online dating

Photo Credit: Crystal Marie Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Smartphone dating apps aren’t always taken too seriously. Whether someone is experimenting with “Tinder,” “Grindr,” “Cudlr” or “OkCupid,” there’s the potential for awkwardly meeting matches in real life, leading to nervous eye contact while both people try to find the right words to transition from digital chat to real conversation. 

“Thread,” the latest of the popular dating apps, hopes to offer a medium for substantial relationships in cyberspace. While apps like Tinder and Grindr are synonymous with the “hook up” culture, Thread hopes to break through this superficiality. 

Thread’s main attraction is that it is only accessible to college students, requiring users to register with a “.edu” email address. While Thread offers a new approach to the fast-growing market of dating apps, the larger question is whether Thread has the potential to surpass the stereotype of online dating and create real relationships in a student population.

The exclusivity of the app doubles as a safety net. Students may particularly be drawn to Thread because of its filtering mechanism, as other dating applications generally draw unwarranted or inappropriate attention from people outside of the University.

The app’s second strategy is limiting the number of potential matches per day to 10. This forces users to take a hard look at their options before saying “yes.” Tinder, on the other hand, offers a quick fix and easy satisfaction to those looking to find mutual attraction.

Beyond filtering by university email address, Thread also plays matchmaker by filtering through interest categories. Thread requires users to choose their top picks for food, classes and general activities. The app highlights three of 15 possible choices for the categories and builds upon a user’s profile with this additional information. Geared toward UT students, these categories offer up places such as Clay Pit and Barton Springs as possible preferences. Campus life is defined for each user through these categories, developing individual profiles beyond just one uploaded photo. 

Like Tinder, Thread accesses the latest profile pictures from Facebook. Underneath the photo and first name, there is space for a brief personality description. While Tinder’s limit of 500 characters can allow for cheesy quotes, a lengthy life story or a description of any romantic intentions, Thread’s 70-character limit appears to be a setback. Most personality descriptions are stiflingly short and leave little room for any sort of accurate self-expression. Reduced to 70 characters, people tend to cop out with descriptions like, “Idk,” “Hook ‘em” and “Netflix is life.” Thread backtracks in its intention to create an online dating space completely free of stigma by restricting a
thoughtful description.

Flaunting its tagline, “Stay classy,” Thread may not live up to its expectation in creating an ideal space for online dating among college students. Ultimately, though, Thread is the closest median between a stigmatized app like Tinder and a professional online dating service like Match.com

Sebastian Bruce, a computer science and economics senior and founder of StartATX, presents the "Thread" app on his phone.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The name Dell may be synonymous with computers, but a younger Dell has his eyes set on online dating. 

Zach Dell, son of Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell, will launch a new dating app called “Thread” to connect college students. The official release party will be Sept. 20 at the Fiji house, with admission granted to anyone who has downloaded the app.

Sebastian Bruce, a computer science and economics senior and founder of StartATX, a UT organization that promotes entrepreneurship, spoke to Dell about creating the app. 

“He raised a little bit over a half a million and with that was able to find really good developers, designers and a new co-founder, who went to Wharton,” Bruce said. 

“You can date within your college or university, so it’s very close knit, rather than Tinder, where you just meet some random person,” Bruce said. “You have to have a ‘.edu’ email in order to join.”

Dell, who is a senior at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, said he connected with investors in Austin who have contributed more than $600,000 in funding. 

Dell said his first investor was Robbie Yeager, a friend of both Dell and Bruce. Yeager invested $100,000 in the project in 2013, making him the largest contributor.

“At first I wasn’t so sure, but, when I talked to [Dell], I could see how passionate he was about the project,” Yeager said. 

With its launch, Thread will be joining a host of other apps that foster dating and interactions among specified groups of people. Dell said an important difference between Thread and other apps is the exclusivity that requires all users to be college students.

“Thread is 100 percent college exclusive,” Dell said. “You have a filtering mechanism to your college; this increases the safety of using the app.”

