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People always say that Facebook is for keeping in touch with people you already know, and MeetMe, Badoo and other social services are for discovering new people. Well that’s about to change, big time.

The new Facebook Friend Finder feature lets people find and connect with current friends as well as discover new friends nearby. The product of a recent hack-a-thon, by adding a single button to their mobile app, Facebook made it incredibly easy to discover nearby interesting people. This is absolutely mind-blowing when you think of how 950 million people might use a more mature version of the feature.

Depending on your perspective, Facebook can been seen as either killing off an entire sector of the dating industry before it had a chance to mature, or welcomed as a serious energizing force for the mobile/social dating sector.

The majority of successful mobile dating apps are apps from big dating sites like Match, OkCupid, POF, etc. There are loads of ambient social discovery apps out there, some are decent, some are not. Problem is, nobody knows about them because a) they don’t know how to market their services, b) they are all too similar and c) they have tiny ad budgets and get a minimum of exposure. I bet you could take the traffic of the top 25 dating mobile apps and they wouldn’t add up to Match’s daily mobile traffic. The numbers get closer when you add “social” to the mix.

The whole situation with Facebook reminds me of Twitter, which I’ve written about before. Twitter has always had a robust ecosystem. The service supports a whole constellation of applications whose lifeblood are the promotion, organization and search of tweets. At one point, Twitter started telling developers, don’t bother to create new clients, telegraphing their intent to acquire several Twitter clients and other related services, which they then did. Some people were acquired, others were left to fend for themselves.

Facebook is a platform, just like Twitter. It is not only a destination url. Two-hundred and fifty million people access Facebook via mobile every month. In fact, Facebook’s until-now failure to monetize these users is partly to blame for the lackluster price of Facebook stock. Now we have a whole new usage case for monetizing mobile Facebook users, and I’m sure that the monetization monkeys at Facebook are busy trying to come up with ways to make some dough off of all that expected social discovery traffic.

What does this all mean for mobile discovery and dating? A lot. In no particular order…

It’s a mistake to create mobile-only apps only for online dating. Fundraising is difficult, media attention is non-existant, talent is hard to find and it’s just not that interesting to do a standalone mobile dating play. Social discovery is where it’s at.

How the heck do you monetize the discovery process? Facebook can do it with ads, they could copy Badoo and FourSquare and do paid placement, and a few other things. At what point is it worthwhile for Facebook to step in and crush the social discovery marketplace? What potential revenue amount will wake up the beast inside of Facebook? Its just like Microsoft all over again. Less than $100 million in revenue (or whatever the trigger point was), they would leave you alone. Once you crossed that line, BAM, you were shut down or acquired, acquired then shut down, or smothered to death. Instagram may have made sense at a billion, but valuation of social discovery is much harder, its a big guess as to what price to pay and sometimes its just easier to crush the competition than worry about sub $250 million valuations.

Nobody knows jack about how to actually match people based on Facebook data.  If you are doing matching based on Facebook data and you don’t have a psychologist-consultant on speed-dial, You Don’t Get It.

Social discovery, is all the rage. Now we’re going to see a whole new group of apps out there, which are basically copycat designs of Glancee, Highlight, etc. This is predictable and bores me to tears. Now that a bunch more people are going to be building social discovery apps that look social and feel like dating apps, unless you are really lucky and extremely good, your app is going to get lost amongst the noise. Go build a better shallow-water well pump in Africa, create a better Bitcoin, or perfect the feel of fake breasts. In other words, contribute to society.

Unlike talent acquisitions in the social discovery space, Facebook is not likely buying dating apps. Perhaps some of the current social dating apps can massage their marketing and do a mini-pivot to focus more on social discovery than outright dating. Search for all instances of “dating”, replace with “social” and you’re there. The Glancee acqui-hire was promising, but that was only three guys.

In order to cultivate a cottage industry of apps leveraging Facebook data, one would hope that Facebook will create an API to the core Find Friends Nearby functionality, which would allow dating app  developers to access user information specific to the feature. Thats probably a long way off, but I hope that’s the direction they go.

It would be a shame to see so many startup standalone social dating and discovery apps die off if Facebook doesn’t play nice.

Have you noticed how sometimes I say social dating, or social discovery or socia/dating discovery? It gets complicated trying to figure out what social apps are for, and where the line between finding friends and dates blurs. People find dates on all sorts of apps and mobile services, whether they are focused on dating or not.

One thing we do know is that social discovery is going to be a Big Deal for Facebook, especially if they figure out how to monetize it effectively. How this affects the dating industry remains to be seen. It’s not time to shout, “The sky is falling”, but once you get a good number of a billion people flirting, dating could change just like that, although I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

For now, Facebook remains a traffic driver and data source, not a direct competitor to the dating industry. Free and paid-dating still rules, at least for the time being.