I look at it this way: online daters and the Internet generally will probably be worse off for this eventually, but match.com is paying the OKCupid guys and despite all the value they've created over the years (in dating and outside of it -- watching them from afar has been an education in SEO/marketing), nobody else is running forward to put $50 million in their pockets.
Given the culture at OkCupid my dream match  for such a purchase was Amazon - that would have been cool & interesting hookup .
Match.com is a disappointment, but, yep they do deserve the payout.
I signed up for OKCupid when it launched to have a play - people are more and more using it as a light hearted social network for chatting to random people. I use it quite a lot when bored and fancy chatting to someone new. I did also meet my current gf via them, but that was unintentional; when the actual point of the site is secondary to your use of it I think that is a runaway success...
Rings a bell; I remember a similar idea coming up in the past. You could work out affiliate deals with bars and restaurants (or other activities, I hate going on dates to bars).
I think the idea we threw around (it might even have been here on HN) was a sort of clever matched blind date (to avoid the problem of people just bypassing the system :D) rather than a "normal" dating site.
There are privacy/stalker and scale concerns there though.
Maybe a system where you get the description of the person as written by their friends (also members of the site)? So you have two types of users: people who want to date and people who want to set their friends up with someone. You could also charge per-date this way: if both people agree that the other sounds attractive and decide to go on a date, they pay a small fee to reveal the match.
There was a similar site in the UK relatively recently, advertised quite heavily on TV I recall. It was named something like My Single Friend. I no longer have a TV so I don't know if they're still advertising.
As hackers we're always coming up with new ideas for dating sites like these. They frequently fail though, mostly due to the inability to pull in a large enough number of users. I've been hired to work on dating sites before, they've all failed due to lack of users. I'm now quite wary of working with anybody who has an idea for the next big dating site. I have ideas of my own, but not confident ones I'd actually risk spending time/money on.
Sure- I am really happy for them. But, from a "change the world," or "next Big Thing" perspective it's sad to see. We love to think of startups as vehicles for innovation and change. But, a liquidation event can often lead to the mission being hurt. I am sure the OKC team is proud of their work and happy with this result. But, the HN crowd is sad to see them not going all the way so to speak. We wanted a great at SEO/marketing, fun, and free dating site to work.
I'm worried too. I envision popup ads plastering the site, the removal of free accounts, paying to send any messages, and overall removing of anything cool about the site.
On the plus side, there will soon be a hole in the market for someone making another non-match dating site.
In my mind, this is like if Priceline/Orbitz/Travelocity bought Hipmunk. The first thing they'd do is 'fix' the UI, then they'd add a ton more ads, 20 more steps to buying tickets, remind you that you can get a hotel/car/haircut/fries with that and get a cheesy salesman to parade it on TV. Then, I'd stop using it.
We've just got to hope for the best - there aren't many acquisition stories that end with "at least they didn't fuck it up." But I hope this is one of them. Grats to the OKCupid team. And don't worry, if reddit-post-acquisition is any indication, no one on the team would let hipmunk be sullied with obnoxious advertisements.
Steve was saying that you guys aren't looking for a small exit; is the idea with Hipmunk to stay in it for the long haul? I seem to recall both of you hinting that, while you don't regret selling reddit, you do kind of still wish you owned it. Is the idea with Hipmunk to make it a profitable business and just grow it holistically, without an eye to acquisition?
Thanks Alexis. You're right, major congrats to the OkCupid team, and there are certainly precedents for large companies not screwing up too much with things they've bought. I have confidence that no one at hipmunk would allow such to happen. :)
Given my experiences using the web over the past couplefew months while everybody's been freaked out about the economy and avoiding layoffs or just being opportunists, I've noticed a huge uptick in the number of popunder ads and autoplay video ads. Not to mention that modal overlays have caused me to stop visiting certain sites (Ramit Sethi's iwillteachyoutoberich.com, for example), we can look forward to an Orwellian advertising future for OKC.
That is, I don't think your complaints (or mine) will ever be resolved. For every person complaining about user-hostile site design, there are three calling it good business sense.
