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With Siren dating app, Susie Lee revives art of flirting online

Susie Lee ’94 graduated from Yale with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. Now she is an artist, and her latest project is an app that aims to transform the way people meet online.

The dating app Siren seeks to empower women, filter out creeps, and change the tone of online dating. While app-building might seem like a radical departure from both art and biochemistry, Lee says all these fields come down to inquiry about the world.

“It’s having an art brain and a science brain—they’re sort of the same brain, and both are being applied now in an entrepreneurial way,” Lee says.  

She says it was initially a challenge to convince investors that an artist without the “MBA-computer science-Microsoft-Amazon pedigree” could really carry off the project. But the app is now preparing for a nationwide launch in March, and has attracted media attention from outlets ranging from CNN to Cosmopolitan to the Guardian. 

What makes Siren unique, Lee says, is its “asymmetrical model.” Both sexes can browse each other’s profiles and contact each other, but only women can choose who can see their pictures—and for how long. Users of both sexes build their profiles in real time by answering Siren-posed “questions of the day.”

The current model is geared toward heterosexual dating; a same-sex model is in the works.

Lee says Siren seeks to re-create the kind of spontaneous attractions that might happen at a real-life cocktail party. The theory is that, in a social setting, people send signals when they find someone attractive; Siren encourages women to make the first move. “The asymmetrical model was for everyone to have a better experience,” Lee says. “I think of it as a pro-human app, not one gender versus the other.”

Lee first stumbled into the online and app-based dating world when she finally let go of her flip phone in 2013. Online dating sites seemed to revolve around checking boxes specifying everything from your religion to how many kids you have, leaving little room for spontaneity. At the opposite extreme, apps like Tinder focused solely on physical appearance. All left the impression that you were “shopping for people,” she says. Lee’s artwork in past years has focused on how digital technology can amplify or detract from closeness with people. She sees Siren as an extension of her art.

“If I had just created a website about gender harassment online it would just be in the art community; it wouldn’t change the way people meet people online,” Lee says. Siren, she says, “is like an art project where the startup is a vector for getting the message across.”

She believes it’s the role of creative people to take new tools and shape them in a way that promotes humanity. From the feedback she has received so far, she is optimistic about Siren’s reshaping potential.

“We don’t claim to engineer chemistry. We just need to create a platform that allows people to show off that part of themselves,” Lee says. “And then after that, whatever happens—you figure it out.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Susie Lee, Siren, dating
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