How Swipe Left, Swipe Right Became a Cultural Phenomenon

friends swipe right on their mobile devices

A simplified touchscreen command helps users achieve more instant gratification.

In today’s touchscreen world, a “swipe right” is a quick, positive way to communicate interest. Alternately, a “swipe left” is the swiftest way reject something or someone. Whether it’s picking a date on Tinder or choosing a dress on Pinterest, technology brings immediate gratification to so many aspects of our lives.

While some might argue that this swift flick of a thumb or finger on a smartphone, tablet or 2 in 1 screen is leading users to avoid social interaction, many companies are jumping on the swipe right bandwagon by adding it to their digital offerings.

One of the most famous examples of a company embracing swipe culture is the IAC-backed startup Tinder. “Think of all the classic couples who never would have been in the age of Tinder,” Felicity Sargent wrote for Vogue in 2014. Tinder, she wrote, became so popular because it lets users reject someone, guilt free. One swipe and it’s over — no questions asked. On to the next.

Tinder’s predecessor, Grindr, is even more immediate, typically used in real time in public places. Other dating apps like High There cater to people with a common interest — in this case, smoking pot.

For many people, swiping away potential mates based on photos is simply too shallow, so plenty of other dating apps have stepped up to offer something a little different.

Willow takes physical attraction completely off the table by showing no photos, asking questions and then setting up an in-person meeting. Loveflutter uses the same no-photos approach, substituting a descriptive 140 character “quirky fact” instead.

While there is some debate over whether the swiping model is the right way to find romance, several tech companies took notice of Tinder’s immense popularity and applied the same swipe technology to their own businesses.

“I really see the Tinder swipe as a UI pattern, more than anything else,” Chris Calmeyn, cofounder of professional social networking firm Caliber, told Fast Company’s Co.LABS. “It’s just a great way to process information quickly.”

screenshot of the Grip app

Processing information quickly isn’t limited to potential romantic partners. Grip partnered with Linkedin, for example, to create an app for employers to swipe right on potential employees. Similarly, Emjoyment lets employers and applicants upload profiles and give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a potential job or prospect.

Using swipe right for employment reasons makes sense. The technology helps users find positions that might be a good fit without the emotional baggage that goes along with the permanent swipe left in dating apps.

screenshot of the Bark Buddy app

Bark Buddy uses nearly the same technology as Tinder to connect humans with their canine soul mates. The app learns a person’s potential pooch preference by what’s been swiped — including location, breed and size preferences.

“I think as a product designer one of our challenges is how can we make sure that people get into the product as quickly as possible,” Henrik Werdelin, the cofounder of Bark & Co (the company behind Bark Buddy) explained to Co.LABS.

“We thought that it is an incredibly useful method for looking at a number of different dogs, but really what it also allowed us to do is create an algorithm on the backend to present more dogs that you like,” he said.

The same idea of instant gratification through curated swiping is behind some of the most successful music and shopping apps. Songza, Songhop and Pandora play songs in a curated playlist based on whether gave a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on the previous song.

For online shoppers, the clean and efficient Strut lets users navigate purely by swiping, while Kwoller uses the same swipe technology before sending users directly to seller sites.

When you know what you’re in the market for — the perfect job, dress, song, puppy — these apps can make life much easier. Swiping right or left on a person might work if you know exactly what you’re looking for. But when it comes to relationships, who does?

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