OkCupid is looking a lot more like Tinder.
Look at two changes announced this month. First, messages land in a user’s inbox only once two people have indicated, via OkCupid’s site or app, that they like each other. And by the end of the year, daters will have to use their names on OkCupid, rather than usernames daters create for themselves.
A Dec. 11 blog post announcing the first change noted that “the entire dating landscape has shifted and opened up since OkCupid started back in 2004.” It sure has! Since then, dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge, Bumble and others have shaken up online dating — and all those apps require that two people indicate mutual interest before anyone sends a “heyyy” or a more thoughtful note.
This notion of establishing mutual interest before messaging might seem like common sense. But before Tinder debuted in 2012, online daters could send messages to anyone, which OkCupid calls “open messaging.” This can result in some users — especially heterosexual women — being inundated with messages. As OkCupid admits, open messaging can lead to a volume of initial messages that is “unmanageable, and at times unsettling,” for female users. Open messaging can also lead to women receiving more unwanted and harassing messages.
The second change appears to be more controversial. In Slate, Heather Schwedel writes that “requiring users to go by their real names seems like a way to open them up to more harassment, since bad actors will have an easier time identifying people and contacting them off the platform if they wish to.” Schwedel also took issue with how the tone of the blog post announcing the change made fun of its users and their quirky screen names.
Another concern is privacy, as some people choose OkCupid because they don’t want to be public about their sexual or gender orientation, or their relationship preferences. OkCupid has been a popular platform for people who are polyamorous or are in open relationships, for example. The anonymity can also feel safer for marginalized communities, such as trans individuals.
In OkCupid’s blog post announcing the end of usernames, it was unclear whether users would need to attach their legal names to their dating profiles. Amid the confusion, OkCupid tweeted out Friday that, in lieu of usernames like BigDaddyFlash916 or DaddyzPrincess29, nicknames or initials would be okay. So can BigDaddyFlash916 log on as BDF? Unclear.
It’s understandable why some users are upset. But OkCupid is merely trying to stay relevant in an online dating landscape where verification is more valuable than anonymity. Online dating has long been moving away from anonymity and toward more transparency. Dating apps such as Tinder not only require users to build profiles around their real first names, they’re also linked to a Facebook or other social media profile, displaying any mutual friends two users might have. Selective apps such as the League require that a user have a Facebook and LinkedIn profile.
There will always be a market for dating that’s more anonymous; it will just be up to someone else to create the next big thing.