Published: 16 Sep, 2022
For decades, people belonging to the LGBTQ community have been living their lives stealthily—especially their sexual and dating lives. But the advent of dating apps that especially cater to—people belonging to the LGBTQ community—finally allowed the community to experience some degrees of identity and sexual freedom (even if that freedom was majorly limited to digital spaces)—away from the heteronormative gender and sexual policing.
It is a proven fact that embracing online dating has helped LGBTQ community members improve their self-esteem as they can express their identity with fewer fears. Nevertheless, these apps are not yet completely safe. But passionate product designers are working hard to make LGBTQ dating apps more inclusive and safe places.
So how did these dating apps pave its way and impact their lives in so many unique ways?
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Online LGBTQ dating apps started emerging in the later years of the first decade of the 21st century. These dating apps use ‘geotagging’ technology to find appropriate dating matches for people living within a designated kilometer radius.
According to a study, the most amount of usage rates is from the people belonging to the LGBTQ community. One of the significant reasons people found these dating apps useful (which led to their worldwide popularity) was that they were now able to meet and choose from a much larger network of people with similar interests, which otherwise was very difficult.
These apps also encouraged a large section of people in the queer community to come out of their closets because of the ‘safe space’ environment these dating apps initiated for them.
Despite their much acclaimed positive impact, these queer dating apps came with their own set of concerns for the community. One of the major concerns reported by LGBTQ dating app users was ‘safety’. Many users have expressed concerns with respect to their data safety on these LGBTQ dating apps. Other than this, cases of online harassment, unsolicited messaging, and explicit image sharing are a few instances where the users of LGBTQ dating apps don’t feel safe.
However, as time progressed, LGBTQ dating app owners and designers began addressing these concerns. Below we have discussed some of the apps which have time and again attempted to address these issues and, therefore, have gained popularity among the LGBTQ folks:
Grindr was founded by Joel Simkhai in 2009, and since then, it has been considered one of the best gay dating apps. Over the course of time, it has gained a considerable amount of popularity, specifically among gay (men who have sex with men). Although, it does serve people with varied sexual identities.
Since its launch, this LGBTQ dating app has undergone a lot of changes in its quest to be more inclusive and user-friendly. Let’s discuss some of its features:
Identifying Features: On Grindr, there are three criteria to identify oneself with, it is known as ‘filters’. The first one is Age, the second one is ‘Tribes’ these are labels users can choose to identify themselves with, and the third one is ‘Looking For’, where users can choose how they would like to be approached.
Profile: In this section, the users are required to mention basic details about themselves. There is an about me section (where users can write an introductory remark), age, height, ethnicity, body type, “position”, tribe, relationship status, “looking for” info, and sexual health.
There are no mandatory fields, a user can share as much information as they voluntarily wish to.
Data Safety: In terms of data collection, Grindr has access to information such as users’ location, email ID, User ID, Race, and Sexual Orientation, purchase history, and health information. This LGBTQ dating app claims that it doesn’t share user data with third-party organizations.
Other than this, the data is end-to-end encrypted, and the user can ask the developing team to delete their personal data as well.
Ratings and user feedback: Grindr has 3.8 stars on Google Play Store and 4.6 on App Store. Many users have repeatedly complained about screen ad pop-ups, which hinder their entire user experience. Although, their customer support team is quite responsive to the users’ queries and questions.
However, users can opt for the paid premium version of the app. In this version, users can have access to ZERO third-party ads, Unlimited Profiles in your grid, Viewed Me, Visible typing statuses, Unlimited Expiring Photos, Chat with profiles globally using Explore, Saved chat phrases, Read receipts, See who chatted with you, and other exclusive features.
Scruff was founded by Johnny Skandros, and Eric Silverberg in 2010 and in 2013 became one of the first gay dating apps to build a community for HIV-positive, military, and transgender users.
Profile: This gay dating app does not ask users to share information regarding their race and ethnicity. It has a strict policy against sharing overtly exposed nude pictures or sexually suggestive images.
And has also imposed regulations against people using unidentifiable or impersonated profile pictures—to avoid the creation of fake accounts and maintain transparency with who users are interacting.
Identity: Scruff offers its users to identify with a range of pronouns and gender identity options. On top of it, these options fields are optional, which means users can skip these fields if they don’t wish to share this information.
Data Safety: To ensure data safety, the Scruff app does not ask its users to integrate their social networking accounts with the LGBTQ dating app. In 2018 they removed all the third-party advertisements, and as per their website, they have never sold any of the users’ data to any data brokers.
Ratings and user feedback: Stuff has a 4-star rating on Google Play Store and 4.5 on App Store. Users have constantly compared this app to Grindr, and the users who have used both have expressed their inclination towards Scruff. Some people weren’t appreciative of the 2019 update, but their support team has been responsive to all their queries.
It initially began as a desktop service in 201. The was named Secret Agent Cupid by its founder Justin McLeod. It earlier enabled users to connect their Facebook profiles as well. The dating app allows users to match with prospective partners on the basis of traits and even has a “Your Turn” feature to remind users to continue the conversation.
