Common Problems in Online Dating–And How To Fix Them

ProblemsOnline dating is more popular than ever.  One third of all marriages these days came from online dating.  The stigma of meeting someone over the Internet has faded.   But it’s not all candlelit dinners and walks on the beach.  Online dating certainly helps people find potential dates, but it doesn’t always help people find good relationships.  There are a number of common problems out there, and there are ways the online dating industry can address them.

Problem:  Women Get Way Too Many Messages

On sites with unrestricted messaging (such as OkCupid and Plenty of Fish), women get way too many messages–sometimes 50-100 per day if the profile is particularly attractive.  That’s just too many to deal with.  This turns into a problem for men, as well–it’s much harder for a man’s message to get a response.

Some sites deal with this by only giving you a few matches per day (such as eHarmony) or only one (such as Coffee Meets Bagel).    This certainly helps reduce the onslaught of messages, but a lot of people still want to feel they have more options.

Solution:  Provide Feedback

One way a dating site could help is by noticing male users who have a poor ratio of messages sent to message replies.  The site could give them advice on the best way to craft their messages, such as this blog post from OkCupid’s OkTrends blog, and this TED talk by Evan Marc Katz.

Of course, lots of people will still ignore this advice, so in addition, dating sites could crowdsource this issue.  By allowing women to rate messages–with categories such as ‘overtly sexual’ or ‘generic’ (‘hey girl what’s up’)–the system could track this information.  If a user gets too many ratings in a particular category, he could get a warning/advice, and if he continues, the number of messages he’s allowed to send could be restricted.

Problem:  Men Send Creepy or Unsolicited Sexual Messages

Some men send messages that are sexually explicit to women they’ve never had contact with, or after only a few brief interactions.  This can be annoying at best, but can be very disturbing, and has driven women to quit online dating sites entirely.

Solution:  The Scarlet Letter

Dating sites should allow its users to easily (and anonymously) let the system know when they’re getting these type of unwelcome messages.  Users could check a box on the offending user’s profile labeling them as an “inappropriate message sender”.  If the user gets this feedback enough times, his profile would be labeled as such, so that women would see he’s prone to that type of behavior and avoid him.  If it continues, the number of messages he’s allowed to send could be restricted.

This feedback would be anonymous, of course.  In addition, if this happens after the messaging has gone off-site (e.g. you exchange phone numbers and he starts texting unwanted images), there should be a way to provide that feedback as well.

Problem:  The Current Algorithms Aren’t Working

Although places like eHarmony, Chemistry.com and OkCupid claim to have algorithms that will help you find your match, there is no proof the algorithms actually work.  It’s true many relationships are formed by people meeting on these sites; what’s unproven is whether the site’s algorithms have anything to do with this.

Part of the problem is how difficult it is to predict compatibility between two individuals.  Having things in common (or not) is not an indicator that two people will find each other attractive.  The industry needs more couple-level data.

Solution:   Post-Date Feedback

There is e a LOT of data from online dating, but one place it’s really lacking is post-date feedback.  It’s hard to get people to provide that info, and there is no way for an online dating site to track user’s behavior once they move to offline interactions.

But this data is incredibly important.  Who did you go on a date with?  A second date?  Who did you find compatible, but without chemistry?  If the dating site could add this information to its algorithms, it would have a huge amount of potential to improve its matches.

If the dating site has “freemium” services, these can be used as incentives–the more dates you rate, the more perks you receive.  The site needs to be smart about its user experience when asking for the feedback.  It could notice if you’ve messaged with a particular user a lot, and ask if you’ve been on a date yet.  For sites like Coffee Meets Bagel, it could send a text the next day with a short survey (maybe two questions) to see how the date went.

It’s important to make the survey short and simple.  Anything longer than a few questions will become annoying very quickly.  Timing is important.  The best incentive to provide feedback, of course, is to show it’s working–over time, your matches should improve.  What could be more motivating than that?

