Want to do online dating? If you’re a guy, there are plenty of platforms designed with you in mind—created by engineers who are most likely men and refined thanks to feedback from early adopters, also likely men. The pickings are much more slim for women seeking women, which is why it’s notable that U.K.-based dating and social app Her is launching nationwide in the U.S. today.
Her isn’t just a pink-hued lesbian version of Grindr, which is essentially what gay app Bender (now Wapo) did when it introduced Brenda (now Wapa). Where gay dating apps mostly follow a hot-or-not, judge-only-by-pictures model, Her is expressly designed to encourage conversation between users until they know enough about each other to meet in person—which is exactly the slow-burn approach that women prefer when dating, says Her founder Robyn Exton. That’s what Exton found in the two years since launching Dattch, the lesbian dating app precursor to Her that catered to the U.K. and select U.S. cities.
While Dattch was a pure dating app, Exton and her team expanded Her to become a social community experience—a digital place for queer women to converse. Exton and her team kept Dattch’s profile and core dating mechanism but added a news vertical and a user-submitted events calendar. While the news section serves as fodder for users to comment on and interact with each other, the events calendar lets locals know of events outside their social circles to meet women.
“The gay scene varies a lot by city—Phoenix, for example, has less of a social element because they don’t have as much going on as New York City,” says Exton. “But the events section is for meeting girls who will go to these events as well. There’s never been a centralized place for queer women. You find out about an event through friends of friends on Facebook but you find it weeks later. The goal of the events section is for us to never find out about an event after it happens.”
Expanding the app’s focus beyond dating reflects a need for a sea change in LGBT digital space. As more gay clubs close and lesbian bars shutter—ironically, because queer people (like everyone else) are increasingly looking for partners online—Her aims to become a digital place for women seeking women to interact and do more than only prowl for romantic partners and hookups. Since launching Dattch in 2013, Exton learned that people often went on the app simply looking for friends and kindred spirits.
“The biggest things we found were that the need for women to meet each other extended way beyond dating—relationships, to meet and talk with other queer women,” says Exton. “Dating was not necessarily a core problem for Dattch, but anything beyond dating we were unable to address in a platform that was not designed for that at all.”
Providing space to chat makes Her mirror how women go out in real life, says Exton. Women meet up in groups, have conversations in groups, and go to bars in groups to meet other groups. If girls go to bars or see someone in another group, that’s what the news feed section resembles: having a good conversation and seeing which individuals want to privately message, says Exton.
The titans of online dating, Tinder and OkCupid, have an edge over new dating platforms with sheer user population, but the woes of women seeking women on those traditional dating platforms are also well documented. Often, those services’ sorting algorithms will erroneously include straight men and/or women in the feeds of women seeking women, Extons says; at worst, aggressive straight men will change their information to show up on lesbian feeds to message and pursue women who aren’t in the market for straight men. Regardless of poor algorithms or unpoliced trolling, those platforms are perceived by some as insecure and unsafe spaces for women seeking women, says Exton.
So to keep Her a safe space, Exton and her team made sure the app welcomes all women who are interested in other women, even women first experimenting with other women. Self-identifying your sexuality is a nuanced process, and Her has a dozen choices—including the choice to take no label at all, which grew from 1% to 9% of all Her users over the course of last year’s beta test.
“Ages ago, a girl I met at event had started sleeping with [female] flatmate. She didn’t know what that meant for her and her sexuality. Then she started using [Dattch] and realized that it didn’t matter how she saw herself, and it didn’t matter to other users either. It was however she felt comfortable using it,” says Exton, adding that Her is the same way. “There’s no judgment on what your sexuality is and why you’re here.”
Her’s welcome extends to transgender women and will not require users to list their gender, though that option is available.
After a year of beta testing in seven U.S. cities, Her goes live today nationwide on iOS, with an Android release in the near future. While Her raised $1 million back in March, they’ve yet to nail down a monetization strategy (though they may mirror Tinder and other apps’ use of monthly subscriptions for premium features or partnered events, Exton says). In the meantime, the app is just focused on optimizing the experience.