The Next 20

How Hot or Not Invented a Brave New World of Online Connection

Thanks to a silly online game, you may well be broadcasting your romantic availability from your pocket right now.

Humans have been judging each other’s relative attractiveness since the beginning of sex, but with the rise of the internet, that animal activity got a digital boost. When Hot or Not launched in 2000, most of us thought of it as a silly game—albeit one charged with the excitement of numerically rating strangers and having ourselves, if we uploaded a photo, rated in turn. Within a month of its launch, the site was among the top 25 domains on the internet in advertising revenue, with more than a million visitors per day.

More than a decade later, Hot or Not’s extremely popular basic concept—a platform featuring endless images of strangers, encouraging sexual or romantic appraisal—has come to dominate the way we look for connection online. The Grindrs, Scruffs, and Tinders of today have matrixified desire, and we’re just beginning to see the implications of that revolution.

In this video essay for Slate’s anniversary package, the Next 20, I trace our path from Hot or Not to the dating and hookup apps of today, and imagine what a continued culture of woofing and swiping might mean for the future of human relationships.

Ed. note: This piece’s promo image does not represent any real-life users of Hot or Not, Grindr, Scruff, or Tinder.

Read more stories from Slate’s 20th anniversary package, the Next 20.