Research shows that as society becomes increasingly plugged in, attitudes have shifted positively toward finding love online. Web dating is no longer associated with recluses hiding behind a computer screen. In fact, one in 10 Americans has used an online dating site or app, according to a 2013 Pew Research report
on online relationships.
With that shift, online dating has branched beyond algorithm-based matches to highly specific sites that can focus on any particular niche (even farmers have their own dating site).
Enter Siren, a dating app
created for women by women that puts the ladies in the driver's seat when it comes to shopping for an online connection. Women control who sees their image, who can communicate with them and what type of date to pursue.
CEO Susie Lee and design director Katrina Hess created Siren based on the core principle that "women needed to control visibility," Lee said, meaning the users can give clear signals that they're actually interested and comfortable talking to the suitor of their choice.
As online dating options have grown, Lee noticed that her friends' frustration did, too: With every good introduction often came a slew of lewd ones.
"I just started looking (at online dating options) and very quickly realized how many things are out there and how immediately my 'creepy meter' went up," Lee said.
The subject has come to a head as users, particularly women, have started publicizing complaints of unsolicited sexual advances online. The 2013 Pew Research online dating report found that 28% of online daters have been contacted "in a way that made them feel harassed or uncomfortable," with 42% of female online daters experiencing this, compared with 17% of men.
This year, comedian and Cracked writer
Alli Reed created the "world's worst dating profile" on OkCupid to see how terrible an attractive woman would have to be to stop indecent introductions.
With snippets like "I'm really good at convincing people I'm pregnant" and "my parents think I'm in law school so they pay all my bills" alongside a model's photograph, she still managed to get her fair share of boorish messages.
Artist Anna Gensler went so far as to draw artistic, nude interpretations of the off-color openers she received on Tinder and then sent them back to the sender.
Lee says the app is not meant to be the counterpart to the "He-Man Woman Hater's Club" but instead a place for women to control their images -- whether because they are in a high-profile position or to simply ward off objectification. Lee likens the visibility functionality to a real-world interaction in which a woman makes eye contact or smiles as a signal of interest to a potential suitor. If the suitor ends up untoward, she can toggle her visibility in the same way she could decline conversation in a social setting.
"The reason isn't necessarily that they needed more power over men; they needed to feel safe and have fun," Lee said.
Here's how it works: When a user signs up for Siren, they're prompted to take an in-app photo to ensure that "you really look and are like your profile," Lee said.
Next, the user is prompted with an open-ended "question of the day." The female users will see all the men who responded that day; if a woman likes a man's take, she can either choose to make herself visible to him or save his profile to scope out future responses and get a broader sense of his personality.
"You're trying to make strangers less strange, and in order to do that, you have to put something of yourself out there," Lee said, adding that she hopes this gives a more complete, up-to-date personality portrait of a user than the typical profile list of likes and dislikes.
On the flip side, a male user will see the female user's answers without seeing a profile picture. If his interest is piqued, he can hit an option to notify Siren. The app acts as a third party, alerting the woman that a user liked her answer and inviting her to check him out. The woman can ultimately decide to make herself visible.
In addition, there's the namesake "Siren" call: A woman can express what she wants in real time -- whether it's drinks, a quick walk around the city or an activity hinted at with coy ellipses.
"Siren's touchstones always reference what I discern works in real life," Lee said. "Give women the chance to send subtle cues of interest, men to show off a little of who they are, friends to recommend good men and people to make each other smile."
Siren is part of a growing trend of apps that aim to take control of the online lechery and worse: Hinge
allows users to connect only with mutual friends and third-party connections on Facebook; Willow users
must answer questions before showing pictures; Wyldfire
allows female users to invite only the men who they would want in the dating pool.
With Siren, there's also a vouching component: Women can forward a man's profile to friends for their opinion; "wingwomen" can sign on without a public profile so they can help their friends in their search.
"We're cheering good men on in as many ways as we can," Lee said.
In beta testing, she says, some users submitted feedback that the functionality would be nice to have in other gender and sexuality groups, so they're working on a version for the LBGTQ community, as well.
The app will launch its public version this week and will initially focus on the Seattle area, where the startup is based, before expanding nationwide.