A peek into your social media feeds will remind you why socialising is out of the picture for the next couple of months. In fact, all of us have found ourselves seeking comfort within the dimensions of our screens. Dating today has moved up a notch and is entirely taking place on a virtual platform. But with so many new names popping up, it is challenging to keep track of the good ones.
While we've heard of gender-specific apps (read: Grindr) or apps that have begun providing an LGBTQ filter (Bumble, OkCupid), it was refreshing to come across AYA — a dating and social networking platform built for the Indian LGBTQ community.
'As You Are' or AYA launched amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Chandigarh-based Sunali Aggarwal, the founder of AYA, also co-founded Mobikwik.com in 2009 and was previously a part of over 100 startups and software companies. The app strictly caters to the LGBTQ community and is the first of its kind to come up with the concept in India.
The app's statistics boast of 40 per cent downloads from Tier-1 cities. Interestingly, it also reveals how another 40 per cent of its downloads come from Tier-2 cities. The rest of its audience comes from around the country. Hoping to keep the community safe, AYA prides itself on being a no-pressure zone and is "the only active home-grown dating app for the community at the moment".
When signing up on the app, after filling up the basic information like name, date of birth, and sexual orientation (highly gender inclusive), you have to upload your selfie for verification. It takes a while to get your account verified — as according to the founders — all profiles are verified manually.
After creating a personal profile, they will prompt you with various questions about your hobbies, lifestyle, food preferences, etc.
Once you have created your profile, you can start browsing through other people's profiles. However, there's a catch! On signing up, you have to select the city of your residence, and you cannot update that later! So when you start surfing, you cannot view profiles in other areas apart from your own unless you take up a paid premium plan.
When you are browsing, you have an option of remaining anonymous till you are comfortable with sharing your identity with the other person once you match. This feature helps in maintaining your privacy and gives a sense of security. When you are browsing through profiles based on your and the other person's interest (and sexual preferences) — the app tells you how likely are you to match.
Apart from dating, the app also has a feed section, where they share LGBTQ+ movie and book reviews, stories of queer activists, coming out stories, and articles explaining different sexualities. There is no other app, which gives you features uniquely catering to the LGBTQ+ community.
AYA was refreshing and welcome innovation for the community, but there's a lot that it needs to stay afloat in the times of digitalisation. However, what we particularly loved about the app was the feed section. The interface may come across as a little troublesome to use, especially when compared with premium dating apps in its league. Perhaps what baffled us the most was how users aren't allowed to change their cities after entering the initial preference.
You're (strangely) shown people from other cities on your feed -- and we couldn't tell if it was an algorithm issue or the fact that there aren't enough people on the app yet. We would suggest holding back on paying a premium amount — as the app unquestionably requires more users — for starters. Despite all the glitches, it brings us joy to see an initiative taken in the right direction. And we're hoping that AYA finds its audience sometime soon! After all, it takes one person to spread good word for the community.
TBC rating: 3/5
Android rating: 3.9/5
iOS rating: NA