The Seven Days of Swiping, Day 5: How Grindr Cornered the Gay Dating App Market for Men
Grindr’s main demographic is gay men. So how did it become widely known?
Grindr is a queer case of lightning in a bottle. While the most popular free dating apps of the digital age are Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and OkCupid, only Tinder has the same public recognition as Grindr.
Grindr is an app for gay, bi, and trans men-seeking-men (MSM). It was released in 2009 by CEO Joel Simkhai who came out as gay to his parents a decade earlier. Grindr gained notoriety fighting for same-sex marriage in the United States when it lobbied the Supreme Court in 2012. The app has been recognized as exceptional, winning awards in 2011 and 2012, and would grow to have more than 30 million users as of 2019.
Grindr has had its own share of controversies over the last decade, such as experiencing blowback for not advocating for trans identity and selling user data. However, it has become not simply the most popular gay dating app, but also one of the most popular dating apps of all time.
Joel Simkhai also attempted to use this fame to launch the dating app Blendr, an all-inclusive dating app, but the market was already saturated with other, more popular dating apps.
What is Grindr?
Grindr is an app that is closer to OkCupid than other dating apps we have covered. Users create a profile that includes their physical traits, personality traits, sexual orientation, and preference (Top, Bottom, Vers), as well as their HIV status. Like OkCupid, you can message people whenever and in whatever order you want. People outside your filters can also message you, and users may receive unsolicited messages from people they never intended to speak to.
This is not the fault of the messenger, however, because there is no way to know what filters other people are using.
In our OkCupid article, we spoke at length about why this type of messaging is a bad idea, but the intentions of people who use Grindr are more variable than what people ostensibly use OkCupid for.
Studies suggest gay dating and sex have always been relatively non-monogamous compared to straight dating and sex, and Grindr capitalizes on this knowledge of the community. Because many Grindr users are looking for either Mr. Right or Mr. Right-Now, what doesn’t work for a hardcore dating app like OkCupid works on the casual dating app Grindr.
Why should you use Grindr?
There are a number of reasons why someone might be interested in using Grindr, especially if they are part of the MSM community. Grindr is the top app for gay or bi MSM, and anyone interested in Grindr has likely heard what the app is known for already.
However, for anyone who is interested in learning more before using the app, or for those who are interested in seeing why Grindr is now a household name, below we discuss the main positives and negatives associated. We also explore its continued success as well as its biggest blunders.
1. Size isn’t everything, but it helps
While there are many reasons that may have contributed to Grindr’s success, there is one central aspect that has helped it thrive.
In 2009, society was moving toward the acceptance of same-sex marriage and relationships, but many people were and still are against the legalization of same-sex marriage. While many sites like Match.com and OkCupid have had options for same-sex dating in the early 2000s, Grindr was the first site to cater specifically to the gay community, and to give gay daters community for free.
Grindr was also one of the first dating apps to move to phones, which made it more available for people on-the-go. This would be a drastic and welcome change for many of the casual daters using the app, as being available remotely helped users find partners more quickly.
By filling the space that wouldn’t be occupied by Tinder or OkCupid for another year, Grindr cemented a userbase of 2.4 million daily active users and nearly 6 million monthly active users in 2016.
2. An app that understands its community
Joel Simkhai came out to his parents as gay in 1998, and used his experiences over the next decade to create Grindr.
In 2020, it is hard to imagine that people can still be fired or killed for their attraction anywhere in the world, and this is still true in industrialized countries like the US and Canada. When apps like Match.com or OkCupid started offering same-sex dating, few people used it out of fear of being discovered or denial of one’s own identity.
But with Grindr, people using the app are attracted to other men, which acts as a buffer against people of different identities discovering you.
Grindr also understands its target community better than any other dating app that has existed. This is a group characterized by sexual freedom and hookups, and the setup of the app compliments that. People can message each other whenever and how much they want, so it is very easy to find someone if you are looking for something immediate.
The MSM community is also characterized by people who care about sexual health. The community was ignored by previous American administrations during the height of the AIDS epidemic, and this is why HIV and AIDS continue to ravage the community today.
This is why the app reminds users to get tested for HIV every three to six months while tracking the last time you were tested, It also lets people list their status.
There are some issues, as users are supposed to self-disclose and many may choose not to. Yet this is a welcome addition for people who want to have safe sex.
1. Turn your notifications off for this one, folks
In the previous section, we discussed how people can message each other whenever and with no limits. The way OkCupid and Hinge control this is by giving people one message to introduce themselves, and others have to respond to allow the conversation to continue.
Grindr could benefit from this as well. Currently, people can send messages and pictures to people who have never responded to them. People can receive literally hundreds of messages in the same day, many of which will be sexual and, in many cases, unwanted.
