#open – Dating, Whatever Your Tribe

Ever since prehistoric person invited their first crush back to the cave for fire shadows and chill, dating has been a pretty fraught prospect. A new friend is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates–until you open the lid, you don’t have a lot of idea what’s inside.

That’s especially true when you’re not seeking partners in person, but at some distance. Abbreviation-laden ISO personals in local magazines offered a few highlights, small glimpses into a person’s interests and preferences; blurry pictures with terse copy in national swinger directories even less so. (No, I’m not dating myself in the slightest with these references…)

Things were perhaps a little better once humans went online – Craigslist (back when people were allowed to express their natural human interests there) at least offered more room for description and some alluring copy than magazine personals. OKCupid was perhaps the most successful of the bunch in allowing people to present themselves as they were, but its design also allowed unwelcome commentary and contact. (The list of available self-descriptors on FetLife, the kinky Facebook, while diverse, is somewhat limited — and it’s not set up as a dating site.)

Then came the Tindrs, Grindrs, Lavendrs, Bumbles, and other online dating apps. Each had high points and low, but they also tended to be aimed at particular communities or people looking for particular things. The world was ready for one app to rule them all.

What About Something More… Open?

What if you could describe yourself in your own words? What if you could match people based on specific interests and/or desired activities? What if gender identity, preferences, kinks, and relationship structure didn’t get in the way? What if you could just find your own tribe? Those seem to be the questions motivating the developers of a new app, #open (yes, the # is part of the name.) How’d they do?

#open, as the name might imply, is built around hashtags. When you create a profile, you get to choose gender and preference from an unusually diverse list, or you can create your own.

Profiles include a limited-length written description, but the real key is the lists of hashtags. Things you’re interested in; things you’re looking for; where your boundaries are. (If you set a boundary against something someone else really likes, it shows up in red on their profile to alert you to a potential incompatibility.) You get to set all of this down in your own words, although there’s already an extensive list of existing items to choose from. This ability to freely self-describe and create the basis for matches on specific items you choose is #open ’s secret sauce. And it’s flexible enough to even let you define the headings–”I’m Looking For” can become”My Kinks” or whatever you choose. You can also decide whether others see your boundaries and other lists — or not.

Add a cover picture and up to six more, and you’re live. Overwhelmingly, #open users, as you might expect of a dating app, use their faces as their main picture. You have the option of putting something else, and only sharing face pictures via message once you have matched with someone. There is currently no option to limit who can see your uploaded pictures, to lock some off for matches as opposed to any #open user.

Bring a Friend

A major difference setting #open apart from similar apps is that you can have two profiles. You can put yourself out there and have an additional profile with a partner. Both can be active at the same time. In fact, going through #open listings in various geographical areas, it’s quite common to see a couples profile followed by either or both of them singly. #open is thus the most suitable app I’ve seen for people in various forms of polyamory; no surprise, given the name. In fact, people in multiple relationships, regardless of their gender and preference descriptions, seem to be the main audience. (Friends of this blog will know that this is some cause for celebration.)

#open ‘s main screen shows either a single profile at a time or two columns. Each has a drop-down to view their text description and hashtags, buttons to like or pass on the profile, and a series of dots to indicate how many of their hashtags match yours. Switches at the bottom of the screen let you filter in or out those you’ve passed on, matched, liked, or not yet seen. You can also search profiles by hashtag or username.

A series of switches and sliders lets you filter displayed results by their gender description, partnership form, age, and distance.

What’s Your Area?

#open uses location in a couple of interesting, if curiously implemented, ways. The people it shows you are based on your current location, within a range you set. (Despite having a 50-500 slider, it current only offers three range options– 50, 275, and 500 miles. Some more granularity could be useful, especially to hit that 100 mile/2 hour sweet spot many people have for relationships.)

Another useful feature is that you can set your location, for example to scout out prospects for future travel. Remember, though, that as currently configured, #open only lets people see you if you are within their set range. So if you set your location into a new city to go browsing and select potential matches, then set back to your current location, you may be out of range of the people in that future city, who won’t be able to see you to confirm matches. And even if you do successfully match with someone more than 500 miles away, you won’t see them on the main screen (they will still show up in your chat list) until you are both within each other’s minimum radius. It would be nice to be able to see all confirmed matches at all times regardless of how far away they are.

The Match Game

So, how does matching work? There’re really two philosophies about that in the dating world. One is that if you see someone and click to indicate interest, they should get notified of that so that they can look at you and decide whether to respond similarly. Instead, #open takes a double-blind approach, where you click on a checkmark under a prospect’s picture (or an X in order to pass on them), but they are not notified of your interest until they independently see your picture, decide they like it, and click *your* checkmark. When you have both indicated interest, a match is announced. Until then, you have no idea who has looked at you and they have no idea you have looked at them. That eliminates the feeling of being passed over that some other apps can give you when you have an idea of who or how many people have seen your profile and not reacted to it. With #open, you only get the good news.

You also can’t use #open’s chat feature to talk to anyone until they have made that mutual match. This helps avoid the kind of harassment people experience on other dating apps and sites where anyone can message anyone.

Oh, and if you run across your professor/student/mother-in-law/ex or anyone else you’d rather not have reading your list of kinks, you can block individual users from seeing you altogether. Or in the altogether.

Quirks

#open is officially a beta — as of this writing, the release is 0.9.22 (245). So some things may change before release, and some perhaps (like location granularity) should.

A significant issue is that hashtags have to match exactly. Capital-F “Flirting” does not match small-f “flirting” (although, to be sure, people with different ideas about capitalization rules may not be a decent match for each other.) Someone with an interest in “demisexuality” will not match someone describing themselves as “demisexual”; that is to say, you will still see them and be able to like them and match with them, but the common-hashtag score won’t indicate common interest, and searching on one term won’t return the other.

Prospects are sorted by distance from you or whatever location you have chosen. There is currently no option to sort by number of interest matches or any other feature.

Also, because of the way #open currently validates logins, it cannot be used on more than one device at a time. If it is on your phone, logging in on a tablet disconnects the phone, and vice-versa. The good news is that their login system is native, and doesn’t require you to go through Facebook or any third party.

Finally — at least for now, I’m still testing — the chat page refreshes whenever you return from another app or another #open page, which means if you had draft text not yet sent, it won’t be there when you return.

But Yes, #open It

Nits aside, #open is a serious attempt to make everyone available to everyone on their own terms without limiting choice. Gender identity, orientation, relationship style — you get to set what you want to and seek what you desire. Life doesn’t get a lot more open than that.

This is the relationship app for everyone who thought there would never be a relationship app for them.

They’re on the web at hashtagopen.com and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pg/hashtagopenapp/. #open is currently free for use, with no extra-cost options.

(No remuneration or endorsement was involved in this review; I simply downloaded the app and tried it out. I may not keep it; polysaturation is already an issue, and this app could make it much worse! For now, though, I am @pleasurer there.)