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No Need to Smell Sweaty T-Shirts Anymore.. Just Spit in a Tube

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InstantChemistry uses DNA to determine compatibility

Back in February, I wrote about my idea of using pheromones to help predict chemistry between online daters.  Not surprisingly. it turns out there are several companies doing just that:  GenePartner, LoveGene, and InstantChemistry.  You order a kit, spit in a tube, and send your DNA off for analysis. (Better than my suggestion of taking a blood sample!)

The premise is simple:  couples with different immune systems produce healthier offspring, and thus we are naturally attracted to a person whose immune system (measured, in this case, by something called the MHC: major histocompatibility complex) is different than ours.

GenePartner got a lot of press back in 2009, but since then they’ve been pretty quiet.  LoveGene, based in the UK, has been around for a couple of years but seems to be getting off the ground just now–they’re getting more attention in the news. 

But InstantChemistry has been getting the most buzz.  In addition to measuring the immune system genes, they look at another one:  the serotonin transporter gene.  According to InstantChemistry:

When couples respond very strongly or differently to emotional situations, research has shown this creates conflict in relationships.  Over time, couples reported decreases in their relationship satisfaction if they had conflict in how they responded to emotional situations.

Because of this, they claim to be able to use DNA to “discover your relationship compatibility”.   You and your partner can both take the test ($215) and see if you match.  And if not, “we give you ways to potentially mitigate and improve your relationship.”  They are definitely upping the game with their offerings.

They’ve also partnered with some online dating sites, such as SingldOut.  SingldOut launched in July, so it’s too soon to see if it’s working for their daters, but Business Insider reports they’ve sent out more than 200 kits already. 

I love the idea of finding ways to predict chemistry between two people before they meet up in person.  It’s an important thing to know and you often can’t tell just by looking at someone’s profile or even talking on the phone.  I hope this is one more tool to make it easier for people to find love.

Sweaty t-shirt parties, by the way, continue.  (They are also called by the more appetizing “pheromone dating”.)  I enjoyed reading a first-person perspective on attending one of these parties by Katherine Templar Lewis.  When she finally got to meet the guy whose smelly t-shirt she’d picked (#112) she did in fact find him attractive.  But it only took a few minutes of conversation to discover, sadly–they didn’t have chemistry.

 

An Interview with Whim founder and CEO Eve Peters

whimLogoWhim founder and CEO Eve Peters graciously took the time to answer some questions for Love Data.  Whim is a new dating app that bills itself as “The ‘Hotel Tonight’ of Dating”.  They will send you on a date:  tonight!

 

Q: Given that there are over 3800 dating businesses out there right now, what made you decide to create something new in the dating space?

There may be 3800 dating businesses, but none of them is really solving the problem of meeting new people. While most apps have done a great job of mastering search and discovery of people, they’re really only solving 10% of the problem. 90% of the friction is in getting from the online connection to an offline relationship; Whim is uniquely focusing on providing a solution for that.

Q: In your CrowdFunder video (https://www.crowdfunder.com/whim) you mention using 16 variables to help match potential dates. What sets Whim’s algorithm apart from other dating apps?

Most mobile apps will present you with any matches who fit your very basic criteria – like age range and location. We go further by employing the detailed level of matching you’d find on an app like Match (including race, education level, height, body type, interests, and more) while still providing the convenience of a mobile app.

Q: At the iDate conference in June, you had a great slide showing the typical time a person has to invest before getting to that first date. With the exception of Grindr, it seems to be at least 5 days to weeks before people usually meet up in person. Are you worried it will be more awkward for people on a Whim first date since they have not had any time to get to know a little bit about each other first?

I’m not concerned about that. First dates are a little silly feeling and awkward no matter what. The advantage of a Whim date is that it happens almost on the fly; there’s less time to get nervous, less build-up, and less of a need for it to be something great. It’s just a casual weeknight drink with someone you might enjoy.