One other point is that you will not be interested in many of the people who message you. Because anyone can see you if you fall within their range of interest, you will receive messages outside your range of interest often. No other app we have discussed so far has this issue, which makes us think that this could be fixed easily.
However, because Grindr measures daily active users for shareholders, it is helpful to have people constantly checking the app.
2. Selling your data, but with a bonus
We have discussed how many of these dating apps will sell your data to advertisers, and Grindr is no exception; but, while many apps do this, Grindr’s selling of data is much more dangerous in comparison.
Same-sex-seeking individuals regularly face increased health care costs and the likelihood of getting fired or killed based on who has their information. Coming out to one’s family may already be difficult, but having the world know your sexuality can put your safety at risk.
While there is no guarantee that sexuality data will be used in this way, some companies have shown the public how data is used. Websites such as 23andMe and Ancestry, which use your DNA data to show you where you are from, have sold their data to companies for research and criminal justice reasons.
And while it is good for users to know if potential partners have HIV, it is not as good for third-party companies to receive that same info. If both the private and public sector can get a hold of data from DNA, then who knows what kind of data can be gathered and used just from downloading and making a profile on an app.
3. Possibly the most dangerous app for the MSM community that exists
On top of other ways Grindr shares its info about users with third-party companies, Grindr has no protection for its users who already deal with so many other dangers.
One person has investigated how easy it is for people to track others using Grindr which, because Grindr constantly updates the locations of users to one-tenth of a mile, allows a person to get closer or farther from people in real time. Without matching or being able to see outside your filters, a complete stranger could be following you, and you would never know.
Beyond what could happen with tracking users, there are also multiple cases of men being assaulted after being led by strangers to a remote location. While we at Future of Sex always recommend meeting people for the first time in a public space, this type of targeting is actually out of Grindr’s control.
The only reason Grindr is the app best known for these attacks is because it is the most popular gay dating app, and people who want to hurt others, especially for their sexuality, will use popular points of contact to do so.
Anyone can make a profile on any dating app, fill it with fake information, and use that to lure unsuspecting people into dangerous situations, so blaming Grindr for this would be unfair for the app. However, when we can clearly see that Grindr is being used for assault, our recommendation is that it might just be safer to use less-popular apps in lieu of Grindr.
Stuff you should know
1. A ‘Surge’ in popularity
While Grindr is the big dating app that everyone knows, there is one alternative that addresses some of our biggest issues. Surge, another MSM dating app, takes the Tinder swiping approach.
While the population of users is much smaller than Grindr, the fact you never receive messages from someone outside your filters and can control your messages based on how often you swipe right makes it a welcome alternative for the MSM community.
2. Grindr Xtra
Like all other dating apps, Grindr has a premium service that users can pay for to maximize their Grindr experience. The service is called Grindr Xtra, and it allows for better filtering, read receipts (viewing whether someone saw your message), viewing more people around you, and other options.
One feature of Grindr Xtra also allows for unlimited blocking of others, which stands out to us as something that should be free to use, especially with all the security issues we have outlined earlier in the article.
Like the other dating apps we have covered, this is a service that can definitely give someone an edge, but it is in no way mandatory for the true Grindr experience.
Should you use Grindr?
Grindr was the first app to be an MSM dating app, and this has paid in dividends ever since. Grindr is one of the biggest dating apps of all time despite catering to a specific group, and its knowledge of the community has created an immeasurable amount of short-term and long-term relationships.
Grindr has also made sexual health and safety an important aspect of its mission, and has made people think twice about engaging safely with sexual partners. Grindr has done a lot of good for the community, but we still have trouble recommending it.
One of the most important things in a relationship is building honest and trustworthy partnerships. While the relationships between dating apps and users are not as interpersonal as the relationships between individuals, Grindr has broken the trust of its users on more than one occasion, selling data repeatedly and getting into trouble for it each time.
Five years ago, we might have recommended Grindr because it was the only app with an MSM focus, but now the times have changed, putting corporate profit over the safety and peace-of-mind of its users.
Every popular app has same-sex options now, so there is no shortage of places for Grindr fans to jump to. The app that is most similar to Grindr would be OkCupid, which we covered the pros and cons of in our previous article. We also recommend Surge, which is a much smaller app than Grindr and avoids many of the issues mentioned above.
Because Surge is smaller and less-known and doesn’t measure distance as intensely as Grindr, Surge minimizes many of the worries the Grindr users may have.
Overall, Grindr is still going to be better for people looking for short-term or casual relationships, but we recommend meeting people initially in public and moving to a private space from there.
For longer-term relationships, Grindr is not our first choice—Tinder occupies that spot. Hopefully, Grindr is able to improve its privacy and the protection of its users in the future, which will also improve our feelings about it. As things stand, the only people we can recommend Grindr to are casual MSM.