> "Then only allow people to access others they are likely to match against."
This only works if you are 100% confident that your matching algorithm is infallible. The odds of this being the case is about 0%.
I've thought about this problem some, and I think there are a few unacknowledged issues:
- Who you will get along with, and are a good match for, is often different from who you think you will get along with. Dorky Dillon, taking from the author's example, doesn't want page after page of plain janes similar to himself - like all humans he wants to date upwards... even though it is against his long-term interests and reduces his "efficiency" in the system.
- We have solid predictors of long term relationship success. Similar politics? Check. Similar religious views? Check. Suffice it to say, the odds of a hardline Republican and a extreme Democrat working out in the long run is pretty low, but would they enjoy hanging out for 5 minutes? 10? A month? Part of the dating site's job is to find dates, long term relationships build themselves out of that. IMHO there's a big difference between long-term compatibility (that the poor lovebirds will discover for themselves with or without your algorithm's help) and short-term compatibility (e.g. the ability to carry a conversation through dinner that won't put the other side to sleep). We have good predictors for the former, but IMHO not so much for the latter... and the latter is also much harder to infer.
So far dating sites - and even the vaunted OkCupid is guilty of this - conflating personality with opinion. Personality is what matters most in the initial stage, but none of the sites are collecting meaningful information on it.
I almost feel like matching people based on relationship compatibility (i.e., mid to long term) is the wrong way to go. IMHO it's a far better bet to predict whether or not two people can get through dinner without trying to kill each other... and just send them on a date. If they click, great. If they don't, spin the wheel again. The modern dating website, with its hyper-focus on long-term compatibility seems to be optimizing prematurely.
That's the thing. It's true that a similar world view is important for a long term relationship, problem is that there's well known sociological phenomenon where by people will not answer honestly about their actual world view (choosing one they consider to be more socially acceptable).
The very problem of course stems from the term "online dating". As I stated in my comment, it should really be about "online discovery of people you can go on a date with". The algorithms should not be about matching, but about discovery of people where interest may be mutual.
I agree completely. Right now our systems are (purportedly) remarkably good at finding good long term matches, but fail disastrously at getting you first dates. One thing comes before the other - and let's be honest, compatibility is something you can discover for yourself.
I'd much rather use a service that can get me regular dates with people I'd enjoy spending time with, but may not be a good long-term match, than a system that almost never gets me dates, but on the off chance it does she may be my soulmate.
I co-founded and just launched Luv@FirstTweet a few weeks ago.
I've thought about many of the issues which Adam describes, although I've never written them as eloquently and clearly as he has. I'm going to address some of the issues described in the blog post (note the "you" i reference is adam obv)...
1. spamming, hypergamy, and false advertising is a huge problem as you mention, and a big time sink. People want to use online dating because it is a huge pool of potential people and because it’s an efficient use of time. However when you have to waste time it detracts from the value (more on this below).
2. spamming - On Luv@FirstTweet you just respond to our Tweets which build your profile, so you’re not browsing profiles or messaging random people. The only time you do message someone is after you’ve been matched with them, and at that point we show several things in common as well as their photo, so hopefully when you email them it can initiate a real dialogue about things you care about, not just “nice pic ur h0t” haha.
3. hypergamy is covered pretty much in my comment above due to the nature of how you interact with the site.
4. In terms of false advertising, I guess it could be done if you lie in responses to all of our questions, but this isn’t a traditional dating site where people are browsing profiles and a deviant dude hopes his lies will ensnare an unsuspecting profile viewer…we’re building a profile about you and then matching, so it wouldn’t have the same impact and thus I doubt people would feel the urge to do it as much.
5. network effects are the biggest challenge I see us facing, and it’s something we’re got to deal with and adapt to. The big players are pouring tons of money into advertising their self-destructive business models as you explain, so this makes things tricky.
6. if there was a “like” button next to Zao Yang’s quote I’d click it – nicely put
7. “And to redefine the problem a little bit, I suspect there’s more value and fun in helping people meet new friends generically, and only incidentally maybe a significant other.” the nature of our platform could go this way, but currently we’re sticking with matching for dating. Something cool to think about though.
