I’ve used dating sites a fair bit over the last 8 years. Match.com was the big site for a long time, then LavaLife.com got big (a buddy of mine is gearing up to marry a woman he met on there). The two I recommend to friends are OkCupid.com and PlentyOfFish.com (both are free, of course).
For a while I thought collaborative filtering (where things you like help match you up to things people who are similar to you like: think Amazon’s recommendation system) would be an interesting idea for a dating site, but someone beat me to it.
The other idea I’ve had comes from what I think is a massive problem with on-line dating. Dating sites CLEARLY came from a techie’s mind. They aren’t much more than than a web interface slapped on a database. You choose the characteristics you want (red hair, not religious, no kids) hit search and start working through the list of results. This is a great way to order stereo equipment, but is it really the best way to find romance and/or a life partner?
Ok Cupid gets around this by having all users answer questions, rate how important each question is, then match people up algorithmically this way. Better, but it still involves a lot of shifting through people pictures, scanning their profiles and writing lots of messages for every response you get.
The joke of it is, women on these sites often get big egos because so many guys are contacting them, but then they don’t like the guys that they’re meeting. Some try to deal with this by putting a list of “requirements” on their profile for any guy who expects a response to them, and often come off as prima donnas. Guys realize these sites are a numbers game, and start spamming the women. There’s a very low signal to noise ratio for the whole experience.
The dating site *I* would design would be a radical departure from this model. Instead of wrapping a website around a database, the site would be like cocktail party with a VERY attentive host. When you first logged on, there would be minimal information to enter (for some reason people hate filling out profiles, about 1/4 of them whine about not knowing what to write). Say you get started with an e-mail address and password. You’re assigned 3 people to “talk to”. You can enter VERY, VERY minimal filtering criteria (perhaps just sexual orientation and geographic location). You and the three people you’re chatting with are given a question with a very limited space to answer a general question (perhaps “what was the last good movie you saw?”).
The next day you log in and see the responses from the people you’re currently interacting with. You pick the ones you want to keep talking to and reject the ones you’re not interested in. The ones you want to keep talking to and you are then given a more detailed question (or are asked more personal information which is exchanged, such as “how many children do you have?”). The ones you reject are replaced with other people you then exchange a short question with again.
If you get a question you’ve already answered, it resends your previous answer (you can update these if you want), so then you just accept or reject the response you get. Eventually you have chosen to interact with someone enough that the system suggests you exchange e-mail addresses, phone number or meet “off-line”.
Collaborative filtering could be applied to pick the people for you to interact with from the general pool of people.
The big advantage of this system is that I think people don’t really know what they want and are attracted to. With the database search we filter out people we may have taken a real liking to. Perhaps a woman refuses to date men younger than herself, until she starts interacting with a guy who loves the same music she does, has a wicked sense of humour and looks like her favourite contestant on “Survivor”. Perhaps a guy normally would have rejected dating outside his race until he gets into deep exchanges with a woman who shares his values and spiritual outlook. Perhaps two people who are 20 years apart in age find out they’re more compatible with each other than the people they’ve each been dating in their own age range.
This site would obviously be the complete opposite of a meat market. People who can’t write worth a damn and get by on their photo on other sites would be at a disadvantage on this one. It doesn’t seem to me to be the worst thing in the world if the site distilled off the flaky, beautiful people and built itself on a core of people who were serious about finding a partner and willing to put some work into connecting with like-minded people (maybe this would be too small of a niche). There are tons of “meat market” sites for people looking for that.
Dating sites are DIRT cheap to create and run (Plenty of Fish is arguably the number one site and is run by a guy out of his apartment), so the financial risk of starting such a site is pretty low (no need for venture capital or anything). Its a HIGHLY competitive area, so if this approach worked you’d quickly get lots of competition. There definitely is a benefit to being established (more users lead to more matches, which leads to more users -> its winner take all). Like the free sites, I’d be tempted to monetize it via advertising in order to maximize the user base. You could do other things like allow more conversations at higher (paid) membership levels and not canabalize your membership when you started charging.
For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.