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The benefits are clearest for people whose preferences mean that discovering possible partners is particularly hard, either because of social isolation or physical isolation.
Same-sex dating, which both operates in a smaller pool than heterosexual dating and is illegal or socially unacceptable in many places, is a particular beneficiary.
In 2013 Tinder, a startup, introduced the masterfully simple idea of showing people potential partners and having them simply swipe right for “yes” and left for “no”; when two people swiped right on each other’s pictures they were put into contact with each other. Such phone-based services are more immediate, more personal and more public than their keyboard-based predecessors.
More immediate because instead of being used to plan future encounters, or to chat at a distance, they can be used on the fly to find someone right here, right now.
But on Tantan “you don’t expose yourself, there’s no danger of getting rejected, you cannot lose face.” As of February, Tantan had 20m users and had created some 10m couples, Mr Wang says, adding: “That’s a significant effect on society.”Unfortunately, the level of significance is hard to analyse or quantify.
A great deal of the relevant data are treated as proprietary by the companies gathering them.
Yu Wang, the chief executive of Tantan, founded in 2015 and now one of China’s largest dating apps, says the country’s offline dating culture is practically non-existent.
“If you approach someone you don’t know and start flirting, you’re a scoundrel,” he says.
For those seeking same-sex partners the swing is even more striking.The bicycle increased young people’s choices immeasurably; so did city life.But freed from their villages, people faced new difficulties: how to work out who was interested, who was not and who might be, if only they knew you were.Last year saw a rare Indian tech-sector IPO when raised 500 crore rupees (m) to help it target the marriage market.In countries where marriage is still very much in the hands of parents, today’s apps offer an option which used hardly to exist: casual dating.