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New dating app, Alike, celebrates Asian culture, identity, pride

With video profiles such as, "I knew I was Asian when...", this iBoost Zone startup aims to do more than matchmaking
By: Lindsey Craig
February 11, 2021
A male and female of Asian ethnicity sit on the street smiling at the camera with the word alike superimposed on the image

The new dating app, Alike, will help dispel negative stereotypes, says founder and Ryerson graduate Hanmin Yang. (Photo: Hanmin Yang).

Like many people, Hanmin Yang has long used dating apps in his search for love.

But after years of online dating, he realized that there was a need that mainstream apps weren’t fulfilling.

So, today, with the help from iBoost Zone, an early stage technology incubator at Ryerson, Yang is preparing to launch a new dating app into the mix.

Called Alike (external link) , the app is unique in that it focuses on the celebration of Asian culture, identity and pride.

For Yang, a graduate of Ryerson’s bachelor's degree in filmmaking and master's degree in media production, the project is a perfect pairing of his passions.

“I wanted to become my own boss, so I thought of problems that I’d like to tackle - and creating meaningful connections was the one that really resonated,” he said.

‘Does he speak English?’

The need for Alike became apparent, he says, after years of online dating, and noticing patterns in the kinds of messages he was receiving, and the matches he was - and wasn’t - making.

“In real life, I don't have much of a problem connecting with women. But on dating apps, it's a totally different story,” said Yang, who grew up in Canada and whose parents are from South Korea.

First, he says negative stereotypes about Asian men depicted in the media over the years play a role.

“When women see images of Asian men on a dating app, they don't know it, but they're looking at these people through the lens that they've built over their years from watching certain movies that depict Asian people and Asian men in a certain light,” he said.

“One of the questions they ask themselves is, ‘Does he speak English?’” he said.

“That's one of the myths about Asian people that's perpetuated in society - that they're constant foreigners,” Yang continued, recognizing that Asian representation in media today has improved, but stereotypes still remain.

Lack of representation

He also says part of the problem is that some Asians have internalized negative stereotypes, which leads to a lack of confidence.

“I immigrated to Canada when I was eight years old, and I learned to navigate Canadian culture and society by watching television and movies. I watched Back to the Future, Fresh Prince, Saved by the Bell. I didn’t see any Asian people at all. Never. So, what was mainstream media telling me? That Asians are unwanted. And when you did see Asians, they were represented in a way that was embarrassing and insulting,” he said.

It’s those factors, along with the fact that mainstream apps don’t give the opportunity for people like Yang to accurately convey who they are, he said.

“People aren’t perceiving me accurately. I wanted a way for someone like myself to cut through negative stereotypes and be able to reveal my true personality, so that I can find meaningful connections,” he said.

Above, a glimpse of the new dating app, Alike. (YouTube)

Alike is born

Finally, in October 2019, he decided to take action and put together a plan for what would eventually become Alike.

“Ninety-five per cent of Asian men surveyed across North America supported the idea of what I proposed,” he said, adding that research also showed strong support from Asian women, sadly, he says, often “fetishized” by non-Asian men.

So, with research and support behind him, in November that same year, Yang began to bring his idea to life.

“We're not telling anyone to date only Asians. We are just saying to Asian people, ‘love yourself. Our goal is to celebrate the Asian experience, so, even if non-Asians come and join, they do so with respect,” he said, also noting that the app is for those who identify as male, female or non-binary, and welcomes all sexual orientations.

‘I knew I was Asian when…’

A major difference between Alike and other dating apps is that instead of having a written bio, users must upload photos of themselves - and create three videos.

“Some people are hesitant about recording the videos at first, but then once they do it, they see how valuable it is,” Yang said.

“You know, if someone writes, ‘I love music’ or ‘I love food’, what does that tell you about a person?” he said. “Videos can show your sense of humour and your personality. It shows more of who you are.”

As someone who also feels most compatible with other “Third Culture Asians”, Yang says certain cues revealed in video profiles can help.

“My sense of identity is inherited from my parents’ culture, the culture from the West, and the third culture they create,” he explained. “When I was on dating apps, I connected with a lot of Asian women. But, it was only when I met them in person that I realized, we have nothing in common - she's a new immigrant, she won't understand my experience. We don't share that identity and culture.”

To create a video, users can choose from prompts, such as, “I knew I was Asian when…”, “The best noodle soup is…” and “What I love about being Asian…”  There are other more neutral prompts, such as “Two truths and a lie...” and “My greatest strength…” but Yang says the Asian-specific options help create a sense of pride.

“As they answer our prompts, they're able to come to terms with their history and identity and find self-acceptance and self-love. And that to me is so important. It's not just to find someone, our mission is to help Asians find self-love.”

Hanmin Yang, founder, Alike dating app

‘A safe haven’

While he notes that, like other cultural groups, Asian identity is difficult to define, Ryerson language and culture professor Jamin Pelkey says Alike may serve “as a safe haven and site of celebration, to help those who identify as Asian live their lives with more dignity, solidarity, and wholeness.”

“It can be discouraging to live in a society with a large population of people who assume that you’re an outsider simply based on superficial appearances,” he said. “Finding ways to come together to celebrate each other’s cultural identities can help everyone involved to retrain their assumptions about who is in and who is out, in an attempt to refocus on mutual appreciation. I think this is what Alike is trying to do. They want to say, ‘Hey: we're all in this together,’” he said.

Pelkey also says a dating app that celebrates culture and identity could serve many people, since healthy relationships require mutual respect, support and understanding - which Alike sets out to foster.

Set to launch by summer

As they enter the final stages of app development, Yang says he’s grateful to iBoost Zone, which has been operating virtually, and is part of Ryerson’s Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science and the Ryerson Zone Learning system.

“It’s a very lonely process as an entrepreneur. It's important to belong to a community of other entrepreneurs for support,” he said.

As for the current status of Alike, while it won’t be ready for Valentine’s Day, Yang says it’s set to launch by summer, with strong potential for matchmaking success.

“The beta version launched in December, and we had 700 downloads in just a week,” he said. 

Special invite code for Ryerson community:

For those looking for love, Yang is inviting members of the Ryerson community to download the beta version* of Alike using the details below: 

IOS link  (external link) 

 (external link) 
Invite code: RYERSON21

*A beta version means there could be a few bugs or performance issues as the app is finalized


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