Social Discovery Dating Benefits Companies, Not Singles

Social dating and discovery in its current format is based on a wobbly foundation of media spin, investors (both gullible and heroic) and the reality that singles are tired of the decade-old dating site model. The dating industry needed a swift kick in the pants, and social dating/discovery seems to be the answer.

It sure ain’t pure-play mobile dating apps. There are some great apps out there, but none that anyone not in the dating space has heard of at a cocktail party. Ok, Skout is crushing it, but I’m not 18, don’t care and after raising $22 million, they have a lot of monetizing to do.

Zoosk and Are You Interested are the grandparents of the social discovery movement. Old-growth trees, you can see them swaying in the wind as they perform a series of pivots to stay relevant – Couples! Find new friends nearby! Find something to keep us at 5 million monthly visitors! And they both keep growing, which is the whole point of it.

In 2009 I wrote about Canoodle (part of Cupid PLC) being the latest dating site meta-search service. Canoodle searched 18 dating sites and had 8.5 million profiles and it still failed. How does that happen?

The site is gone now, once again proving, against all odds, that nobody really wants a Google for online dating (we’ll see about Facebook Graph Search.) Canoodle relaunched a few months ago as a social discovery app, taking on LikeIt, Likebright, OkCupid’s Combosaurus (dumb name!) and many others. More at SF Gate.

Facebook knows everything! These sites are just trying to replicate/onboard Facebook information, along with some of their own questions, for better matching. Yeah riiiiight.

The last thing I want to do is over and over again tell various sites I like books, she-males (the hot new thing for guys!) and snowboarding. Isn’t that what Facebook Connect is for, to share your likes, tastes and preferences with other sites? But no, all these social/dating sites want to make more work for us. Over and over again, and to what end? I predict most people will try social dating sites and bounce after a few weeks. Unless you are on a site like MeetMe, which is strangely addictive for people who don’t want to deal with the hassle of posting like a pro on Facebook.

I’m surprised that social dating sites are raising such small rounds. Give ‘em $3-$8 million and let them run with it. Look at HowAboutWe with north of $20 million in funding. No other social dating site is getting that sort of money, and the upside for social discovery is enormous when you get into Badoo territory.

Badoo loves all the competition. They are a household name in many places, having snuck in while the dating industry was asleep and taking off with the entire cookie jar. Meetic and Match and POF were caught asleep at the wheel and they are not going to let that happen again. Until it does, because it always does. Why do you think Match bought OkCupid? For OK Labs and the team’s brain trust! It’s not like OkCupid users are going to migrate to other Match properties.

Five years out Badoo is in a MySpace decline, but the money is great right now. They just added what, 60 million new profiles? A dollar or two per user per year, not bad, not bad at all.

Another company that snuck in was MeetMe. Seeking Alpha does a deep dive into the value of MeetMe: Why Big Players Could Buy MeetMe.

Algorithm-driven, social/casual or niche, thats the dating world right there. Algo-driven companies will always be on top, with social/casual beating out their monthly visitor numbers, but unable to monetize as efficiently. Niche, well that *was* a great place to be. Problem is, there are no niches worth going after anymore if you want to play on center court. Ok, so South America and Asia, not niches but the big players don’t historically do well there, that’s going to be won by a whole other set of players and then acquired by Match. Now everyone is piling into South America, so we have 50 little sites all doing the same thing trying to grab market share. None of those sites have strong algorithms for matching, it’s cloned platforms and SkaDate scripts all the way down.

I would love to be on the biz dev team at Match, what a dream job. If niche/geo-area site size (it’s never revenue) > some arbitrary number we agree on internally, then buy ‘em, else goto next deal.  Every once in a while make a talent acquisition to round out the brain trust. Brilliant.

Back to social. As if any of these sites has a clue about how to take this information and turn it into fuel for a matching algorithm that works better than throwing darts at a dartboard. That said, the recent comments from the eHarmony matching folks are promising. EH understands matching better than most sites. They must, right? Ten years of ongoing algorithm development… Wait, they are gutting the company and re-focusing. Dr. Warren goes on and on talking about how the company went off in the wrong direction. I hope he’s not talking about their algorithms.

If EH/Match/POF, OKC and a few others kinda-sorta get it, that means 98% of the other dating/social sites out there don’t have a clue which political, energetic, food and music preferences align in such a way as to result in better matches. They are going to be matching us based on our undying love for Gaga or Bieber for a while. Reality Distortion Field in full effect.

Whatever happened to the concepts of opposites attract? Wait, I forgot, dating sites know better. They know better because you and I have been paying them billions of dollars for over a decade to figure it all out for us. And now that everything is getting more social, we’ll pay them another billion to figure out how to make social work.

This whole “We know so much about our users, let’s get them to give up more information under the guise of improved matching, oh and we’ll probably sell their data 10X for additional revenue” model makes me uncomfortable. Selling our information is a nice consolation prize once they realize they don’t know how to leverage our social exhaust to do anything useful except find other people that like the same bands and books as I do. Just ask Rapleaf.

Social sites should put it out of their mind that Match is going to be a billion a year in revenue in the not-too-distant future. Old-school set-it-and-forget-it static profiles still make the register go ka-ching more than anything else.

Match will be Match, and why not? Someone has to be the Amazon/Ebay/Google of the dating industry, and if anyone deserves it, it’s Match.

But don’t worry, there are still hundreds of millions of single out there waiting to try a new dating site or app.  So I have this business plan sitting on my desk…