Move over, JSwipe, there’s a new dating app for Jewish singles
Marriage is hot on Netflix. “Indian Matchmaking” and “Married at First Sight” — two reality TV programs in which matchmakers pair up real-world couples — make for compulsive watching, especially if you’re one of the billions of people on the planet anxious to find a true mate. It’s heartening too to learn that we are not the problem. The dating apps are.
“Swiping left or right on these apps — the standard for liking or rejecting a dating profile — is pathological,” said Zach Schleien, co-founder with Brian Weinreich of Filteroff, a video-first speed-dating app they debuted in 2020. Schleien, who spoke with the Forward about Filteroff, puts his money where his mouth is. On Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 9 p.m. EDT, Filteroff is hosting the first of several virtual speed-dating events for Orthodox Jewish singles. No swiping. Just chatting, observing, and making connections. All from the comfort of your own home.
Filteroff segments its target audience into discrete “communities.” Previous video-first speed-dating nights have sought to attract vegans, dog lovers, tech workers and Yankee fans. Users join the free events or create their own. Each date lasts about three minutes with an option to continue video-chatting at the end of the session.
“Brian and I had both used phone apps to meet women, and we found the experience a waste of time,” Schleien said. “It was unsatisfying, but, worse, it was unhealthy.”
The science appears to bear out Schleien’s intuition. According to one Australia-based study, users of swipe-based dating apps report higher levels of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, compared to people who don’t use the apps.
Schleien and Weinreich, who met while working together at Weinreich’s software design company, believed the core problem was the medium itself, largely defined by dating app Tinder.
“Tinder gamefied dating and became the new normal for all dating apps,” Schleien said. “As with the best gamefied apps, swiping was addictive. And like all addictions, it could jeopardize your mental health.”
Video-first dating struck Schleien as a no-brainer. On his own, he had turned to Skype and FaceTime for more authentic interactions “with people, not profiles.” He wondered, “Why hasn’t somebody already come up with a video-first dating app?”
The pandemic changed dating culture
Schleien saw the inherent value of video-first dating during the COVID-19 lockdown, a long era of psychological isolation combined with almost nonstop screen-gazing. In pre-pandemic times, most people would not admit to having met their significant other on an app or dating website, he said. “But COVID-19 de-stigmatized app-based connections.”
Indeed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce puts Filteroff in the same born-during-COVID category as children’s learning app Lingokids and remote-work tech provider Frameable. According to an article published by the business organization, these companies “leaned into the tech tools to create lasting businesses in a transformed environment.”
Filteroff’s biggest asset may be in having come late to the dating app party: Weinreich honed his computing skills for 13 years before co-founding Filteroff. These are the very assets he used to develop a detection system that pulls scammers out of Filteroff’s legitimate dating pool and sequesters them in a virtual dungeon where they can do no harm. The real dating pool remains pristine.
But does it really work?
As of spring 2022, Filteroff has clocked some 13,000 virtual speed-dating events for diverse groups in Israel, Nigeria, Kenya, Canada, and India — with nearly no overhead costs. Going forward, the company plans on using some of its $2.4 million in venture capital to host in-person gatherings, primarily at New York City clubs and restaurants. Indeed, Filteroff already held several real-world events earlier this year.
The big question: Does it work?
One user complained that his dates canceled without sufficient notice. Another said his speed dating event never came off because too few women matched his preferences.
Yet one video-first speed dater in Nigeria tweeted, “I’m so happy to announce to you that I got my wife soon-to-be on Filteroff. It was a divine and magical connection . . . ”
No doubt, the Orthodox Jewish singles registered for Filteroff’s upcoming speed-dating night hope to say the same.
Register here for the Aug. 30 virtual speed-dating event for Orthodox Jewish singles.
Barbara Finkelstein is a writer based in New York City.