New app puts a spin on online dating

Spin the Bottle presents a new approach to dating apps.

Spin the Bottle presents a new approach to dating apps. Buy this photo
Photo Illustration by Emma Richter
Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 3:40pm

Spin the Bottle, a new dating app launched at the end of 2016 by entrepreneur Matt Cohen and software developers Andrew Stanton and Nish Patel, is aiming to revolutionize the world of dating apps. Instead of swiping left or right on dozens of photo profiles, Spin the Bottle utilizes video chatting in hopes that it will help users develop stronger connections right away.

The app became available to University of Michigan students in early December, but is available on other college campuses across the country and is most popular at Columbia University and New York University, where it launched in September.

Like other dating apps, users set a geographic range and preferred gender, but the rest is up to chance. Modeled after the party game of the same name, users find a match by “spinning the bottle.”

When someone opens the app, they are met with a circle of profile pictures centered around a graphic of a bottle. The user presses on the bottle image to spin it, and whoever it lands on is immediately called through the app for a thirty-second video chat. After the chat, users can give each other “kisses” to signify interest; if both people give a kiss, the pair matches and can message further through the app’s interface.

Safety features are included to protect users from the uncertainties that could be involved in video chatting. For instance, the app operates using facial recognition, so if the camera doesn’t recognize what it’s pointed at as a face, the call will be immediately blurred out.

Cohen is confident video chatting can lead to a more successful online dating experience. He wrote the Daily in an email he found it difficult to learn any real facts about a person from a dating profile through his own online dating experiences. But he thinks adding video chats to the mix can change this.

“Sure you can get some insight from a profile or photo, but you still don’t know how they act, how they sound and what their personality is like,” Cohen wrote. “When it comes to online dating, video is better because it allows for face-to-face interaction right from the very first contact, meaning that you can assess not only physical attraction but also personality and chemistry, all from your mobile device.”

Columbia University junior Chapman Hughes, the app’s campus representative at Columbia and a junior at the university, thinks the impromptu video-chatting feature is partularly well-suited to college students — especially those who are looking to enter a more serious relationship.

“It’s well-suited to a college campus, especially in our day and age, because it’s so hard to find someone who’s willing to take the time to possibly be in a relationship,” Hughes said. “When you have an app where you’re immediately facing this person, you kind of have to be on your feet and able to say why you’re there and what you’re looking for.”

According to Hughes, her classmates have found that the type of person who uses Spin the Bottle is much more likely to follow up online communication with actual dates than people on other apps, like Tinder. Because of this, she sees the app moving more toward older college students.

“I personally see this moving more towards older students,” Hughes said. “Juniors and seniors, and possibly our large graduate student population, because they’re (more often) the ones who are looking for a meaningful relationship… On other apps, there aren’t a lot of people who are coming out of that with a relationship, or even a great story.”

Stanton, who helped to build the app’s interface from scratch, is 35 and married. He doesn’t have much personal experience with online dating, but he’s hopeful that breaking into the college demographic can be a gateway to other groups of users.

“It’s kind of like what the college kids do is cool for people my age,” Stanton said. “It just spreads. We feel that if we can capture the college market, it will grow from there.”

For now, though, the app is concentrating on college students. Cohen said the team has begun promoting Spin the Bottle in Ann Arbor, and is currently in the process of hiring a campus representative to help with promotion efforts here.

Though the app isn’t as popular at the University yet, LSA freshman Ben Fu thinks Spin the Bottle could become a campus fixture. He said he has only used Tinder in the past, but said he would be open to trying Spin the Bottle if he was looking for something more serious.

“I think it’s better than (Tinder)," Fu said. "You get a better sense of who the person is, rather than just reading their bio. Most people don’t even read the bio anyway. They just swipe right or left.”

On the other hand, Fu hasn’t used dating apps in a while and he thinks he might try his luck outside the digital realm.

“My success with women was a lot better after I stopped using Tinder,” Fu said. “I just learned how to approach them in real life.”