In recent weeks, two new mobile dating apps have been added to what’s becoming an increasingly crowded market. One, called Meld, is marketed to black professionals seeking meaningful long-term relationships; the other, Luxy, invites wealthy individuals to find someone with whom to share their high-end lifestyles.
Both are not entirely new ideas to the online dating market. Meld covers similar territory to websites aimed at the black community such as Black People Meet and Black Planet. But the app differs from these services in several ways: It is mobile only, to appeal to an increasingly jet-setting demographic, and a user must have both a Facebook and a LinkedIn account. Users create profiles using photos from Facebook; your professional title is grabbed from your LinkedIn account. And the app, like so many these days, uses the hot-or-not card interface to check out potential matches.
Luxy, another Tinder-type swipe-to-match service, also expands where other desktop services began. It is a mobile-based app by the same people who thought up MillionaireMatch.com, a 13-year-old site that advertises itself as “the original and largest millionaire dating site.” It also brings to mind SeekingArrangement.com — and Ruth Padawer’s 2009 New York Times Magazine piece on the service — a site that offers the opportunity to connect “beautiful, successful people” for “mutually beneficial relationships” — as in, seeks to connect wealthy men with young, beautiful women. More generally, sites like JDate and ChristianMingle, catering to Jewish and Christian populations, respectively, have been around for years.
Luxy’s launch, however, provoked a lot of backlash. The news release did not mince its words, calling the service “Tinder minus the poor people.” Many found that cause for offense: Doug Gross at CNN dismissed Luxy as “the Tinder app for snobs.” He pointed to the fact that, rather than using an algorithmic matching system or designating hobbies, Luxy asks users to choose their five favorite luxury brands as a means to find users with shared interests. “Presumably, that will help track down the Mercedes-Prada-Gucci-Louboutin-Dom Perignon enthusiast you’ll want to spend the rest of your life with,” he says. Brian Merchant at Motherboard pans the app as “a shining new milestone in the pantheon of offensive apps.” Other apps, like SketchFactor, were bad enough, he says, but Luxy dispenses with “the last vestiges of nicety” in its explicit language about avoiding the poor.
Meld elicited some skepticism as well. At Ebony, Kirsten Magwood asks whether separating black people from a larger pool of singles is necessary: “Is racially based dating a dated concept in 2014?” She continues, “Does sharing occupational information before even meeting a person create a climate of opportunistic dating?” Yesha Callahan at The Root wondered whether Meld was the app for “bourgie black people.” Though she considers herself a professional — sort of: “I immediately looked down at the $1 Old Navy flip-flops I had on. They were definitely not sophisticated” — she wondered if it was necessary to weed out people based on professional status. The app, she thought, “may be perfect for those black people who pride themselves on status, how many professional acronyms they have at the end of their name and their tax bracket.”
But the Meld co-founders, Raissa Tona and Wale Ayeni, told Op-Talk that there’s definitely a demographic with unfilled needs that their app addresses. Both Ms. Tona and Mr. Ayeni cited statistics that black users on broader dating networks like OkCupid or Match.com are less likely to receive messages back than other users. Furthermore, Ms. Tona emphasized, 70 percent of black professional women are single, and 42 percent unmarried, but not by choice.
It’s not entirely clear whether these apps increasingly atomize the population or if they reinforce divisions that already exist. Anne Helen Peterson wrote a long piece for Buzzfeed last month in which she designed her own (idiosyncratic) version of Tinder to test whether users had unconscious biases based on race, religion and class. Talking about a friend who dismissed various potential matches, Ms. Peterson writes:
“Katie never said ‘too not-white,’ ‘too poor,’ or ‘too uneducated.’ We cloak those judgments in language that generally circles the issue: ‘Nothing in common,’ ‘he wouldn’t like me,’ ‘I can’t see us together.’ Those statements aren’t necessarily lies, but they’re also not always full truths either — and often rely on overarching assumptions about what differences in race, class, education, and religion dictate not only in a relationship, but any interaction, romantic or otherwise.”
Ms. Peterson found that class divisions were far more present and insidious than anything to do with race or religion — suggesting that Luxy might be on to something. “Though still anecdotal, Tinder rejection in this simulation appears to be more about class than race or religion,” she writes. Some assumptions may be grounded in details from a photo, but “some are just the way the mind runs wild with class, weaving the narrative that a working-class person probably doesn’t read books for pleasure, or enjoy art cinema, or seek out microbrews, or go on hikes the way a bourgeois, middle-class person does.”
In fact, our self-segregation may work its way into our online lives even when we’re not looking for potential mates. In August, Anna North wrote for Op-Talk about how self-selecting the Internet already is. The algorithms of search engines bump the most popular items to the top, thus reinforcing social norms. We follow people on social media that we choose based on the similarity of their views, or because they are our friends.
Meld and Luxy offer dating opportunities with these choices already baked in. While Luxy did not respond to a request for comment, Meld was adamant that the app would actually make the black community more inclusive. Black professionals tend to move in circles around their industry, and this app helps to connect people across industries. Perhaps an app that’s designed to connect people can counteract the ways the Internet divides us.