Danny Liao

Profile: Jessica Carbino, Tinder Sociologist

Jessica Carbino is everything you would expect a tinder sociologist to be: very American, confident, beautiful, and clearly extremely intelligent. She is kind enough to meet me in her the lobby of her hotel, The Eastgate, a short while before she speaks at The Oxford Union’s Social Media debate last Thursday.

My initial question was of course, how does one find themselves in the field of tinder sociology?

“It’s actually a really wonderful and great story.” she explains. “I was getting my PhD at UCLA, writing my dissertation, single, and using tinder as so many people do…

“I was single and in LA and swiping, trying to meet somebody… and I matched with Sean Rad, the founder of tinder. One of the wonderful things about tinder as a company is that we encourage all of our employees to be on the app whether they’re in a relationship or married, as we want them to be using the app to see how its functioning, to talk to the users to check out their experience, because we think by understanding their experience, we help create the best product possible.

Jessica explains how despite the fact Sean was in a relationship, they began chatting.  He became intrigued with her subject of study. “He said, ‘I’d love you to come into the office and meet with me, to discuss your work.’ I meet with him, and 30 minutes later I had a job.”

I’m amazed by this simplicity (“yes, very simple”, Jessica laughs). I also can’t help but find it amusing that Sean Rad, the founder of Tinder, isn’t using the app in the same capacity as everyone else – yes to meet people, but for research and not with romantic intentions.

So, what exactly does a tinder sociologist do?

“My job at tinder is to understand the experience of our users, and use that understanding to help improve their experiences. I conduct interviews with users, focus groups, data analysis…For example, we did a really big study recently looking at profile photos – to understand how users present themselves, to make sure we provide users with a lot of information about how to put their best foot forwards.

“When you smile you make yourself far more likely to be swiped right on – actually 14% more likely – because you appear to be kind and approachable.”

As a keen user of tinder myself, I’m obviously intrigued. I ask what can I do to maximise my chances being matched (a term I weirdly call swipe right-ability, in front of Jessica).

“Well i think there are just some basic things that people can do at a fundamental level to try and make themselves more attractive to the greater pool of potential matches. One of them is smiling – people don’t realise that when you smile you make yourself far more likely to be swiped right on – actually 14% more likely – because you appear to be kind and approachable.

“I also would recommend that people try to think about the type of image they want to put out there of themselves… For example, somebody who is very interested in art should try and signal that, because they’re going to attract somebody who would be interested in art as well.”

I note how well this can also function as conversation starters, and also make sure to let Jessica know that my tinder profile features lots of art. “Great”.

I tell her about another interview of hers that I read while researching her, where Jessica says that a profile photo isn’t just about how attractive a person is, but its also a window into their “soical, er…”

“background and milieu? Absolutely.

“I think that one of the things about photographs, or even just looking at someone generally, is how much information we can glean about them. When we’re in the real world, we’re quickly and very accurately ascertaining a great deal of information about somebody in seconds. This is a process called thin slicing from a psychological perspective, whereby we’re able to take very small slice of information about somebody and make a judgement that’s very accurate. When were looking at a photo of somebody we’re not just analysing whether they’re attractive – we’re looking and asking ‘do we believe this is somebody who not only we would find to be compatible, but would also find us to be compatible with them?

“This can be ascertained from a variety of things: ‘what are they wearing? how are they standing? what venue are they in? are they smiling? do they feel kind and approachable? all these factors are coming into the calculus of determining a match.”

I’m intrigued by this idea of a dialogue when viewing a tinder profile, and it’s definitely something I’ve noticed myself when on the app – you’re not just looking at how attractive you find a person, but also how suitable they would find you.

I move the conversation on to the larger topic of online dating; it’s revolutionised the way in which people meet each other and interact with each other romantically. Jessica agrees:

“Historically, people have only had the opportunity to meet people who are approximate to them, existing within their immediate social circles. With online dating, people have the opportunity to meet people who they otherwise would never have come into contact with; it’s expanded the scope of potential partners – I think thats a really exciting prospect.”

I think this resonates particularly true for the app, Tinder. The swipe is so instantaneous, it allows for a large pool of potential matches to be assessed quickly. Jessica however,  doesn’t fully agree – she thinks that the particularly revolutionary aspect of Tinder is how it has removed what could be considered socio-economic hurdles in online dating:

“It’s democratised dating in such a meaningful way. There aren’t these barriers that have historically existed on online dating sites and apps: payment, or having access to a desktop computer.”

“It’s democratised dating in such a meaningful way. There aren’t these barriers that have historically existed on online dating sites and apps: payment, or having access to a desktop computer. By having the smart phone be the mechanism by which people are matching gives people wider access.”

I want to ask Jessica about the stigma surrounding online dating – something which I definitely feel is still prevalent in certain circles, and something I noticed when I first started using the app. So, does a stigma still exist, and how did it come about in the first place?

“Well, the stigma has dropped dramatically over the past 10 years over the past 5 years, especially with the introduction of the smart phone. People not only see their friends and family using online dating but also see them experiencing success. Online dating has become the single most important and popular way that people have met their romantic partners in the past 2 years.

“I think with all kinds of new technology theres some kind of stigma around it – people fear unknown technological innovations, and until they have experience with those types of innovation, people tend to be hesitant.

So a fear of the unknown, I surmise,

“Correct. And thats true of all technology whether its a smart phone, online dating software… a microwave…”

I can’t help but think theres another element to the stigma, and that’s the personal fear of putting yourself out there. Releasing your profile to the world is a scary prospect for some people – and therefore stigmatises it. Jessica agrees, but also notes:

“What i think is revolutionary about tinder is that with most online dating there is a fear of rejection, but with tinder you have the double opt in which really changed the online dating game. Now, both people have to match with each other prior to communicating. This idea of rejection is then strongly eroded.”

This is true, and I think will continue to become more true as time progresses. Our time is up, and although I refrain from asking her for a personal assessment of my tinder profile, I learn a little more about Jessica’s life in LA and in particular, her two Maltipoo puppies called Bonnie and Clyde, which I am now following on Instagram. Jessica’s speech at the union later is incisive and comic, and makes many valid points about the importance of connection and communication in today’s world.