayne said.

Hinge uses a “sort of friends-referral system, a select amount of people per day,” she said, a system she appreciates “so you can’t just sit and troll for men.”

To create the app’s defining elements, Hinge’s small staff pooled their collective online and real-life dating experiences. “It’s what we call eating your own dog food,” said John Kleint, data scientist and “chief matchmaker.” He’s been on five Hinge dates in the six months he’s worked for the company: “It spurs me to make better matches” for other people, he said.

The number of daily potential matches delivered to a profile is limited to ensure that users have enough friends of friends to keep the process going for six to eight months. As the app is used, it learns what people are more likely to appeal to certain users; and if users invite more friends to Hinge, the site can expand the field to people beyond the original friend group. “The more you play, the better the matches,” Kleint said. “It finds people similar to those you’ve liked in the past, but a certain portion are variety matches — people that you wouldn’t like on your own.”

If the app works well, joked lead engineer AJ Bonhomme, successfully matched users won’t need it anymore. “The goal is to shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said, “and get people dating.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the relaunch year of the dating app Hinge. It underwent a relaunch in 2013.

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Veronica Toney is a writer and digital editor at The Washington Post.
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