Q: How many dates do you think the typical Whim user would want to go on? Do you think people may suffer from “first date fatigue”?

Our target is to get active users going on at least 2 Whim dates per week. They’re so easy to set up and so fun to go on – I think this goal is realistic. Most of the dating fatigue in apps comes from the extensive profile browsing and messaging back and forth that ensues, not from the actual face-to-face meeting. Of course, some people have more social energy than others; some Whim users might just do a couple per month, while others might date every other night like it’s their job!

Q: Can anyone with a Facebook account join Whim, or is there any kind of vetting process to help weed out less savory users?

Currently anyone with a FB account can join. However, if a user reports any suspicious or inappropriate behavior to us, we will immediately check it out and dismantle your profile if necessary.

Q: Whim has a “How was your date?” rating afterwards. How will this information be used to improve Whim’s algorithm or other features?

When enough data accumulates, we can use these ratings to predict what kinds of people you are most likely to enjoy on a date and serve you continually better matches.

Q: Whim’s model includes potential partnerships with bars and restaurants. You pay $5 if you accept a date for that night, and in turn the bar/restaurant offers a free drink or appetizer. I love this idea because it cuts down on people flaking, and has an actual revenue model for Whim–something a lot of dating apps lack. Do you have a lot of partnerships with bars/restaurants at this time?

We have ten partnerships established thus far, including Primitivo, Salt Air, Willie Jane, A Frame, and Circle Bar (all Los Angeles establishments).

Q: Congrats on getting a slot with 500 Startups! What does this mean for Whim’s next steps?

Thank you! As of July 14th the team has moved up to San Francisco. We’re grateful and excited to be part of 500 Startups; it means we’ll have the advantage of their mentorship, network, and support behind us as we move forward toward our native app launch (September ‘14) and beyond.

How Can Wearable Tech Help You Find (and Keep) a Mate?

"Hug shirt" from Cute CircuitWearable tech is all the rage, whether it’s a bracelet that tells you how many steps you’ve taken  or one that tracks your quality of sleep, to a ring that glows when that someone special is calling, to concussion caps that let the coach know when a player should be pulled off the field.

But can wearable tech help your love life?  There aren’t any wearable tech devices out there right now specifically targeted towards dating, but there is a lot of potential to piggyback onto devices that are already out there.  I’ve broken down my findings into three categories:  Finding a Match, First Date, and Relationships.

Finding a Match

Here are two ideas from interns at the design studio LUNAR (only concepts for now):

  • Marie Noury designed a pendant called Wizz that “gathers information from all your social networks, and uses that to figure out who you might like. It uses this information to send you an alert when there is someone with the same interests in the area around you.”
  • Toby Stopper designed a charm bracelet that “lets you broadcast your interests to the world around you. Various glowing charms can be combined to reflect different personalities and passions, which lets people know instantly whether or not there could be a connection.”

Using Google Glass comes to mind, of course–Coffee Meets Bagel had an April Fool’s joke saying they’d partnered with Glass to help find the perfect match:  “High compatibility detected: Commence stalking.”

Besides stalking potential mates while you’re out and about, wearable tech could also be used to automatically add information to people’s online profiles.  For example, if users wear a sleep tracker, it can automatically label whether someone is a night owl, which may be important to you.  If someone is ok with sharing a summary of their activity data, you could see whether their claim of “physically active” holds true.

Emotion detection apps are starting to emerge, as well.  An online profile could show someone’s emotional pattern when they’ve watched a movie, and you could see if you both laugh and cry at the same things.  OkCupid says one of the most reliable questions you can ask your date to see if you’re compatible is “Do you like horror movies?” (If you both answer yes, or both answer no, you’re more likely to be a good match.)

First Date

In Professor Eli Finkel’s TED talk (“Can Technology Bring Us True Love?”), he talks about research showing that when two people who meet have chemistry, their heart rates sync up.  If you wear a heart rate monitor during your first date (like this one from Sensilk), you could get a report card showing how compatible you and your date are in terms of your unconscious signals.  The report card could use emotion as well–if it detects boredom or disgust, you’re probably not a good match.