This is very saddening. I met my wife on okcupid, and I was hopeful okcupid was going to work out for my best friend. I tried a lot of sites, and okcupid was the only one that delivered a satisfying dating experience.
"We know that many people who start out on advertising-based sites ultimately develop an appetite for the broader feature set and more committed community, which subscription sites like Match.com and Chemistry.com offer, creating a true complimentary relationship between our various business models. 2010 saw record growth both for Match and OkCupid, and we believe coordinating the adjacent business models will help fuel continued growth for both. This acquisition therefore goes a long way toward our objectives of bringing new people into the online dating world, offering the ability to meet in whatever type of online setting, and at whatever commitment level, our members desire, and facilitating a seamless evolution of the online dating experience without ever having to leave our portfolio of sites."
That's a pretty self serving statement (from Gregg Blatt.) On the one hand, it doesn't look good for the future of OKCupid in its current state (I've never used it, but I love the data they publish and the general look/feel.) On the other hand, I guess it opens up some amount of opportunity for a decent ad-supported player in the online dating space if OKCupid goes the way of Match.com.
Match.com just shelled out $50 million for New York's homegrown dating site OKCupid, the dating site known for being free, giving its users quizzes, and turning those surveys into fascinating plunges into the human psyche at the OKTrends blog.
The press release indicates that OKCupid will not be shut down and its users siphoned into one of Match.com's subscription-based dating sites. OKCupid cofounder Sam Yagan will head up the company's New York office and continue to run the company's day-to-day operations. "We are excited to join forces with Match because it is clear that no company is more committed to helping people find relationships," he said. "This marriage offers us the best of both worlds: the autonomy to continue pursuing OkCupid's original vision and the ability to leverage Match's reach and expertise to grow even faster."
Match.com and OKCupid are now owned by New York's IAC, which operates some of the best-known properties on the web.
There's already speculation that OKCupid will lose some of its fun hipster personality. Already a blog post titled, "Why You Should Never Pay for Online Dating," has been removed.
An excerpt from that post:
Today I'd like to show why the practice of paying for dates on sites like Match.com and eHarmony is fundamentally broken, and broken in ways that most people don't realize.
For one thing, their business model exacerbates a problem found on every dating site:
Women get too many bad matches
Men get far too few replies
For another thing, as I'll explain, pay sites have a unique incentive to profit from their customers' disappointment.
As a founder of OkCupid I'm of course motivated to point out our competitors' flaws. So take what I have to say today with a grain of salt. But I intend to show, just by doing some simple calculations, that pay dating is a bad idea; actually, I won't be showing this so much as the pay sites themselves, because most of the data I'll use is from Match and eHarmony's own public statements. I'll list my sources at the bottom of the post, in case you want to check.
It turns out you are 12.4 times more likely to get married this year if you don't subscribe to Match.com.
So next time you hear Match or eHarmony talking about how huge they are, you should do like I do and think of Goliath-and how he probably bragged all the time about how much he could bench. Then you should go sign up for OkCupid.
Hopefully OKCupid will keep its personality and its trendy trends blog intact despite being acquired by its 16-year old cousin.
AFAIK the Google cache is just that: a cache. If a page is deleted, the cached version will also expire after some time. For permanent record, you need the wayback machine, but that has much fewer sites in it than Google.
I'd like to garner your opinions: what else could IAC have done in this situation? Or perhaps a better question is what you would have done in their shoes.
One property is threatening the business model of another in a visible way (at least in search engine rankings). I propose that the readership of OkTrends is minimal compared to the wider online dating market, so was this the prudent course of action?
Well, let's assume for the sake of argument that the post was pulled as a result of pressure from IAC, Match.com, etc. I don't know that this is the case, but it certainly seems plausible.
So, what should IAC/Match.com/whoever have done in this situation? Leave it the heck alone! First of all, by owning two of the biggest players in online dating, customer acquisition is basically a zero-sum game as far as IAC is concerned- presumably, any customers lost to Match.com from OKCupid's blog post would end up going with OKCupid instead, and therefore either way IAC wins, so what does it matter? Of course, this assumes that an OKCupid customer is of equal value as a Match.com customer, which may or may not be true.
