April 28, 2024 • 7 minute read

There Are Only Droughts And Floods

The thirsty and over hydrated

Table Of Contents
  1. Dating Apps
  2. Job Applications
  3. Fixing The System
  4. The Obstacles
  5. Conclusion

You work at a company called Kindling as a Product Manager on the user engagement and retainment team (it’s a sub-team in the Video Rendering And AI org for some reason). It’s the end of Q1 and it’s time to write your actual OKRs - the ones you really follow.

You write “Increase User Engagement” in bold text at the top of the page. You add some bullet points.

Increase User Engagement
  • Ideas here

You think to yourself, “Okay, good ideas here. Let’s get some good ideas. We gotta get those good ideas… I’m getting nothing”

Let’s review some things.

Kindling is an app that matches beginner hikers to expert mentors. Hiking hobbies are on the rise these days and so are reports of inexperienced and lost hikers. Luckily, some hikers love teaching.

It’s filled a market niche and Kindling’s adjusted EBITA is in the green (which you’re assured is a good thing).

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But your job isn’t increasing profit, it’s increasing engagement. You’re assured they’re related, but it’s not really your job to care anyway.

You review your options.

“No, see this is the problem. We’re too good. We actually do the thing. We match people. Once people have a match, they leave the platform. That’s no good. We can’t have people leaving like that.”

There are some ways of preventing this. Engagement hacking, you’ve heard it called. You just make it really hard to get a match.

No, that probably won’t work. If the app doesn’t work, people will just uninstall all the same.

Let’s take a look at our user base again. Maybe there’s something there.


The mentor to soon-to-be mentee ratio is kind of skewed. About 1 mentor for every 3 mentees. Most mentees won’t get a mentor. The ratio gets even worse as mentors leave the platform.

Really, the biggest problem right now is mentors, with their easy access to mentees, quickly finding a match and heading out. The mentees will stay as long as it looks like they’re just about to find the mentor of their dreams. You need to keep the mentors on the platform.

How do you retain someone with all the choice in the world? Give them even more choice. You give them choice paralysis until they make a choice they’ll certainly regret and come crawling back again and again.

Humans think they like choice. That’s good, you can use that.

You overwhelm the mentors. The floodgates are open.

Dating Apps

Modern dating apps maintain a similar kind of structure. If Western culture didn’t already set this precedent, the ratio of women to men is 1:3, making one group significantly more desirable. Market forces, my friend.

Men are often in droughts. The strategy is to keep swiping. It’s just a numbers game, they say. Swipe 300 times and get 10 matches.

6 of the women are undesirable. You can unmatch them. 2 are way out of your league - they’ll never actually respond. 2 are moderately attractive. These are the real matches. Now you need to bring your A-game to the table with a perfect opening message.

Women are drowning. Every man is swiping right. The like counter in the bottom right has already maxed out and it’s only been 30 minutes since you made your account. It simply reads “99+”.


You can be much pickier in this position. Any swipe right is an automatic match. Might as well pick the best ones. Out of your 20 matches, you message none of them. Why should you? You’re the desirable one here. You can have anyone you want. Let them earn it.

Surely we can retain the men but how are we keeping the highly desirable women? If you have to ask, you’ve never really been in a flood. People practically drown themselves.

First, you have a wealth of choice. You have so much choice really, that it feels like you’re the most desirable person in the world. Hundreds of people desire you above everyone else. The most desirable person deserves their Romeo, so you don’t let in just anyone. And you make them work for it. That’ll make the choice easier. Only the most hard-working and beautiful partner will be left.

But that’s not what happens. You still have many matches. Instead of whittling the number down through legitimate criteria, you need to make some arbitrary choices.

Too short. Too tall. No pictures with friends. Too many pictures with friends. Weird opening message. That was good, but it didn’t make me laugh - I like to laugh. Too pushy. Too indecisive. Too confident. Here we go, the perfect match!

Except, the perfect match has their own wealth of choice. In a drought, you have found the one hydrated man. Who are you to deserve him?

And just like that they drown.

Job Applications

Droughts and floods. Constructed or natural, you’ll find this system in many disconnected spaces. If you’re having trouble in the current job market, rest assured your would-be-employers are having similar (but opposing) issues.

You apply to 100 jobs at random. You’ve got a good resume, but there’s always room for improvement. You’re not sure if it’s the ATS or if hiring managers have it out for you, but you’re getting nothing.

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You’re in a drought. they’re in a flood.

The hiring managers are getting more resumes than they can reasonably look through. Even taking 30 seconds to look over each resume would net you over 40 hours of uninterrupted work. So you use some software to clear through resumes. You use arbitrary criteria to shrink the pile.

What you’re left with are mostly resumes from people who don’t really have a problem landing jobs. The resume is a very good match for your job, but it’s a great match for jobs with better pay and more interesting work. Your gamut of interviews is practice for them. You extend an offer and don’t get a response.

You could lower your criteria, but you have so many applicants. You are surely the most desirable job in the world.

Fixing The System

There is a fix, dear reader, and it’s much simpler than you think.

Manufactured friction.

For a case study, there is one dating app that deploys this very method - Hinge.

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There is no swiping. It’s hard to move through large swaths of people making arbitrary decisions. The button to reject is an inconvenient location. The button to accept is next to prompts or pictures. If you click it, you will be prompted to type a response relating to the section you interacted with.

The app is slow. Much slower than competitors. In the time you can move through 50 people, Hinge will let you move through 5. It takes a while to load a new person, which encourages you to take more time reviewing the people you are shown. Your choice in either group has gotten smaller. You may as well look closer at details you previously may have missed.

And it’s been quite successful! It’s seen meteoric growth while competitors’ monthly-active-users have fallen. They’ve not caught up to Tinder quite in users and are far far away in profit, but they’re growing!

Applied to job applications, this would appear as in-person applications. A lot of friction for both parties. Too much, people say. So we add greater friction for the applicant through something like a take-home test. Still not the greatest of systems, but we’re getting somewhere. We have realized that manufactured friction is working.

The Obstacles

MAU is not the only metric that matters. Hinge will likely soon eclipse Tinder in this respect, but it will take much longer to reach Tinder’s profit margins. Market forces are not looking too kindly on this strategy.

For job applications, this one is a bit less clear. Hiring managers would much prefer better candidates. Manufactured friction would lower the candidate pool, but screen out a significant portion of candidates who might have been a waste of time. That is, unless the friction prevents better candidates from applying.

It gets a bit worse when we factor in the startups whose product promises to improve throughput of job applications, both for those applying and reviewing. They are attacking a symptom and consequentially making the problem worse.


Match group (owner of Tinder, Hinge, and every dating app aside for Bumble) has been sued. This is likely the first suit of many.

The capitalist endeavor to increase engagement should work for the people. The construction of internal floods and droughts within an ecosystem like this is plainly predatory. In a job market, these forces are a bit less intentional, but they’re entirely within the control of a dating app manufacturer.

We humans are fickle beings with interests against the self. We love sugar, but despise its effects. We love freedom, but cower under the cover of constraints. We crave choice, but can’t stand it.

We must recognize our reliance on limitations. It is not shameful; it is necessary.

Your life can be improved with this kind of friction. Placing barriers in front of addictive behaviors, for example. Limiting your tool use in a creative medium can be helpful. Embrace resistance!

To fix the droughts, we stop the floods. Build dams.