In narrowing down the pool of community members who access the app, Dell said he intends to increase the degree of safety for users. 

“With Thread, there are many safety mechanisms — a lot to protect women,” Dell said.

According to Dell, he became interested in contributing to the online dating industry when he realized that use by younger generations was increasing. 

“A lot of people thought people who are younger were interested in online dating, but what I saw was that it turned into a creepy industry,” Dell said. “No company was going out of their way to create a safe environment, especially for women.”

Dell said he could see several opportunities for improving existing online dating options. Currently, the app is available exclusively for use at UT, but Dell said in the future, he intends to expand the service to other colleges and universities.

Love, Interrupted

Photo Credit: Colin Mullin | Daily Texan Staff

You can do everything to prepare for an upcoming date with the click of a mouse — from finding a reverse happy hour on Yelp to shopping for a perfectly nonchalant first-date outfit without a trip to the mall — so why not find the person you want to date online, too?

According to Internet tracking firm Experian Hitwise, in November 2011 the major dating sites, including eHarmony and Match.com, collectively had more than 593 million visits in just one month in the United States. Though we must keep in mind that just because someone visited a dating site doesn’t necessarily mean they used it, it does present a larger truth: more people are considering online dating. Clearly, we’re using the Internet for more than Facebook stalking and ‘Funny Or Die’ videos.

Finding a date online 10 years ago might have implied that you were a desperate social outcast who couldn’t hack trying to find real love in the real world, and thus had to resort to the digital one. However, as our digital lives and real lives overlap, especially with the powerful surge of social media, the separation between those two lives is diminishing. The general thought on dating online today appears to be, “Well, we do everything else online, don’t we?”

UT professor of marketing Raj Raghunathan, who studies theories in psychology and behavioral sciences, recently spoke at the annual Internet Dating Conference. He believes the main reason people use online dating services is to cast a wider net. A secondary reason is to screen out those they wouldn’t consider dating.

“The Internet opens up the entire world, so why restrict yourself to your town or friends and relatives?” Raghunathan said.

But therein lies the peculiar irony of dating online: we go online to broaden our dating pool, and yet with the nature of constant choices the Internet gives us, we can filter people out so extensively, that the pool becomes a trickle.

Dating sites are asking their users to rate everything, from personality to physical traits, that they desire in a mate. After online dating escaped the desperation connotation, it picked up one of customization.

“Some people may feel that they have a chance to screen potential matches better on the Internet because they can screen people based on their criteria, for example terms of age, height and weight, which might be a little more embarrassing to do face to face,” Raghunathan said.

Ever since Posh Spice (Victoria Beckham) said in the movie Spiceworld, “I’ll have a deep pan, six feet, green eyes, pair of loafers and no socks,” girls have joked about ordering their boyfriends like a pizza. With online dating services, that has become sort of a reality, with less superficial options like religious or political preferences sprinkled in.

But beyond the many boxes to click on the average dating site’s profile comes the opportunity to seek out niche dating sites, such as JDate for Jewish would-be dates (though those who subscribe to different religious beliefs are allowed to use the site) and the self-proclaimed “Ivy League of Dating,” RightStuffDating.com, which requires that all its users be graduates or faculty members (with proof in the form of a diploma or piece of university letterhead mail) of an Ivy League school.

Perhaps the best way to use online dating sites is to use them with a person-to-person dating mindset. Simply use the site to meet people and face the choices you’re given while creating a profile with a level head, keeping in mind that you’re not trying to create an Adonis, but instead trying to find someone who you’ll have things to talk about with on your first date.

Also, since online dating has become yet another component of our online lives and nestled itself into the mainstream, it’s time to embrace telling others the actual story of how you met your new boyfriend or girlfriend. Because really, nobody actually believed you met your super hot girlfriend in the historical biography section of the library anyway.

Printed on Friday, February 3, 2012 as: Relationship seekers turn to dating websites