Secondly, it's important for IAC/Match.com to keep in mind larger question of why they felt like it was worthwhile to own OKCupid in the first place. Presumably, they wanted to own it because it targeted a different customer population than their other properties; part of the reason that it does so is because of its quirky, "edgy", and open image. It's 2011; people notice when companies take down influential and well-known blog posts, and their opinions of these companies change accordingly. Ergo, by pulling these sorts of shenanigans, IAC or Match.com is potentially undermining the very thing that made OKCupid attractive to them.
I suppose one could try and do some sort of calculation:
X = # customers lost to Match.com as a result of OKCupid's "don't pay for online dating" post;
Y = # customers alienated, amount of bad publicity, internal drama at OKCupid, bad karma, etc. resulting from taking down a well-known (and accurate) blog post
Is X > Y? Mazel tov, take down the post. Is Y > X? Leave it alone; monkeying with it will do more harm than good.
Note that this sort of calculation is essentially impossible to do in a principled way; as such, it seems to me that the sensible course would have been to just leave it alone and focus on making better products.
But what do I know? I'm just a informatics nerd, not a business expert, so maybe there's more to the situation than I'm seeing.
The blog is part of the OKC brand, possibly the part with the most integrity. Given this, the blog is part of the value that IAC was purchasing. Regardless of IAC's intentions, the OKC blog (and the pay-dating article) was part of the reason they were an attractive acquisition target.
I have to wonder whether this deal is related to the "should I sell to these guys?" question last week.
That link actually rotates randomly between their major competitors. In a few reloads, I got Plenty of Fish, True, eHarmony, and Mingle2. It's likely that they've pulled Match from that rotation, though.
To be honest, I wouldn't mind seeing that line disappear altogether, as it always struck me as being in somewhat poor taste.
A brief guide to a customer acquisition, i.e., your business was bought for its customers.
1. Even though they didn't buy you for your technology or your human capital, they will tell you they did.
2. They'll tell you that they bought you because they never could have accomplished what you did, because of your talented personnel and unique culture, which they plan to carefully preserve and benefit from.
3. Then they will deprecate your technology, drive away your best people, and force you to work just like they do.
4. When the shit hits the fan, the product declines, and you can't even get small releases out the door, you'll think, "Aha, now at least we will get our 'told you so' moment, when they finally realize what they've done." But they knew all along what they were doing. They wanted your customers, they got them, and they don't feel any sense of loss at what they destroyed.
They'll either ruin it or shut it down. Match sucks just in general design as a site compared to OKC.
I do agree with those saying that this might be the best way for the OKC developers to cash out and get paid for their work. Perhaps it was inevitable.
For users of Match, the best outcome from this deal would be for Match to replace their whole engine with that of OKC. I doubt that will happen though.
For users of OKC, the worst outcome from this deal would be to be forcibly migrated to Match (as yahoo personals users were - which is what I think is most likely to happen here) and get buried in the far less interesting personal ads and less fun community of Match.
I hadn't heard of IAC, so I looked it up: "IAC is a leading internet company with more than 50 fast-growing, highly-related brands serving loyal consumer audiences... our mission is to harness the power of interactivity to make daily life easier and more productive for people all over the world."
It looks like their other dating acquisitions, People Media, Singlesnet and Chemistry.com, haven't been ruined. However, they have shut down six other dating websites, including two of their free ones, Sir.com and Downtoearth.com, last year.
I think OkCupid is a strong brand and it'd be more valuable to keep not steam roll it into another one.
As a former employee of one of the recent acquisitions that you mentioned, yeah, it really was run into the ground. Almost the entirety of the development and operations staff left within a couple months. I don't expect it to last much longer.
They're a bit older than 4 years. I signed up there ca. 2005 and met the woman who'd become my wife in late 2007. Still though, good on them for a fantastic exit. There are some seriously clever people behind the site.
OKCupid seems to do a way, way better job at data analysis than the freakonomics guys, who sadly see no need to be correct in the analyses used in their popular books.
I don't think you intended this as a backhanded compliment, but it riles me up to see levitt mentioned as anything other than a pop Econ sellout. Reading anything by either Levitt or Krugman is guaranteed to enrage me. You know they can do better, but they traded rigor for money and fame.