8. business models – looking into the future, there are many different avenues to monetize which aren’t ad based, but thanks to some good advice from @schildkrout from HowAboutWe we’re keeping the site free. We want to grow this bad boy after all and when looking at pt #5 above, can’t add any friction to the model to prevent user growth
9. the business model issue you bring up is one of the main reasons I had the idea for Luv@FirstTweet: “I sign up on the site, and buy a subscription. I find six or seven girls I like, and send them highly personalized messages. About 15% of people on Match are premium members, and therefore only one of those girls can even reply to my message. I get one reply, at most” – that right there is super super annoying. It is a huge time sink and a waste of money.
10. I’m definitely going to read that OkCupid post, it looks terrific.
11. backend – while we’re not running computer vision algorithms to analyze smiles, skin showing, etc (which is interesting, but just very different than how we approached things), we are going to continually tweak our matching algorithm based on the responses we get and seeing “what kind of matches work and which don’t” as you mention.
12. frontend – this is where we hope to be simple and fun. You say a few points which I totally agree with:
“Everyone knows that dating profiles suck to create and suck to consume (YES)
Not only do they lack real signal, they also make for a horrible onboarding experience. (YES)
You want me to fill eight huge text areas with witty banter, and check or uncheck 250 radio buttons? (YES…HAHA)
Overall I’m not bullish on the trinity of people profiles, messaging, and people searches. I know that’s how all sites are built today, but if I were in this space I’d keep an open mind on redefining the primitives.”
This is the key here to Luv@FirstTweet....
We take a fresh approach and say, hey you’re busy. We respect your lives. Go to work then go have fun with your friends. Oh and when you have 1 spare second when you’re grabbing lunch, or walking down the street, or waiting on a friend…tweet a response to @luvatfirsttweet’s latest question and we’ll store it and build your profile. We have a web interface of course if you’d like to edit your questions and answer some previously asked questions, but the core nature of the site enables effortless and fun profile building.
I'd love to know anyone's thoughts on this. Thanks.
Sure more things can be done to boost personality compatibility, but the long-term filters are very useful.
(It would take some serious guts to say "Your presence in our community is a net negative. We wish you the best, as long as the best is found elsewhere.", particularly if you do that in a data-driven fashion. My intuition is that people's revealed preferences in dating are very, very, very far from socially acceptable.)
Didn't OKCupid do that with their "If you have any STDs, please go here [link to match.com]"?
So you aren't really going to have a great ecosystem.
The service automatically groups similar people (demographics, location) into groups of ~20. 10 guys, 10 girls. They are then led through a week-long online introduction process where each day they respond to a prompt about a different aspect of their life. By the end of the week, hopefully people have gotten a feel for one another and if they are interested, you help them plan further communication or a date.
You use the ratings gathered (+ other usage/interaction data) during the week to assemble the next groups based on similarity, etc.
Group setting = no spammers, no awkward immediate 1-on-1, incentive to behave, multiple partner options, attentive group-mates that arent off 'playing the field' w/ 100 other people.
Week long = interaction over time builds trust, more time to learn about other people, people like to be guided through awkward/ambiguous social situations.
Pay-per-play instead of monthly subscriptions ($10/week) so that a dater can come and go as they please. You know everyone in the group is currently active and is available for communication (vs. long dormant profiles, etc).
Etc, etc, etc.
I built this and launched it and it operated from 2007-2010. It was called FlowMingle.com and had ~25k members. But, I gave up and shut it down. Why? Because I got tired, didnt have any money, etc. I still think this is an amazing way to do online dating, and my users agreed. Our sign-up conversion rate was ~22% (!!), and this is with 0 marketing dollars ever spent.
But you know what I learned? Some people appreciate legitimate interactions and thoughtful conversation and fruitful behaviors, and some people just want to 'play the field' and take their chances at landing the big one. The online dating space is every bit as complicated as the online daters themselves.
I would be happy to share my experiences with anyone who is interested.
It can be interesting to read, but most people will end up broadcasting their life experience masquerading as opinion.
Also, never hire anybody over 28 years old.
For instance, paying large amounts of money for access, spending a lot of time working out to improve your pics, etc.
