If you were active in the online dating scene 10 years ago or knew people who were — you might remember a very different world. Sure, a decade might as well be a lifetime in digital years, but it’s still remarkable how much has changed.
Some of these changes were easy to predict at the time. By the mid-2010s, leading-edge dating apps were already mobile-friendly and more or less gamified. The “swipe left/right” framework was already a thing. Modern versions of apps that existed back then, and new apps that have come online since, are (as expected) much further down the mobile, gamified path. Basically, everyone in the online dating market has a smartphone now, so why wouldn’t they?
But the most profound shifts in online dating have been cultural rather than technological. And DOWN Dating App, an under-the-radar platform that was actually more popular than Tinder when it launched in 2013, has arguably done more than any other to drive those changes.
DOWN is still pushing the envelope today, creating a fun, flexible, safe, and sex-positive environment for more than 10 million users worldwide. Here’s why it’s the most important dating app you’ve never heard of. Plus, why it’s poised for even greater relevance as it enters its second decade.
“Bang With Friends” Storms the Dating Scene
Launched in January 2013 as Bang With Friends (BWF), the app’s early marketing campaigns tracked with that provocative brand. Within months of BWF’s launch, it had prime features on The Colbert Report and in blue-chip digital publications like BuzzFeed, Gawker, and The Daily Beast.
BWF surpassed 1 million users in April 2013, about three months after its launch. The following month, it launched in the App Store and immediately ranked higher than Tinder, then (and arguably still now) the “reference” dating app. Founder Colin Hodge emerged from anonymity, parlayed their app’s popularity into a $1 million capital raise led by Tim Draper and Great Oaks Ventures, and rebranded to the slightly less salacious “DOWN.”
Breaking the Hush-Hush Dating App Mold
Hodge’s app did a lot of things differently in those heady early days. But its biggest innovation was simply being open and honest about its purpose.
Before BWF, dating apps largely danced around the “uncomfortable” fact that they existed to broker romantic — and sometimes purely sexual — relationships. Incumbents like eHarmony and Match.com (now just “Match”) used awkward questionnaires and opaque algorithms to pair users, often with disappointing results, all-the-while marketing their platforms to match users with their “soulmates.” Early iterations of Tinder employed euphemisms like “discovering new friends.”
BWF dispensed with all that. Its first version was a simple, anonymous “Facebook dating app” that let users choose which friends they’d like to hook up with. There was no fanfare, no beating around the bush, and no uncertainty about what a mutual match meant.
The cash infusion and DOWN rebrand led to a slicker, more feature-rich app that wasn’t so closely tied to users’ Facebook networks. But the spirit remained the same: to defeat the then-powerful stigma around digital hookups and show skeptics that no-strings dating could be safe and fun.
Up, Down, Left, Right
DOWN’s transition to a full-fledged mobile dating app brought a flurry of new features.
The app was familiar to users who’d tried Tinder, Grindr, Plenty of Fish, and other mobile dating/hookup apps. But DOWN was (and is) very much its own. Plus, its uniqueness helped it scale quickly to more than 5 million users by 2016.
DOWN added location-based matching early on. This allowed users to find potential partners — often at the same party. It also improved upon the “swipe left/right” binary popularized by Tinder and Grindr with a three-directional architecture:
- Swipe LEFT if you’re not interested (continue to the next potential match)
- Swipe UP if you’re interested in something more serious (DATE)
- Swipe DOWN if you’re interested in something more casual (HOOKUP)
With two buckets for potential matches, DOWN offers a more customized experience and gives users control over what they want. If you’re only in the market for hookups, that’s fine — just swipe DOWN whenever someone catches your eye — if you’re only in the market to date, it’s the same deal. And if you want both, well, you have the option. In any case, the risk of awkward, even painful miscommunication when you match, is much lower.
DOWN’s simple yet innovative approach to personal matching has pushed (or maybe pulled) other apps down this path. For example, once upon a time, Tinder’s reputation was exclusive as a hookup app. Though it’s still facilitating hookups, it’s now a bit more welcoming for users seeking deeper connections. The opposite is true for at least some legacy online dating sites like OkCupid and Match — they’re not go-tos for casual flings, but they’re a bit less awkward than before. Now, a plethora of casual dating apps are on the market, with DOWN leading the charge as a sort of “Tinder for hookups.”
Staying One (Or Three) Steps Ahead
In the years since the launch of its full mobile app, DOWN has steadily added first-in-class features. These include some for paired-up users eager to spice up existing relationships:
- 3Some: This one pairs users open to (or actively seeking) threesome hookups or polyamorous relationships. It works if you’re single and looking for two new partners. Or if you’re already in a relationship and you’d like to add a third. According to DOWN’s own data, 22% of single users are looking for two people to join a new “3some,” and about 5% are looking to add one more to an existing pair.
- Snap Match: A top alternative to Tinder’s Passport feature, you tap “Spin,” and DOWN instantly pairs you with a random person who fits your profile preferences. The catch: They could be anywhere in the world. It’s a great way to explore long-distance flings that may or may not turn into something more durable, or just to pass a few minutes chatting with someone you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.
- Highlights: These profile stickers help you stand out from DOWN’s ten million-plus users, and help you find just the type of person you desire. Use them to express your out-and-about personality, romantic preferences, bedroom behaviors — whatever strikes your fancy.
- Icebreakers: These fun, low-pressure games are for those awkward early moments when you’re not quite sure what to say. DOWN has two right now: “Would You Rather,” which you might remember from high school, and “Photo Challenge,” where you share photos based on the app’s prompts.
Up Is the New DOWN
DOWN Dating App’s recent innovations have contributed to an impressive resurgence that’s much more than a byproduct of the post-COVID bounceback in online dating.
Since Q4 2019, the percentage of users who’ve found matches on DOWN has grown by a whopping 500% — that means five times as many people matching — while revenue has grown by some 250%. Downloads have more than doubled during that period. This suggests a mix of longtime users getting back in the mix and new users coming into the fold.
DOWN indeed operates in a crowded marketplace that big players like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge increasingly dominate. But its unique, sex-positive features and easy-to-use interface have helped it grow its niche. As of late 2021, DOWN was more popular (as measured by new downloads) than eHarmony and Her. Additionally, it sat just behind heavyweights like Match, OkCupid, and Grindr.
The future looks bright for DOWN, which is very good news for the future of online dating.
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