Whitney Linscott’s friends once bet her she couldn’t get 1,000 Tinder matches in a single night.
It was on. Linscott stayed up into the wee hours, indiscriminately swiping right to prove her friends wrong. 1,069 matches later, she had won the bet and realized that there was a problem.
“Dating apps are crazy, man,” she said. “It’s fun, but it doesn’t actually lend itself to dating.”
Between incidents like that one, starting to feel burnt out after 10 years working in the auto industry, and hearing stories from friends about using Tinder as a game to determine who picked up the bar tab, she decided it was time to do something. And along came Bracket, a new dating app launched in July.
Linscott, an ASU grad, started developing the app in 2016. She teamed up earlier this year with Shannon White, a UA class of 2013 alumna and the app’s PR and social media manager. White, a huge sports fan who attended every single football game as a Wildcat, said she likes to think of the app as March Madness for online dating.
Here’s how it works: Each day, the user starts off with 16 potential matches based on age, geographic location and gender preference. Users then ask two potential matches silly icebreaker questions generated by Bracket (“If you were an ice cream flavor, what flavor would you be and why?”; “If you were a geometric shape, what shape would you be and why?”) and eliminate the less interesting choice, moving the other pick to the next round. At the end of all the brackets, users end up with one match, and a chat unlocks between two people. Only one connection can be made each day.
“There’s no personality in [other] dating apps,” Linscott said. “It’s meant to be light and easy and silly and engaging.”
It does sound silly, but, on first consideration, almost cruel, or at least sort of like The Bachelor/ette. Comments on a promotional Youtube video for the app compare the process to a job interview, and a user on a Reddit thread about the app said it “sound like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.”
Why not just talk to anyone you feel like matching with? For Linscott, it comes back to that 1,069 match night, and the economics of scarcity.
“When you get that notification, you know that that guy—or that girl, it goes both ways—has eliminated 15 other girls to talk to you.”
So it’s like either being eliminated in the first episode of the Bachelor/ette, before you really expend energy getting invested, or winning the whole thing and feeling hyper-validated.
There is something eerie about the standard dating app set-up, in which users don’t know how many other people a match is chatting with, and so gauging relative and appropriate investment levels is practically impossible. Although it’s kind of a roundabout way to get there, the elimination process does end up being more similar to real life. In a bar, Linscott pointed out, people don’t get to talk to all of the attractive people at the same time. People are kind of forced to bite the bullet in narrow it down.
And while the freedom to explore your options might have seemed like the strength of apps like Tinder and Bumble at the beginning, it’s pretty much common knowledge that they’re not always being used to help users find love. In fact, couples who did meet on Tinder tend to be met with disbelief, because it’s developed such a reputation as a hook-up app.
But it’s not even just that. A 2016 study by researchers at Western Illinois University found that people were using the app primarily for entertainment. Swiping has become more of a way to recreationally pass the time than something with intention or an end goal.
“We live in the apps and then we actually forget to go out on dates, is what I’m finding,” Linscott said.
Janette Artea, a 27-year-old user of the app in Dallas, said she likes that the app eliminates the awkward uncertainty about how to start a conversation, because Bracket’s lighthearted questions break the ice for her. She also said that sometimes it’s hard to choose between two guys in a bracket, but that it forces her to be real with herself.
“Who am I really going to talk to out of all these guys?” she asked herself. “Which one do I actually see myself having a conversation with or going on a date with?”
She said that she’s used Tinder and Bumble in the past, but hadn’t had much success. She’s already given her number out and had coffee with a few people she’s met on Bracket, something that had never happened with Bumble.
Though the app launched nationwide in July, the current focus is on bolstering its presence on college campuses, especially PAC 12 schools. Bracket is even looking for ambassadors at UA to help expand awareness and increase downloads.
“So many people at UA and ASU are already super social,” White said. “We want them to just add them into their social life.”
The app is only available for iOS devices right now, but there’s plans to expand availability to android devices next year so they can get on—and hopefully, off Bracket, Linscott said. That’s part of the goal.
“Just kinda go on a date, and stop swiping,” she said.