I'll use my anecdote as one archetype ("geek of one type, seeking a
geek of another") for whom online dating works very well. When I started
dating, I was 23 and working full time while atteding graduate school,
living in San Jose. Most of my fellow graduate students were already
in relationships. The idea of work place romance seemed scary to a new
comer both to dating and the work force. I had a very small and
limited friends circle.
My career, educational and financial situation meant that even if I
had time for social activities (I didn't), I'd have no ability to
relate to a (statistically) random person my age, irrespective of
their gender. They didn't have a stable job or attend graduate school,
they didn't live on their own.
The latter paragraph makes me sounds extremely shallow, but consider
this: it's not a good idea to have a  long term relationship to
somebody earning significantly less or significantly more than
you. For example, simple things that involve a money/time trade-off can
turn into cultural conflicts: for example, hunting 30 minutes for
street parking when you could pay $10 to park in a public parking
garage (or in a city, taking the bus instead of a cab). Dating somebody living with parents is difficult if you live alone; dating with somebody who expects you to go to happy hour when you're in class or working is also difficult.
( Another factor: I wanted a long term relationship at 23. Most men
my age didn't, leading women who were to almost automatically infer
that I "just wanted to get laid").
Finally, I also wanted somebody who was intellectually inclined. While
(for reasons I can't comprehend), most men are intimidated by
intelligent women, I wanted somebody who could be a great conversation
partner; who could discuss (non-computer) science, philosophy, music
and literature. I just didn't want to hide my geekyness from my
Online dating worked well in this way: I could meet women living in
San Francisco and Berkeley (which have a higher concentration of
single geek-o-phile women than San Jose), places where I wouldn't
"just spontenously" make a trip (given the distance). I only had to
send a few messages, as I could perform intelligent searches based on
match percentage and then further narrow down the results by actually
reading the profiles (something most men on dating sites don't quite do).
In some ways, you could argue I was engaging in what Adam Smith called
"hypergammy". In many cases, I felt the women I met were "out of my
league". However, that's completely silly: how can you know if you're
out of somebody's league, if you don't know what sport they're
playing? In fact, one woman whom I considered "out of my league" also
told me she considered me "out of her league".
Are there problems with online dating? Yes, of course. If you're curious to what that problem is, ask a woman who actually used an online dating site about what is in her mailbox. Fortunately, even a simplistic ranking algorithm (TF/IDF on the message based with the keywords of the recipient's profile to burry the generic "YO GURL UR SO HOT" messages -- from men who never bothered to read the profile of women they messaged) can help greatly reduce this. Helping people discover relevant content is a problem of algorithms (ranking content and finding meaningful patterns in it), systems programming (building the systems that could store, modify, retrieve and process the content in real time as opposed to in batch) and user interface (there's a whole discipline around this). OKCupid and EHarmony (I've never used it, but they happen to use an open source project I contribute to) are examples of at least getting some parts right. Problem is that they couldn't go outside of their niche (geeks in the case of OKCupid and -- in my perception, reality may be different - traditional, usually conservative/religious and heterosexual people in the case of eHarmony).
(: I realize that this post is very"heteronormative", my apologies for this)
In short, online dating should really be called "online discovery of
people you can date". Real dating happens in person and the same rules
(e.g., "if you're a guy be nice, pay and open the door") apply. It's
just that you're exposed to people you might not be exposed to
otherwise (and you feel more confident when on a date with them: you know they're actually interested in you). Each side discovers something: I discovered that being a
programmer (doing something I have a deep passion for, doing creative
work) wasn't something I needed to hide and play down, while my dates
discovered that programmers can also have an interest in music,
neuroscience, philosophy and literature.
In short, making online dating based on offline social networks makes it nearly useless. Given the experience of Myspace and Friendster (as opposed non-dating based social networks like Facebook), it's a non starter from the get-go: male friends spamming your female friends ruin the "social network" part, the social network parts ruins the chance of any dating that wouldn't happen in real life happening due to the use of the site (why, then, use the site in the first place?)
