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The power of proximity: how location data affects your love life

Looking for love? Discover the importance of location in the search for The One, and how geodata is used in the most popular apps.

Swipe right. A term that meant literally nothing 10 years ago, but today comes loaded with the hope of finding love, or at least a decent date for Thursday night (it's the new Friday). But have you ever wondered how the smiling faces on your dating app made it to your feed? It turns out that one of the key ingredients of the matching algorithm isn't about your favorite music, or your number one love language. It comes down to your location.

In the realm of dating apps like Tinder or Happn, the quest for Mr or Mrs Right becomes the search for I'm Right Around the Corner. Though this may seem arbitrary, there's both good logic and science backing it up.

Research has repeatedly shown that proximity is one of the most powerful variables that leads to attraction. The seminal contribution to the field came in 1950 from psychologists  Festinger et al, who found that relationships were “determined in large part by physical and functional distance". This is known as the proximity or propinquity effect and put plainly, you're more likely to form a relationship with people you're physically (or psychologically) close to.

Even the researchers who didn't think proximity was the most important factor in long-term relationships still conceded that it's vitally important at the early stages of forming a bond. In his 1961 study, psychologist Theodore Newcomb stated, “proximity promotes readiness of communication, as a result of which, individuals have an opportunity to discover each other's common attitudes."

And it turns out that research on distance in relationships lends even more support to the proximity effect. In a study of 1,000 Americans in long-distance relationships – defined as living at least 132 miles apart – the couples only had a 58% success rate. The participants reported that the hardest part was around the four-month mark – just when most relationships are in their honeymoon phase.

What's the success rate of swiping right?

As they say, the proof of the proximity question is in the pudding. We know that half of all 18-34 year olds use dating apps, while an estimated 23.8 million adults used them in 2018. So we have lots of people looking for love, but what about their success rate? Though they sound like myths when whispered about over cocktails, there are indeed some people who've found love on an app.

In fact, there are plenty of them – 22% to be precise. In a study conducted by online wedding planners The Knot, they found that almost a quarter of the 10,000 recently-married couples they interviewed had met online. Tinder was the leading matchmaker for 30% of all couples who met via an app then got engaged. Next up were OkCupid, then Bumble.

The tech that makes a match

So, it turns out that dating apps work – but how? Tinder was the pioneer of dating apps, and they first opened their digital doors in 2012. To complement the novel swiping functionality, the location feature was also one of the first on the scene. As well as the standard ability to search by location, users were able to select matches that were nearby, in real-time. So, as you travel around your city, or even around new countries, your matches will always be people that are close enough to meet up with.

The app only updates your location once you open it. Using your mobile device's built-in location services, your previous position is replaced by wherever you currently are, so there's no record of your movements.

Other apps do things a little differently. Happn is all about matching you with people that have been in the same places and spaces as you. That means the app constantly tracks of your location in real time so it can match you with people you've passed along the way. Happn explains, “We don't save your location. Only your intersection points are saved so that you can find the people you've crossed paths with."

Tinder, Happn, Bumble, Match – all of these dating apps use location as either a key filtering tool, or the primary starting point for finding matches. Those that are most popular and successful, like Tinder and Bumble, focus on proximity, making precise location technology an extremely valuable asset. As with the search for love, a change in the success your app can come down to looking more closely at your location.

HERE Geoenrichment

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