Imagine a bracelet, like Jawbone’s Up, vibrating when certain events occur; for example, if someone you chose as a match on eHarmony said “yes” back, a little vibrate might make you feel extra good about it.  (The vibrate when you reach your goal for the date on FitBit is apparently a bit of a thrill for some.)

Kapture has a bracelet that lets you record and share the last 60 seconds of conversation–you can save and replay that special moment during your first date when you first felt that spark.

Relationships

Other devices might come into play once you’ve had at least one date with someone, or if you’re actually in a relationship.  Here’s something from Cute Circuit called a “hug shirt”:  it lets you send a hug to someone anywhere in the world, which is then simulated by the shirt they’re wearing.  It’s kind of a nice idea, but I think I’d feel creeped out if I was just sitting in a meeting or something and suddenly my shirt started hugging me.

You could imagine something even more sophisticated, which can respond in different ways depending on what was sent–a hug from a faraway friend vs. a more intense one from a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Another idea for long-distance relationships is an app that tracks and sends photos of your partner throughout the day; perhaps your partner is traveling abroad and this would be an automatic way to see glimpses into their day and travels, and spark conversations when you do chat.  Or you could both be going for a run in your respective cities, and compete to see who can get their heart rate in the zone the longest.  Winner buys dinner next time you’re in town.

Of course I have to mention Funderwear: “Basically Durex took the same technology used to make a cell phone vibrate—actuators—and wired them into the underwear, which can then be remotely controlled by a smartphone. The complete his and hers Funderwear set includes a bra, panties, and a pair of boxer briefs, all of which vibrate.”

Back to emotion tracking:  maybe your boyfriend just had a bad day at work.  The emotion tracker could let you know it’s a good time to send him a message that you’re thinking of him–or one of those hug shirt hugs!

Most of these ideas are for long-distance relationships, but there are plenty of games for in-person dates as well.  How about seeing how fast it takes to boost the other person’s heart rate, for example?  Or how fast you can calm their heart rate, for that matter.

There are negative sides, of course, like this creepy video that shows a future in which a man is playing a dating app game in the middle of a first date (for example it lets him know when his date’s interest in the conversation is flagging).  And allowing users to have total control over what information they’re sharing, and with whom, is essential.

Wearable tech is still in its infancy.  But as it grows, no doubt its uses–even in love–will grow too.

What are Tinder, OkCupid and eHarmony users Tweeting About?

I recently did some analysis to see which dating apps/sites people were Tweeting about the most.  Tinder won by a landslide, followed by OkCupid and Badoo.

Now I wanted to see what these Tweets were about.  Using the open-source data analytics tool KNIME, I fed in the Tweets, did some data cleanup, and created word clouds to get a picture of the most common topics.

Let’s start with Tinder:

Tinder Word ClodSome of the words had me scratching my head initially.. castle?  Bots?  But a little digging led to this retweeted story:  “Tinder Hacked By Bots Promoting Castle Clash Game Downloads“.

Other words, like dating, singles, sexy, hot, and matches, all fit in with Tinder’s reputation.

I took a look at the data on swiping right (saying ‘yes’ to a match) and swiping left (saying ‘no’) and people were Tweeting about swiping right almost twice as much as swiping left.

Next up, OkCupid:

OkCupid Word CloudAs I mentioned in my previous post, about 60% of the OkCupid posts had to do with OkCupid’s boycotting of Firefox because Mozilla’s president had donated to the anti-gay marriage Prop 8.   That definitely skews the data!  Another big story (for the words nightmare, steals, phone) had this headline:  “Nightmare OkCupid Date Steals Girl’s Phone and Impersonates Her Online.”  Interestingly, marriage made it into the word cloud (unlike in Tinder and eHarmony) but that seems also to be related to the Mozilla boycott!