I sent tons of messages (in total) to girls I wasn't sure I had a chance with (heaven forbid I message someone "out of my league"), and now I'm dating someone awesome. I didn't have any problems with spam (maybe because I'm a guy or something about my profile), or false advertising; profiles are often all too transparent.
Dating sites suck, but they are different from real life in important ways.
These messages encourage the guy to join another dating site with an affiliate link.
They make lots of money, but really can ruin dating websites if not kept in check.
While in theory a man's chances of finding a mate increase as his IQ increases, I'm not entirely convinced that women are attracted to raw intelligence either.
Good news, however, is that practical intelligence can be learned (with few exceptions such as Asperger's syndrome, but even in that case, there are coping strategies).
"Each additional point of IQ increased the odds of virginity by 2.7% for males and 1.7% for females."
People turn to online dating because they want more options. Put them through your fantastic matching algorithm and out of the 1 million members you supposedly have they are only going to see half a dozen.
So you loosen the matching to return more results. Now they see 15. Why not just skip to the chase and filter based on age, height and proximity? That will get you 90% of the way there.
And people like looking at pictures of potential dates/partners. Let them do the filtering themselves.
That leaves spam and scams, and they can both be reduced with a free-to-flirt, pay-to-contact model. If someone is not willing to spend $5 - $10 to contact you, then they can't be too interested in you. And vice versa.
(I've used online dating sites and I work in marketing for an online dating site)
I'm a Christian and politically centre-left - not actually very unusual over here, as it happens, I'm just in a small church so that option doesn't really work. Even OKC, with its much vaunted matching system, is pretty bad at finding people who don't cross a red line for me one way or the other. Even with a tuned profile I tend to find:
* People who match with me on general life outlook are relatively often nowhere near me on religion. I'm not trying to exist in a Christian ghetto but a regular churchgoer and a Darwin fish aren't good matches. I also tend to match quite strongly with Muslim women, which I can't see either side appreciating.
* People who match with me on religion are often politically enough to the right of me that experience says there'd be arguments.
OKC has major advantages over many rivals because it's enormously easier to find red lines up front and save both parties a lot of time, but even then there are edge cases where matching can fail. The further away from the population centre you get the harder matching becomes (just as in the real world, frankly) and a crude 'local, age, height' filter will slow those people down considerably.
Our site, in a nutshell, basically doesn't allow members to seek out other members and message them to see if there's mutual interest. It's only possible to talk to people you've been matched to by our system. In order to increase the chances of interaction between the matched members we artifically limit the frequency at which one receives new matches. Also, we give very little information about the match. The system has good reasons to introduce the members to each other, they will have to find out for themselves what those reasons might be. This approach helps mitigate the issue of 'Hypergamy', as the matching system ensures the match works both ways. Furthermore it prevents spamming (it's just not possible) and deincentivizes fakers.
We can only get away with not allowing people to search for themselves because we have a great matching system. Adam talked about eHarmony's love-science-PhD's and noted a statistical approach would probably work better. That's exactly what we thought, and put into practice. By combining the information we have of our members (answers to questions, attractiveness scores, etc) with a feedback loop that tells us which matches actually work out (or don't), we can constantly improve our algorithm (think machine learning) to make better matches. We actually have spend years optimizing the crap out of this.
Now, for us to be able to have a fighting chance in the US, we need to also somehow solve the fabled chicken and egg problem. We managed to pull it off in the Netherlands (word-of-mouth mostly, a big plus of actually having a good product), but will have to do more to succesfully launch in a foreign market. If anyone here has thoughts about this and is willing to share, I would be very grateful.
Ultimately, I believe that people are better matchmakers or judges of compatibility than a survey or a machine. Drawing from my own personal experience, I have played cupid and matched 4 of my friends that have ended up getting married. Seeing the lack of personal touch in online dating, I started SocialHack (socialhacks.me) as an attempt to bridge that gap between daily social interactions and the "social" interactions we have on the web.
Online dating has become a 1B/year business, and SocialHack compliments online dating by adding that personal touch. Individuals go to online dating sites to find a date, but don't know where to ask advice about what to wear, how to respond to a text, where to make reservations, etc. Ideally, I would like to build out this MVP into a peer-to-peer social advice platform, I believe that this sort of a platform would naturally disrupt online dating as it exists now because consultants will want to match their clients with friends from their own local network.
