Stephanie, 24, has been using dating apps for about two years, and while she uses a few that are not marketed specifically to Jews, she prefers to date “members of the tribe.”
“I’ve been on JSwipe, Coffee Meets Bagel, Hinge and Tinder,” said Stephanie, who estimates she has dated about 20 Jewish men who she has met through the apps.
Dating has changed radically in the 21st century for American singles, including Jews. While online dating sites such as JDate and SawYouAtSinai were cutting edge in the early 2000s, they are no longer the method of choice for 20-somethings who spend more time on their phones than on their computers.
The various dating sites mostly work the same way: A photo of a user in the same geographical vicinity appears on a smartphone screen. Users swipe right if they want to strike up a conversation with the person behind the photo. If both users swipe right, they are able to chat instantly, then plan to meet if they so choose.
Stephanie is adept at navigating the various sites and knows the terrain.
“Tinder is a hook-up app, for the most part,” she said. “On Tinder, I’ve had a lot of very direct and rude offers. Coffee Meets Bagel is the best app for people looking for something a little more serious. It’s curated by an algorithm, and they only send you one potential match a day, so you don’t waste a lot of time. Hinge sends you potential matches from people who you have a mutual friend with on Facebook.”
Despite the many matches Stephanie has made through the apps, though, none of them has yet yielded a long-term relationship. And though she is not yet interested in getting married, she would like something more than a quick hook-up.
So, maybe there is something lacking in the basic premise of these apps that rely almost entirely on physical appearances in getting people together.
That is precisely what the recently launched JBolt is banking on.
JBolt is the newest offering from the founders of SawYouAtSinai, a Jewish matchmaking website that employs 450 Jewish matchmakers from around the world and claims responsibility for more than 1,200 engagements since it hit the Internet in 2004.
The difference between JBolt and other dating apps is that in addition to the photos and the swiping, a traditional, human matchmaker is thrown into the mix.
Pittsburgher Tova Weinberg is one of those matchmakers as well as one of the founders of SawYouAtSinai.
Weinberg sees a need for the app in today’s fast-paced world.
“JBolt is faster and more immediate than SawYouAtSinai,” she said, speaking by phone from Israel where she was visiting family. “The people on JBolt are on the app because they want to find someone in close proximity, instantaneously.”
Whereas in old-school matchmaking, the matchmaker would first find a potential match then present it to her clients, the reverse is true with JBolt.
“The kids get involved first,” said Weinberg. “Then I get involved.”
Here’s how it works: after two users approve each other’s profiles on the app, a matchmaker reviews the match to help determine if, in fact, in would be worthwhile for the two to meet. The matchmaker then stays involved to follow-up, assist with the questions that may arise during the dating process and check references, if necessary, according to Marc Goldmann, founder of JBolt. Thirty matchmakers are currently working with JBolt users, he said.
“One advantage of JBolt is that some typical dating apps are not really for long-term relationships,” he said. “Often people express interest in each other, then don’t follow through. They could have 30 or 40 ideas, if people keep swiping, then nothing happens with them. But a matchmaker can control the flow and assist if there are any misunderstandings.”
After just eight weeks on the market, Goldmann says JBolt has more than 6,000 users.
JBolt’s target market is the 25-to-39 range, he said, but noted that its users currently are trending a bit younger.
But even with its distinguishing matchmaker feature, JBolt may have a hard time gaining a footing in the online dating marketplace.
“There are so many dating apps out there now,” said Erika Ettin, a dating coach and matchmaker in Washington, D.C. “The market is pretty saturated. Everyone is copying Tinder. JBolt looks like a replica of the other sites, but the matchmaker part is an interesting concept. But you have to wonder if the matchmaker aspect is adding an extra obstacle.”
Millennials are accustomed to being able to connect immediately with another dating app user, without the interference of an intermediary, pointed out Stacy Miller, who lives in northern Virginia and hosts dating events for Jewish singles.
On the other hand, Miller said, an app such as JBolt, with its matchmakers behind the wheel, could help solve the common problem of users failing to follow through on potential matches.
When Stephanie logged onto JBolt, though, she found “some content-based glitches,” she said, including difficulty in narrowing the search brackets for age and height. She also found it troubling that the app was sending her matches before she provided any information about herself.
“If they make people create serious profiles before they send matches, they would have a chance in the market,” Stephanie said.
“Conceptually it’s nice,” she added. “But I also am having trouble with the name ‘JBolt.’ I don’t think you want to use the word ‘bolt’ in a dating app. It makes it sound like someone is going to bolt after they date you.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.