Next up in number of Tweets was Badoo–but most of the data was in Spanish.

I decided to focus on the next one instead, eHarmony:

eHarmony Word Cloud

Apparently eHarmony had a commercial out that made a lot of people uncomfortable.   As for “job,” it included various job postings at eHarmony (I did get rid of all the Tweets by the dating app’s Twitter account, but other people posted the same information).

995pm refers to a deal eHarmony was running at the time:  $9.95 per month.

Other interesting words:  exclusive, “findlove”, senior, and matchmaker.

What About Love?

“Love” was the 42nd most common word in Tinder’s Tweets, 108th for OkCupid (people were too busy Tweeting about the boycott!) and the 11th most common at eHarmony.  I can’t say I’m surprised that people Tweeting about eHarmony are Tweeting the most about love!

Now What?

The next thing I’d like to do with this data is sentiment analysis–that is, are people saying more negative or positive things about each of these sites?  I’d also like to get some more data for OkCupid since the Mozilla boycott has passed.


 

Technical Notes

You may have noticed that each word cloud contains the name of the dating site/app itself.  I did remove the majority of those words (each Tweet has one so it’s not particularly relevant!) but a few stayed in because of the way the data was organized.  I used KNIME’s Parts of Speech tagger, and interestingly it sometimes tagged the dating apps as a noun, and sometimes as a verb (depending on where in the sentence it appears).  If I were to do this again, I’d remove those instances as well.

My Review of iDate Mobile Dating Industry Conference

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Blinged-out Conference Lanyard: “Let There Be Money”

Last week, I attended the iDate Mobile Dating Industry Conference in Beverly Hills.  The conference is held three times a year (in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, and an international venue) and has been around for 11 years.

I have never attended before and was not really sure what to expect.  I hoped to learn more about the landscape of online dating as it stands today, see some interesting presentations, and make a few connections.

While some of that did happen, I also saw some extremely poor presentations, was witness to plenty of misogyny,  and was disappointed by the lack of content about actually HELPING people meet their romantic partner (as opposed to just driving traffic to an online dating site or app to make money).  There are 3000+ dating sites out there!

I got a kick out of the hotel–the SLS–it was very swanky LA, full of quirky art (like people painted on the elevator walls).

There were two talks that had titles that indicated there would be a discussion of algorithms and compatibility measurement, but both fell quite short.  There was a lot of discussion of sleazy dating sites, “d*ck pics,” and comments like “thanks for giving us a tax-free excuse to hang out with hot 18 year olds”.  I went to a talk called “Using High-End Offline Events to Improve Membership,” but after the speaker started showing a video from their Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion full of half-naked women, I left.

I’ve been to a lot of tech conferences in my life, and while there is still plenty of sexism to go around there, it’s nothing like the iDate atmosphere.  Ad posters of half-naked women were in the networking area.   And I am so tired of men referring to women as “females”.

There was a party on the first night of the conference up in the Hollywood Hills at Tai Lopez’s house.  He’s an entrepreneur who was once on the Millionaire Matchmaker.  That was…interesting.

What WAS good about the conference?  Here’s a summary of presentations I did get something out of:

  • The best by far was a pre-conference session I attended by Steve Dean, CEO of Dateworking, called Mobile Dating App Innovation.  Steve is in his mid-20s and has tons of dating experience, which he applies to consulting for dating companies.   He is someone who obviously spends a lot of time thinking about dating, and his presentation was full of interesting information and real data.
  • The keynote on the first main day of the conference was by Syuzi Pakhchyan of Fashioning Technology, called “Connected Bodies:  Shaping the Future of Wearable Tech”.   It was a fascinating overview of the current space in wearable tech.  There was not a big tie-in with online dating, but she did give some good food for thought, such as using open environments like Jawbone’s UP Band to enhance dating communication (perhaps a vibrate on your wrist when someone you like messages you?)
  • Mark Brooks, CEO of Online Personals Watch and Courtland Brooks, gave an overview of the dating industry over the last year, including some interview clips with Sam Yagan (CEO of Match), Markus Frind (CEO of Plenty of Fish), and Aaron Schildkrout (CEO of HowAboutWe).   He also brought up the fact that most matchmaking conferences are attended primarily by women, but the iDate conference is primarily men.   What’s up with that?
  • There was a session called “CEO Therapy” in which a CEO stands up for a 5-minute presentation, and then gets feedback from the audience on their business model, etc.  Eve Peters gave a brief but terrific talk about her startup, Whim, which gets you out on a date that same night.  She had some great data on the time one invests on various dating sites before you go on an actual date. (It can take weeks on some sites.)   She also had one of my favorite quotes from the conference, “This is not an entertainment app like Tinder.”
  • Alex Kilpatrick  from Beehive ID gave some interesting information about potential for using social graphs for dating.
  • Mark Brooks interviewed Michael Jones, CEO of Science, Inc.  Michael knows a lot about the industry and gave some good insights.  Also, can I just say there is a lot more swearing at iDate presentations than at tech conferences?
  • Christian Jensen, Chief Evangelist at Sinch, talked about adding voice to dating apps, and why aren’t more people doing it?
  • I enjoyed hearing from Jill James, COO of Three Day Rule, a matchmaking service recently bought by Match.com.  You submit photos of your exes and they use facial recognition software to figure out your facial “type”.
  • There was some talk about “couples’ apps” being the wave of the future; once you’ve got someone matched, how can you retain them as a customer and help them in their relationship?

The last session of the conference was a panel with 10 people (sadly it only included one woman, Jill James) that had the audience asking questions about the industry.   It had a few interesting insights.

In summary:  I’m glad I went, I did learn some useful things and meet some interesting people, but I was also disappointed by a lot of the content and angry with the blatant misogyny.  I did  have fun staying at the conference hotel, where I ate the best grilled-cheese sandwich of my life.   Check out my Flickr photos of the conference.

 

Eyerolling Can Make Your Spouse Sick

EyeRollingJohn Gottman is well-known for his work on relationships.  In a 1998 study, Gottman developed a model to predict which newlywed couples would remain married and which would divorce four to six years later. He claims that his model has 90% accuracy.

Although there has been criticism of this model, Gottman remains an authority on relationship dynamics.  In his experiments, he asks couples to discuss a topic that often leads to arguments, then analyzes the fight.  What’s he looking for?  Signs of contempt.

Gottman believes contempt (along with stonewalling, defensiveness, and criticism) is one of the major signs that a relationship is in distress.  There are many ways to express contempt, such as eye rolling, or insulting your partner (“You’re so stupid.”)

Contempt by your partner not only predicts the health of your relationship; it can also predict your health:

by counting the number of a husband’s facial expressions of contempt for his wife,we could correctly estimate the number of infectious diseases she would have over the next four years.

I find this astonishing.

Gottman believes that couples don’t have to resolve all their issues; in fact, he says that couples will continue to fight about the same things over and over again in their marriage.  What matters, he says, is how you fight.  Do you hurl insults at each other?  Claim it’s never your fault?  Criticize instead of complain?  Point out everything your partner does wrong? These are indicators your relationship is suffering.

Gottman also claims that men become more intensely upset physiologically than women–higher heart rate and blood pressure–and remain distressed longer after the fight ends.  Therefore, men are more likely to avoid the upsetting discussion–stonewall–to save themselves from feeling so terrible.  Unfortunately, stonewalling increases the woman’s feelings of unpleasant physiological arousal more than anything else her spouse does, including shouting.

Sounds pretty bad, right?  But don’t despair. There is research that indicates marriage can be good for your health, too–like lowering blood pressure in men.   And women holding their husband’s hand have a higher pain tolerance.

It’s ok to fight and ok to get angry with your spouse (in fact, Gottman says getting angry can be good for you relationship).  But do it right:  fight nice.