Our female SocialHackers provide online and offline services ranging from fashion consulting/personal shopping, date planning/advising, in-field "wing-women" services, and providing feedback for online dating profiles.
I created SocialHack during the Lean Startup Machine weekend in SF, winning runner-up and making $100 (per our proof of concept on Skyara.com) via our MVP socialhacks.me all in less than 2 days. Our success in proving the concept convinced me that there is a true need for this sort of service. More interestingly, female enthusiasm for the concept suggests that a chicken and egg problem wouldn't exist here.
I'd love to hear feedback on the idea and would love to work with anyone interested in developing SocialHack further.
You will always have enough male signups. So for the men it's about balancing the ratios somewhat so that it's not just completely ridiculous. Dating sites know this and probably don't care at all because they're getting revenue from any warm body.
While i agree that it just takes 5 minutes in person to do a quick BS/weirdo filter, that's not feasible online, especially for women. Women are spammed much more and have a tough time filtering, let alone meeting many people.
The only way this will work is if the matching algorithm he's proposing is extremely accurate, otherwise all it'd take is like 3-4 weeks of failed group dinner meetings to write the site off.
Of course. Seems like one obvious way would be to limit the number of emails that men can send per day/week/whatever, so women don't get spammed quite so badly.
- Free accounts exist. They have mostly full privileges.
- A given user can only receive so many requests per period
of time. A given user can only receive one request per
user for a given period. Others are informed that they
will be put on a waiting list. The site could play games
with the waiting list, like purging inactive accounts or
increasing the priority of requests similar to ones the
user has already responded to.
- Paid accounts exist. There is at least one incentive to
pay: you may skip a waiting list every so often. The
cost should be enough to reduce the incentive for account
cloning and keep the spammers out, as it exists only for
The first thing to understand is the dating world is fraught with mishaps and frustration. This is often misinterpreted as specific shortcomings to various approaches, "bars suck!" and whatnot. The real conclusion is that there is a lack of transparency in dating: signals must be interpreted; brutal honesty is simply not socially acceptable. Because there is so much confusion, everyone has an opinion.
Lots of people want to go beyond their social networks to meet people. There is no doubt about that. Subscription models are also proven successful at critical mass.
The challenges are building to critical mass, removing the stigma, encouraging best behavior, removing spam, keeping the most desirable members, among many others I'm forgetting.
Dating won't go away, the web isn't going away, and we have fun new social tools to play with. Lots of opportunity here to go beyond what the traditional dating sites have done.
Lab scientists can measure biological or physical properties http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGfznq9OgdU&feature=playe... like sweat scent which reveals immune system compatibility. They're getting very good correlations for long term relationships from these simple physical metrics.
Some of these metrics can be collected online, high testosterone or estrogen is visible in the face. Has any dating site used them seriously? Because most approach the problem from a psychological perspective, with surveys, bios, chatting, etc.. But long term couples have a very high proportion of physical compatibility, which happens to be easier to measure.
The fact that there's so many variables isn't the reason such an analysis would fail. The reason is that there's just not enough input to predict personality type with any statistical significance.
There's just so much that could be measured, but whether any of these metrics have any correlation with whether two people can, as the author describes, "just get through dinner" is a very tough question to answer.
The challenge with this model is that extracting money from users requires repeated action on their part. That subscription money is so much easier. With an average account life of six months, match.com gets about $180 per paid user.
If you went with a Groupon-like model for a site that revolved around sending people on dates, and assuming you could make about $10 on $20ish dates, each user would have to get out there 18 times in order for you to beat the subscription model.
I still think there could be a big opportunity in a site like this, but it's not hard to see why the incumbents hang onto their subscription models for dear life.
But what about a site that would let you make NEW friends (but "just" friends)? Would that be awkward? Online dating used to seem a lot awkward and is now kind of mainstream.
Meeting new friends is incredibly difficult; one ends up seeing the people they met in school or at work, and that's it.
Or maybe such a thing already exists? Or it's kind of available through Facebook...?