In 2018, the dating app started using the Gale–Shapley algorithm, which uses likes and passes to pair people together.
Profile: Contrary to Scruff, Hinge asks users to share everything from religion to their hobbies in the profile sections. They are guided by the philosophy of matching people with similar interests together.
Identity: Unlike the two apps discussed above, Hinge offers three options: Man, Woman, or Non-Binary. But at the same time allows customization, which would reflect on your profile.
Ratings and user feedback: Hinge users have rated the app with 3.5 stars on Google Play Store and 4.5 stars on App Store. The LGBTQ app has been subjected to a variety of criticism. Although people are split in terms of whether they like the interface or not, the majority of people have expressed their dislike regarding the matching algorithm of the app—which, according to them, is quite limiting and repetitive.
There are many apps out there in the market that cater (or at least claim) to a diverse group of people and sexual identities. However, developing a dating app for queer women, men, and others is a challenge in itself, and it should be because developing a product—for a community whose existence has been frowned upon for as long as we can remember should not be an easy road to travel.
Well, if you really are empathetic towards the queer people and wish to create a platform for them where they can freely and safely express themselves without them being afraid of judgments, harassment, and prejudices; and can practice their sexual and gendered autonomy—then we have one golden rule for you.
Human-centered research design is an inclusive design methodology wherein the digital app owner (here LGBTQ app), developers, and designers conduct thorough research to understand the problems and needs of their target audience.
Conducting human-centered research while developing an LGBTQ app is will enable the LGBTQ app owners, mobile app developers, and designers to step into the shoes of the community so that they can truly understand the dating needs of the LGBTQ community. Adopting this approach will allow them to create an LGBTQ dating app with the LGBTQ community rather than just creating it for them.
However, one of the key challenges here would be to express empathy without being offensive towards their gender and sexual orientation. Analyzing LGBTQ trends on social media, celebrating pride, reading a couple of blogs, etc., isn’t enough to express empathy—it’s much more than that.
It is suggested to build a multi-disciplinary team, in which you can include ethnographic researchers who deal closely with the issues of gender and sexual identity and will help you with conducting human-centered ethnographic research among the LGBTQ community. There are different phases of a human-centered design, which will help you to be more sensitive and inclusive while developing an LGBTQ app.
However, below are a few areas to keep in mind while developing and designing the LGBTQ app.
Variety of Demographic identifiers- This is one of the most crucial aspects designers and developers must be mindful of while developing an LGBTQ app. Contrary to popular belief, there are not just two gender identities (male and female). One of the most popular dating apps, Tinder alone, offers 30 gender identity options for its users to choose from (and there could be more).
Another crucial aspect here could be rendering inclusivity to people of mixed races. It is often observed that mixed-race individuals often have a hard time answering where the app’s demographic identifiers do not include them.
People are not meant to be put in a box. Therefore, it is extremely essential to include a wide variety of demographic identifiers while developing an LGBTQ app.
Diverse Illustrations- This is the tricky part. People who don’t identify as queer and, thanks to Pride month marketing gimmicks, often foster the belief that anything queer-related should be rainbow-themed. This is where most LGBTQ dating apps could go wrong.
Illustrations and choice of color should be diverse and inclusive- they should not ‘label’ people aside from the rest. For example, the illustrations and color choice of the app interface of Grindr are bright yellow with all-inclusive line-drawing stick figurines. Hence, they are being inclusive yet sensitive by not labeling the LGBTQ community and their dating lives apart from the normalized ideals.
Inclusive Language- After all the comprehensive research, as an LGBTQ app developer and designer, if you fail to use inclusive language, then all your hard work is in vain.
We, humans, tend to use offensive language and slang in our daily lives without even realizing the polarized and discriminating nature of them against minorities. Therefore, while developing an LGBTQ app copy (or any other technical web copy for that matter), be careful and as much inclusive of the plurality as possible with the language use.
One beginning step would be offering all-inclusive preferred pronouns—them/they.
Resources and Support- Since an LGBTQ dating app will primarily be catering to the LGBTQ community, it is vital for app product owners to offer legible support and informative resources to the application users.
For example, the Grindr app reminds their user to get tested for HIV every three months and, apart from this, offers regular updates and other informative pieces via blog.
Scruff has a whole ‘Support’ section dedicated to their users, especially on their website. Apart from this, they also offer 24/7 support services to the Scruff LGBTQ dating app.
Data Privacy- Privacy is the most critical aspect of building an LGBTQ dating app. Time and again, users and experts have expressed their concerns regarding data privacy while using LGBTQ dating apps. While these concerns have not impacted the popularity of the LGBTQ dating apps—privacy still remains a pressing concern for them (even more than the traditionally normalized groups).
When the data is accessible to their party companies, LGBTQ communities become more vulnerable to discrimination and harassment, and in many cases, it might cost them their social and professional lives. Apparently, in such cases, the system often blames the victims for sharing sensitive information and images on the app. But as an LGBTQ dating app owner and developer, you have to be respectful, careful, and transparent with your terms of data collection. You must ensure 100% protection of their private data.
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