A new dating app is trying to bring back conversation and make people think about their behaviour by allowing you to immediately message anyone you like, with the catch that they can leave you a public review.
Helium, a new app from existing dating website RSVP, is the latest dating app trying to differentiate itself from the apps you already know and potentially even use.
Since Tinder was introduced in 2012 (essentially copying the “geosocial networking” approach made popular by LGBT-specific app Grindr three years earlier), other companies have tried to piggyback on its success by taking ever so slightly different approaches.
Bumble, the Sadie Hawkins-style app started by Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe Herd (who later sued Tinder for sexual harassment), shifted the power dynamic by making it so women on the app had to message a man they matched with first.
Hinge, which bills itself as being “designed to be deleted”, promises to set users up with their soulmates by focusing on deeper connections through padded-out profiles that go beyond some photos and a bio.
We even had Toffee, the exclusive dating app that’s only accessible to people who went to private school (a bit like most corporate boardrooms or any classroom that isn’t a hastily erected “demountable”).
Now there’s Helium, which doesn’t bother with dictating who can message first or even require users to match.
“We’re not just another dating app, we’re bringing conversation back,” the app claims on its website.
Despite its claims that it’s not “just another dating app”, it does share a lot in common with the ones we already know and use (if not necessarily love).
The most notable of these is the ability to pay in order to move your profile further up the stack, change your location, or hide your profile.
But there are also some differences.
While most of the apps out there will ask you to login using your Facebook, email or phone number, Helium is focused more on anonymity.
Your account is linked to your phone on a device level (though you can transfer it by backing up your data and restoring it on the new device).
Your age, gender, and the one (or more) you’re after isn’t displayed on your profile (it’s still used to help you match).
Neither is your location, whether you’re online, or whether you’ve seen someone’s message.
Helium has also decided to encrypt your data rather than wait to be exposed by security researchers before doing it like certain other apps.
There’s also a feature that matches you with someone at random from anywhere in the world by shaking your phone, essentially a digital approach to finding a foreign pen pal.
While a virtually anonymous app that allows you to talk to pretty much anyone can be fun to play with, there’s also a potential for abuse.
Bumble has perhaps been the most proactive in preventing abuse on its platform (it is after all the “feminist” dating app) by banning certain types of photos, hate speech, and even publicly calling out users who behave inappropriately on the app.
Ms Wolfe Herd’s detest for users sending unsolicited “dick pics” reached such a level that last year she used her husband’s political connections to have a new law made in Texas (where Bumble is based) that means you could be fined $500 for sending photos of your genitalia to someone without consent.
She recently told Bloomberg she wanted more laws to target online harassment, verbal abuse, and (somewhat but not entirely unrelated) force delivery apps to conduct background checks on their contractors.
Bloomberg also detailed how despite its image as a protector of women online, there’s no real evidence to show Bumble is any safer or less gross than other apps.
Its own workers say the company establishes policies it assumes will change people’s behaviour but doesn’t investigate whether those policies actually do anything.
A claim by the founder that Bumble had the lowest abuse rates of any platform couldn’t be substantiated and, in fact, was contradicted by a 2018 survey of dating app users.
Helium is pushing itself as a friendly place for conversations to thrive rather than a knight in shining armour, so its approach to keeping users in line is to allow you to leave reviews of each other instead.
After you’ve chatted with someone for a bit and exchanged a few messages, you can give them a tag to let other users know what they’re like.
Most of the tags are positive (cute, chill, funny, nice, etc), but there are also a few negative ones (cringe, ghost, sleazy, rude, etc).
The most common tag is displayed on your profile after receiving three or more votes from other users.
How do you think you’d be judged by the messages you send people on dating apps? Let us know in the comments below.