And the thing is you can't really know what somebody is like without meeting them in person.
Why not organise 'fun' group events for people that are interested in each other online and want to meet?
An online dating site where you put your money where your mouth is.
Guys and Girls review each others profiles and rather than making contact and
trading a few messages, suitors buy "First Date Packages" and offer them to the
people they are interested in (the target of their affections).
Dinner and a movie? Paddle boating on the lake? Perhaps a picnic in the park?
Why not even go totally crazy and go skydiving!
Other suitors can see the offers made to people they too are interested in and can
"bid" against them by offering a more impressive or more romantic package.
(You want to attract the whales who have thousands to spend of really special
weekend. Charter a yacht for example.)
As soon as "the target" accepts the offer, the suitor's credit card is billed for
75% of the date package, and the target is billed the remaining 25%. (The target
must contribute to the date package price to ensure they participate and are
Site earns revenue by taking a slice of the price of each package. Once the site
takes off, 3rd parties pay to have their romantic packages on offer.
Its a crazy idea but I think its cool for a number of reasons.
Geeks will like it because you get a lot of help making sure that first date is
going to be interesting. You'll have the package all organized for you.
Girls will like it because when they go on a date they know where they will be
going and it will be exciting. Chances are they choose from a list of interesting
Go get em people will like it because both parties are jumping with both feet
and instead of trading countless emails only to discover the other party is just
not that interested.
Start your relationship off with a bang!
How on earth does this system help you determine whether the pair is interested in each other? It is only having one party bid on the other's proposed activity, which may or may not have anything to do with their actual personality.
There's also something a little slimy about having people 'bid' to win my attention. Income (and willingness to spend it impressing strangers) is not my primary criterion. It's not even in the top ten.
> the park? Why not even go totally crazy and go skydiving!
Those are all terrible first-meet, first-date ideas. From experience, I can say that you want something extremely public, from which you can extricate yourself quickly with minimal embarrassment. "Want to get a cup of coffee?" has been a standard for a long time for good reason.
Having coffee is boring. The person across from you will make up for that if they are the one you are seeking. And if they're not, go sky dive - alone!
Paddling on a lake is not a safe, easily aborted situation.
Group events are where it's at. This is socially similar to meeting by networking through friends, even if you have few close friends, or boring ones.
If it wasn't for alcohol, i think all British people would die out.
Without understanding the mechanisms of the game, a more successful dating site just means a better conversion technique.
People who have not paid can't respond? Make it free to respond. Pay to initiate.
People spam with low quality requests. Make it so you only get a small number of non-responded requests.
People ignore requests and are not paying attention? Show number of responded/non responded requests in the last month.
Meeting friends-of-friends is the best way to find cool people, because liking is transitive AND because the low social distances force people to be on their best behavior.
If I were looking to date friends-of-friends in particular, I think I'd just use facebook directly. Though more often then not, I've already met such friends-of-friends via common events.
Imagine this; by utilizing a particular dating service you would agree to A) make your Facebook profile open to the person you are mailing and B) If both parties are interested in each other (designated if both exchange message more than once) this fact is known on each other's Facebook walls and C) if you go out on a date with this person (both people making this known to the dating website) each person open up their profile to the other individual to let the other person write a review of the date on their public wall?
OkCupid seems to be at the forefront in this space. They get people in India to rate the attractiveness of new members and use that to limit your access to people significantly more attractive than you are.
Is this common knowledge? I'm shocked if it's true, but I'm sort of thinking there should be a  after that.
We are very pleased to report that you are in the top half of OkCupid's most attractive users. The scales recently tipped in your favor, and we thought you'd like to know.
How can we say this with confidence? We've tracked click-thrus on your photo and analyzed other people's reactions to you in QuickMatch and Quiver.
. . .
Your new elite status comes with one important privilege:
You will now see more attractive people in your match results.
This new status won't affect your actual match percentages, which are still based purely on your answers and desired match's answers. But the people we recommend will be more attractive. Also! You'll be shown to more attractive people in their match results.
(I bought it for a buddy to blog on back in high school. He put up 3 or 4 posts, let it sit for a while, and then told me he didn't want it anymore.)