College Park – Just in time for Valentine’s Day, thousands of teens and young adults are finally mustering the courage to ask that cute girl or guy, “What do you think about me?”

But instead of scoping out the local bar scene or attending a singles’ mixer, these hopeful romantics are turning to new Facebook apps to find love without the fear of rejection.

Teams of clever app developers have found a novel technological solution to overcome an age-old dating problem: figuring out whether someone you’re interested in feels the same way. Two increasingly popular apps, Tinder and Bang With Friends, take different approaches to solving that problem.

Tinder, launched in September by Hatch Labs, uses location technology to allow strangers who are mutually attracted to each other to meet. Tinder users rate the attractiveness of other app users nearby by reviewing a few photos, personal interests and a self-defining quote.

If a guy wants to get connected to a local girl, he clicks the green heart under her photo or he clicks a red X if he’s not interested. The girl on the other side is probably judging him too, and if there’s a mutual attraction the app connects the users, who can start chatting or flirting.

Tinder makes finding romantic partners as easy as playing Angry Birds. It’s all about who’s hot and who’s not, and personality does not factor into the decision.

“It’s definitely the most superficial app I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” said Amy Arnold, a senior at the University of Texas, who uses the app. “But it’s actually kind of fun to see who you get matched with and if you have mutual friends.”

Tinder was quite successful for Brooks Leitner, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, who was matched with a girl he would eventually meet offline.

“I was on Tinder for a couple hours messing around,” he said. “Then I was at the bar talking to a few girls and five minutes later, one of them pulls up the app and shows our conversation. We talked and hung out and danced that night. I walked her back to her place and got her number. I ended up hooking up with her later on, and I actually saw her last night.”

Tinder attracts more than 100,000 monthly users and is currently the tenth most popular free lifestyle app for iPhones. Its success on college campuses may have inspired other developers to pitch in with their own takes on digital romance.

While Tinder is designed to help strangers meet, another app has figured out a simple system to ratchet up the relationships of mutually attracted Facebook friends.

Bang With Friends, already branded as the “evilest app ever” by a Christian organization, works to connect users with friends or acquaintances they want to sleep with. (Warning: some people may find some of the graphics and language on the Bang With Friends website a bit risque).

Bang With Friends interface is even simpler than Tinder’s. Users scroll through Facebook profile pictures and select the friends they would like to take to bed, and then wait to see if those friends are similarly inclined. If two Facebook friends choose each other, the app sends them both a message suggesting they take the next step.

Tinder and Bang With Friends both allow gay and straight people to connect with potential partners.

Users cite the anonymity of apps like Tinder and Bang With Friends as an incentive to put themselves out there. Tinder keeps judgments under wraps until the two parties “like” each other, and Bang With Friends promises that Facebook friends will never be notified of a users’ intentions, unless they choose them as well.

Instant rejection, once the biggest fear in the dating world, is now being swept away thanks to the shield these technologies provide.

Though both apps emphasize that users’ private information is kept safe, Webbmedia digital strategy consultant Chris Shaw worries that deeply personal data may be vulnerable to hackers.

“There is always a risk of online information being hacked and broadcast,” Shaw said. “If you follow the news, you’ll see it’s been a very big problem. Anytime someone is building an app, there’s a chance someone else can work their way inside.”

Developers have increasingly chosen Facebook to build apps because the social network allows third parties to easily utilize its data. Shaw said using information that already exists on Facebook often makes development cheap and easy.

“The distribution channel is already there,” he said. “The network is already there. You’re just using most of the social media company’s information, which is open to any developer to use.”

Facebook is just the newest online medium to brings singles together. Online dating has been around since the first Web browsers, and now accounts for about 17 percent of marriages, according to a 2010 survey commissioned by dating site The stigma over meeting a partner online is long gone, experts said, and the younger generation is more accepting of digital romance than ever.

“The stigma has declined sharply over the past 15 years or so,” said Eli J. Finkel, a social psychology professor at Northwestern University. “An early development was the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail.’ More and more people met online, and that meant that more and more people knew somebody who met a partner online, which meant that more and more people decided to give it a chance.”

Despite the leaps forward for online dating, many young adults are using Tinder and Bang With Friends as a joke or confidence enhancer. They don’t expect to make lasting connections or meet significant others using the app.

“There’s really no expectation for meeting in real life,” said Jack Narron, a University of Maryland senior. “Girls can use it without feeling like there are any real consequences. People use Tinder because people like the self-esteem boost. I think it’s no deeper than that.”

Jonathan Elbaz

Capital News Service