MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Moving on now to a high-tech search for romance. All new smartphones have GPS. That means they know your location and can tell you what the local weather is or about nearby restaurants. You can also use them to look for love. Dating apps on your phone can let you know who's single, close by. And they've been a hit with men, especially gay men.
Not so much with women, as we hear from NPR's Lauren Silverman.
LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: The computer first got to play matchmaker in the late 1950s. Cyber dating consultant Julie Spira takes us way back.
JULIE SPIRA: They had to feed the data into a computer and then the computer would spit out a possible match.
SILVERMAN: Computer dating has stayed pretty much the same for decades. You put in your personal information and the program matches you with someone you have something in common with. Now, that's changed. Apps with GPS mean you know who's single and who's on the lookout right around you. All you have to do is log on.
SPIRA: Then other singles who are logged on at exactly the same time can say, OK, there's 15 women within the 2-mile radius. And two out of 15, I'm attracted to, and one says she'd like to meet tonight. Let me write to her.
SILVERMAN: I wanted to find singles searching for romance in their natural environment, so I went to a bar.
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SILVERMAN: Kevin Smith, who's 23, is sitting with a group of friends. He likes mobile dating apps.
KEVIN SMITH: If some girl walked up to me and was like, hey, I saw you were on OKCupid, in a bar, I'd be like, what's up?
SMITH: You know? I don't think that that would necessarily be a bad thing.
SILVERMAN: For guys like Kevin, there are dozens of GPS dating apps to choose from: there's SinglesAroundMe, Meet Moi, Badoo, Assisted Serendipity, and Skout among others. Right now, the vast majority of users are men. That knocks the whole system out of whack. For the matching to work, you have to have enough women.
But a lot of women are afraid of being harassed, like Sarah Smith.
SARAH SMITH: It's the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. And you're just going to see a total increase in sexual assaults and raping happening because people can find out exactly where you are and exactly how many drinks you've had.
SILVERMAN: Safety concerns aren't the only reason for the gender imbalance in mobile dating. Women just tend to date differently than men. Julie Spira says most women like the idea of getting a...
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SILVERMAN: ...notification when mystery date is at the club down the street, but they don't want to be bombarded with messages like: I'm here. Let's hook up now.
SPIRA: Most women are a little uncomfortable with meeting somebody right away. Let's just say they're leaving their yoga class and their hair is in a ponytail, and they don't have any makeup on, and that cute guy they've been flirting with happens to be three tables away from them. They don't want to be seen unless they sort of have their, you know, lipstick on and are wearing something a little bit cuter.
SILVERMAN: Some guys do understand a lot of women are instinctively creeped out by the shift from oldschool.com dating to this new GPS model.
NICK SOMAN: The only thing scarier than a random grab bag full of dudes who are just aggressively messaging you...
SOMAN: ...is a random grab bag full of dudes who are literally around you.
SILVERMAN: That's Nick Soman. He just created a dating app called LikeBright and wants women to feel more comfortable meeting strangers. His solution?
SOMAN: We make it super, super easy to meet your friends' friends.
SILVERMAN: More specifically, it connects you to the friends of your Facebook friends who are nearby. Soman says women feel safer that way because dates are less anonymous. And ideally, he says dating will become less like hooking up at a dive bar and more like meeting at a house party.
SOMAN: You know, there's a reason everybody's there. You have a sense of who you all know and that you, you know, have some contacts and some interests in common.
SILVERMAN: Nick Soman is just getting started with his LikeBright app, but he's achieving the impossible or at least the very difficult: an even balance between men and women users. That's no easy feat. If you look at some popular mobile dating apps, men outnumber women by a ratio of 4-to-1. That means a lot of those guys aren't going to get dates.
SOMAN: It's sort of a dirty little secret of the industry that if you can get something that works for women, then the guys will often sort of follow.
SILVERMAN: Whether you want them to or not, which means the future of mobile dating depends on getting women to sign up and convincing the girl next door to admit she actually is right next door.
Lauren Silverman, NPR news.
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