You know they can do better, but they traded rigor for money and fame.
This is a relatively uncommon viewpoint. I thank you for sharing it. One should automatically suspect the popular interpreters of any field of trading "rigor for money and fame." If you have any blog posts on this subject, I'd be curious for the URLs. The Freakonomics guys have a bit of popular recognition which could be leveraged for marketing an OkCupid book. That said, it's likely that OkCupid has enough popular recognition to leverage for book sales on its own.
Note to the wise: OKCupid still allows you to delete your entire account. They imply that this deletion is real deletion, and totally permanent, except that your user id won't be taken over by anyone else.
If you don't want IAC to have all your personal data, you should do this now before they merge systems.
Seems low to me as well. They took 6MM in Jan '07. The only way a 50MM exit seems great (for the VC or angel) is if they got 50% for their 6MM. If they had an average 20-30% Series A, thats around a 2.5X exit... which isn't awful. It's possible after 4 years given a 50MM offer, that they either a) ran out of money b) their VC had control and wanted out or c) they didn't get a counter offer from EHarmony, et al.
I am so happy for Sam Yagan and team - they've been busting their butts on OKC since 2004 (seriously, the site's that old), and it's good that they can finally take a load off. Hopefully Sam will now become Chicago's #1 angel (it's a low bar, but someone needs to jump over it).
Almost everyone under 35 I know who has met a long term partner online and used a dating site used OKCupid. I've known some older 40+ people who used match.com.
I'm 29, met my (now) wife on match.com* 6 years ago.
At least here in flyover country, OKCupid didn't really have much of a deep pool in 2004-2005. I gave it a try but found it primarily populated by 19 year old kids. However, today everybody I know who is "in the market" simply defaults to OKCupid and doesn't even contemplate going anywhere else.
* I messaged a woman during a free trial period match.com was offering, we met for dinner, and we were married 3 years later. I mailed her with a coded email address in the message so she didn't need to pay to reply. match.com did not see a red cent from either of us.
Having been a member of both match and okcupid, I am sad to hear this news. I went to go cancel my match account the other day and to my dismay saw that my credit card had been charged again without my direct consent. After looking over the terms I saw that Match took the liberty of auto-renewing for me. While it is clear in the service agreement, I feel like these sort of things are a shady way of operating. To avoid any auto-renew, you need to literally cancel your membership and while doing so, you are unsure of what is really going to happen.
I am hoping things remain split as they are or as other have mentioned, match gets a boost in its technology. Anyone that has used both knows that match seems to be far behind on the times. Their features are crap, platform crap and overall design is ugly. I often found myself thinking how I could replicate the site (design wise) in a night with all the boiler plate code I have. I am not optimistic, but hopefully something good will come out of it for match.
sounds like its time to open up a free site that doesn't store passwords in plaintext and doesn't get sold to the terrible dinosaurs. one can only hope it doesn't turn out badly. intuit hasn't yet ruined mint, so its theoretically possible.
It’s no easy task; don't expect anyone to listen to you about your new free online dating site because no one will. No one will read your emails and no one will reply. Your biggest visitors will be people that want to scam or steal your members away to other dating sites or 419 deals
There are several new hot free online dating sites started every year, mine is still running but after stopping my advertising campaigns it has languished.
If you’re still interested in doing a free online dating site then more power to you and I hope you have better luck than I did.
I'm the lead developer at http://setformarriage.com and I can say that this is totally true. There are a lot of hurdles to running a dating site, the primary ones being dealing with scammer accounts and a stigma with the media and advertisers that borders on the level of running a porn site.
However, if you've got some kind of unique angle (like Set For Marriage's focus on marriage-minded people or Ashley Madison's controversial focus on facilitating adultery) or some kind of newsworthy technology it's not really that hard to line up interviews with local news stations and blogs (the founder of Set For Marriage was interviewed by something like 15 local news stations around the US from a single press release and some nudging). Going to online dating conferences can also be very good too, as many of the people in the industry are very willing to help out serious and interesting newcomers.
