Clover Lam is no stranger to dating apps. She met her ex-husband on eHarmony, and after they divorced, she went back online four years ago to find love. Lam used apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Coffee Meets Bagel. She had a few short romances, but nothing evolved into the serious relationship she was looking for.
Lam says that getting a sense of someone’s “vibe” is extremely important to her, but hard to suss out from an online profile. So when Lam came across the Beta version of a dating app called Alike, which replaced images and written bios with short video prompts, she signed up as a tester. “I really care about what the energy is like from the other person,” she says.
With traditional apps, Lam would encounter comments from men about her racial preferences for dating. “I felt like I was being stereotyped. They’d ask ‘Oh, are you into just Asian guys? Are you into white guys?’” Lam says. “It can be annoying. It’s almost like I need to prove to other people that I’m an unconventional Asian.” It’s another reason why Alike, which is made for second-generation and third-culture Asians, appealed to Lam. “I feel more seen,” she says. “On Alike, we already have that consensus and understanding.”
Alike is just one of many new dating apps that offer an alternative to popular dating platforms. Torontonian Hanmin Yang is the founder of Alike. “Our goal is to celebrate the Asian experience,” he explains. “Our core message to the Asian community is ‘love yourself’.” The app accomplishes this through video prompt questions like ‘What I love about being Asian is’, ‘I knew I was Asian when’ and ‘Without a doubt, the best noodle soup is.’ “These are prompts that allow people to celebrate their identity, culture and narrative,” says Yang. “That’s really what our selling point is.”
Yang’s app entered beta testing in December 2020 and had 700 downloads across North America in the first week it was launched. He’s aiming to release the full app in June 2021. But Yang says he’s had great feedback from beta testers so far. “People love it,” he says. “You have to try it to know the difference between seeing a profile with static pictures and words versus a video of themselves speaking, telling their life story in a funny and vulnerable and open way. It’s endearing. It creates authentic connections.” Yang explains that while anyone can join and use the app, users are asked to self-identify as being Asian and whether they want to be matched with just Asians or with everyone.
Dating coach and matchmaker Lee-Anne Galloway says that niche apps such as Alike can be a good addition to your online dating strategy. Galloway recommends joining two to three dating apps to increase your pool of connections. And while a new app such as Alike may have a smaller number of users to start, it can be a good compliment to the use of more popular apps such as Bumble and Tinder.
Galloway especially appreciates the video component of Alike. “It takes me back to the old school video VHS dating tapes,” she says. “I feel like video really gives you a better sense of someone. You can hear the way they speak and see their personality.”
Heartcade is another new made-in-Toronto dating app, which soft-launched on March 6 after six months of beta testing. The app combines anonymous messaging — identities and images hidden — with a 1980s video game-themed interface. After 48 hours of anonymous messaging, users can choose who to match with and to reveal their identities.
Galloway appreciates that Heartcade rewards users for good dating behaviour. “You get coins or badges for things like replying back to messages and not ghosting someone,” she says. Those rewards can later be redeemed for profile upgrades such as customized avatars and usernames. Galloway also says anonymous messaging, echoing the popular Netflix show Love Is Blind, can be a good thing for online daters. “It’s offering an opportunity for us to get rid of racial bias,” she says. “It gives more groups of people a better advantage in dating and I think it’s also encouraging us to be less judgemental.”
Founder Amy Ge, who is an avid gamer, came up with the idea for Heartcade in response to the profile and appearance-focused emphasis she encountered using traditional dating apps. “I thought, what’s something that we can do to make dating just a little bit more fun and human?” she says.
Ge has received positive responses from the app so far. “People say they’ve never talked to someone so much on a dating app before, which we think is pretty cool,” she explains. “Seeing how someone looks introduces some bias and maybe some discomfort in really being able to have a genuine conversation. At the same time, we’re scared of being judged too. So we police our behaviour a little bit more. But when it’s a completely safe, unbiased environment where you’re both hidden, people can be themselves. And that’s why people have an incredibly high messaging rate on our platform.”
Regardless of what app you choose to use, Galloway has a few words of advice for online daters. “After 15 minutes (of swiping), you get more judgemental and you’re saying ‘no’ to potentials that you might normally say ‘yes’ to,” she explains. So instead of swiping for hours, Galloway recommends setting a timer on your phone to limit your use. “It’s really good to set boundaries around how you’re using these apps.”
Galloway also recommends not setting high expectations of people before you meet them. It’s an especially important step for apps like Heartcade that leave more to a user’s imagination. “It’s like you’re reading a book and you’re imagining what the character looks like. Then the movie comes out and you’re like, ‘that’s not how I imagined the character to be.’ By being open but optimistic about a match, we’ll avoid getting too disappointed if someone doesn’t turn out the way we hope in person.
Since the pandemic is limiting opportunities for singles to meet organically and in-person, dating apps will continue to be popular. But with the right approach, Galloway believes users can avoid the frustration typical with dating apps. And new apps like Alike and Heartcade can reinvigorate your online dating routine.
“I encourage people not to give up, or to take a break if they need it, and to set better boundaries around how they’re doing it,” Galloway says. “People get burnt out on (dating apps), but I think if you go on them at a reasonable hour, and just for 15 minutes a day, you’re taking action towards finding love, but you’re not overdosed.”