Are you tired of the “hot or not” game of Tinder? Do you think online dating has become a superficial experience based on a quick look at a photo, without any real connection?
Enter dating app Willow, which hopes to change all that. Its motto is “dating with a conscience.” While most apps are based on a numbers game – rejecting people who aren’t quite right as quickly as possible – Willow forces you to keep a more open mind, mostly by hiding photos until a conversation is started and both users feel comfortable sharing. In other words, the photo doesn’t guarantee a real love connection, so how about talking first?
When I spoke with founder Michael Bruch about Willow, he admitted that he wanted a different kind of dating app experience for himself, which gave him the motivation to try creating his own. “Essentially, what I saw lacking in the social media space was empathy,” he said. “I wanted to create something that systematically encouraged empathy between strangers rather than discouraged it.”
At first glance, Willow seems a lot like OkCupid in that it offers a way for users to engage each other not based on a stilted method of back-and-forth emails, but on creative questions that users are encouraged to post. But there is an anonymous component to the app, which compares to other popular apps like Anomo where users can hide their identities behind an avatar until they feel comfortable to share. Bruch says anonymity actually makes people feel more at ease, because there isn’t the pressure to grab attention with your photo. Instead, people can strike up a conversation first and go from there.
“There are very few apps that effectively help us meet new and connect with new people beyond what most would consider superficial connections,” Bruch said. “Frankly, the digital world has made it easier for people to quantify and judge others to extents that exaggerate how we would otherwise interact meeting the same people in real life. In the context of dating, a lot of websites boil down to ‘is your picture good enough to hold my attention for longer than a micro second while I’m scrolling down a page with 100 other pictures.’ Some people are okay with this dynamic, but there are a lot of others like myself that are turned off by a process that feels very superficial.”
Bruch claims his dating app is different from other anonymous dating apps because Willow incorporates a search radius, encouraging people to meet in real life instead of just hiding forever behind a screen.
But how will his new app make dating a kinder experience?
According to Bruch, “once you start talking to someone and getting to know them, you become less inclined to judge them for superficial reasons because you start relating to them on some level. So if you can get people talking to one another, empathy is automatically factored into the equation. People become kinder, and making connections with new people becomes easier.”
Willow verifies all new users via their Facebook accounts. It is currently available only for iPhone users, but an Android version is in the works.