There's definitely a challenge in building traffic though. AdWords and SEO for dating terms are very competitive, and affiliate traffic can be very scammer-heavy. CloudFlare, some decent flagging algorithms, and OCD developers who check for spam accounts multiple times a day can help out tremendously with this, and we've given one nice woman a lifetime premium account for reporting a ton of suspicious accounts to us.
Out of curiosity, have you written about your experiences at all? If not, would you be willing to do so? I'm sure there's a HN'er or two that would be interested in hearing your thoughts and observations.
I know you're not the only person to have that thought today; and given the volume of the readership on this site, I'd pretty much bet money that a LOT of people are thinking about that right now. I'd do it, but I'm too busy with other projects. But I'd be amazed if another PoF / OKCupid style competitor doesn't emerge in short-order.
Maybe one will even go through YCombinator. pg and crew have said they see that as an area they'd fund:
8. Dating. Current dating sites are not the last word. Better ones will appear. But anyone who wants to start a dating startup has to answer two questions: in addition to the usual question about how you're going to approach dating differently, you have to answer the even more important question of how to overcome the huge chicken and egg problem every dating site faces. A site like Reddit is interesting when there are only 20 users. But no one wants to use a dating site with only 20 users—which of course becomes a self-perpetuating problem. So if you want to do a dating startup, don't focus on the novel take on dating that you're going to offer. That's the easy half. Focus on novel ways to get around the chicken and egg problem.
It's interesting you mention this. I distinctly remember signing up for OKC because it had fun quizzes and stuff -- I wasn't really thinking it was much of a dating site at the time, and that it was more of a social networking site in the days before Facebook :) So finding an interesting angle on that sort of thing could be a way to avoid the chicken/egg thing, and I think that's how OKC did it to start with.
I've started two dating sites (for Russian-speaking users) and never encountered a chicken and egg problem. I was able to get a useful number of active users for under $1000 (if you concentrate only on several big cities).
The real problem for me was: when you stop advertising, the traffic is fading off.
There is some kind of secret how Plenty of Fish or OkCupid are getting visitors without advertisement.
i've had a thought on how to run an online dating site rattle around in my head for a while. always wanted to give it a shot, but i'm still busy working on something else. i even coughed it up on a HN ideas thread a while back, just to see if it would get made.
if i were to suddenly have more free time, i'd probably give it a shot, myself.
It's an interesting space that's for sure. The "chicken and egg" problem is a challenge, but so is the idea (if you buy it) that men and women want fundamentally different things and have different drives and motives when it comes to dating; and different approaches to how they date. Since I started reading a lot of evolutionary psychology stuff, I've reshaped a lot of my views on how dating and relationships work.
Now, granted, EP is a controversial science, and I'm not sure that those guys are spot-on about everything... but I strongly believe that the ideas coming out of that world do reflect some underlying truths about our world. If that's true, then my questions would be "how do you build a dating site that's optimized for both men and women? Or can you? And if you can't, which do you optimize for? Or does that even make sense?"
indeed. beyond that, i think that a dating site that is truly effective inherently means that you're constantly losing good customers as they no longer need the site (though perhaps the natural attrition rate is lower).
its also hard to tell if free sites have come to a weird nash equilibrium, or if their current state is actually optimal and the "best" way to do online dating just sucks. would something more fundamentally different be less successful despite being proven more effective simply because of how it works?
This is ver unfortunate, I'm happy for the founders, but OkCupid is a great service. I met my girlfriend of almost 2 years now there. I fear for what it will become. This is a very sad day on the Internet.
Hearing about this deal makes me feel a little queezy. The only upside (other than congrats to their team) is that maybe now there will finally be some nice atheist / agnostic girls on Match. I realize many people have had success at OkCupid, but their users never really struck me as seriously looking for someone to date. Many are just there to take the quizzes.
This is disappointing. I can't see them pushing people toward a paid service without crippling OKCupid's features and culture. OKC was built around optimizing for fun and matchmaking - match.com was built around maximizing revenue and disappointment. And I'll miss the irreverent analysis in the blog.
$50M also seems like a low exit for one of the most successful, and probably the most sophisticated, dating site on the internet.
Definitely makes me wonder if the dating space has much money left in it.