On May 1, 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, the peripatetic founder of technology wonder Facebook, announced that the company was breaking new ground and entering the realm of online dating. The announcement was made at the F8 Developers Conference held in San Jose, California, which has generally been the pre-eminent launch pad for add-ons, bolt-ons, feature enhancements and other product launches within the Facebook eco-system.
The move makes sense for the company considering how much of an overwhelming anchor Facebook has become for people in a variety of ways. Personal details stored by the social network are used as a basis to register for an increasing number of apps and everyone from employers to acquaintances now use the network to learn more about people.
Added to that is the fact that there are over 200 million people on Facebook that claim to be single according to their relationship status. Given that little piece of information, why should prospective mates not be given a chance to find true love?
Zuckerberg claims that Facebook’s new dating feature, as it is so-far called, will be better than other platforms such as Match or Tinder and will focus on creating real long-term relationships and not just hook-ups. Many people perceived this comment as a jab at the leading players in the field such as OkCupid and Tinder that increasingly focus on getting people together based more on looks and less on long-term interest, rather than a concrete remark about Facebook’s forthcoming dating feature.
Shares in IAC, owner of some of the largest social networks dedicated to dating, fell by 18% and shares of Match.com fell by over 22%.
While the specifics of the new service still seem to be a work in progress, the company has some very clear details from the technology and UX standpoints that they divulged at this year’s F8. The new dating service will ‘live’ within the Facebook app and will take in information from the main service and provide users with an increased privacy and control. Firstly, the service will only be available as an ‘opt-in’ to people who list their relationship status as ‘single’ as opposed to ‘married’ or ‘in a relationship’. Apparently, there was some uproar from the developer community about how people in non-monogamous relationships and open marriages were being discriminated against by the stated eligibility criteria but there was no response to such concerns of universal love from the Facebook product team. Facebook will not notify your existing friends that you have opted for the dating service and will never pair you up with them. The dating service will use Facebook’s location and GPS settings to provide you with ‘groups’ and ‘events’ within your geographic vicinity and pair you up with people with similar tastes and interests who are going to these events or are members of the same group.
Facebook claim that the model mimics how people date in real life, mostly revolving around events, shared interests and group affinity and all of this will ensure increased security as well as privacy. To further fill-in the quiver, Facebook will provide the dating service with its own dedicated and secure ‘private’ messenger tool, independent of the existing Facebook messenger and the company’s immensely popular WhatsApp messenger tools. Furthermore, the service will have a ‘history feature’ that will let users easily delete data completely.
According to a 2013 survey, nearly one in three marriages in the US start off from an online point of contact, and this gives Facebook considerable impetus to cash in on this growing market of digital natives. The company seems very excited about the prospect and product testing is scheduled to begin later this year.
The launch of Facebook’s dating app will be a significant tremor in the business models of companies like Match, Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge and Bumble and this is not just because of the critical mass of Facebook’s user base.
While the launch of the service represents a great opportunity for Facebook, there are great challenges along the way, as well as many other considerations that the company needs to resolve. The announcement of the launch of the service took tech-circles by storm. Shares in IAC, owner of some of the largest social networks dedicated to dating, fell by 18% and shares of Match.com fell by over 22%.
The launch of Facebook’s dating app will be a significant tremor in the business models of companies like Match, Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge and Bumble and this is not just because of the critical mass of Facebook’s user base. For one thing, all of these companies use Facebook profiles to fill in relevant details about their users; this makes it easy for users to sign up quickly without having to fill long forms consisting of their personal details and interests. These apps then take the users Facebook data to play matchmaker and pair people with others of similar interests. With Facebook getting into the game this might pose more problems in the future.
Second and just as important is the pricing model; most of the leading matchmaker and dating apps provide users with a free basic sign up profile with limited features. This builds their user base and provides limited service to pique user interest. The real revenue comes from premier, paid features which are unlocked with higher membership rates. Facebook hopes to change all that by committing to provide their users on the dating feature with a completely free service (though recent testimony by Zuckerberg at Capitol Hill has cast some speculation and doubt on whether all features of the dating service may be available for free).
What further compounded Facebook’s problems was that fact that the company did not report the data breach to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) followed by suggestions that the data may have been used by Cambridge Analytica to influence the 2016 US Presidential Elections.
In an interview, Mindy Ginsberg, CEO, Match, joked that she was flattered that Facebook found the competitive space of her app to be such a lucrative opportunity. While she admitted that the arrival of the Facebook dating app would represent a significant increase in competition, she remains confident that the future growth and stability of the product category was dependent on continuing product innovation, better UX and relentless focus on relationship success.
All of these things would require revenue generation from the dating service, which her company specialises in and Facebook’s free service would struggle to compete on.
The other elephant in the room for Facebook is user privacy and data security. In recent months the company has been reeling from the Cambridge Analytica scandal that saw the personal data and profiles of 87 million Facebook users being harvested by a quiz app and sold to the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. The company claims that it found out about the leak in 2015 and took steps to have the data deleted. However, recent events have shown that data still exists. What further compounded Facebook’s problems was that fact that the company did not report the data breach to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) followed by suggestions that the data may have been used by Cambridge Analytica to influence the 2016 US Presidential Elections.
While both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica deny any wrongdoing, lawmakers in Congress were not convinced. In May, Mark Zuckerberg was summoned for multiple sessions to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce as well as the Science, Technology and Transportation Committees and the US Congress. The sessions were filled with many nuggets of wisdom with law-makers asking whether Facebook was a monopoly or what kind of regulation would Zuckerberg prefer or how did Facebook make any money from its free service?(My personal favourite was Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana telling Zuckerberg, “Your user agreement sucks”).
Whatever the future holds, Facebook has arrived and it is a force that will continue to cast a huge shadow on all aspects of our lives, including dating.
While Mark Zuckerberg was no picture of panache when it came to answering the questions of the many public representatives, he did manage to hold his own, with an expression that sometimes seemed to oscillate from mild derision to mild amusement at how the proceedings fared. He told the representatives that Facebook wasn’t a monopoly, citing examples like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google. He made a convincing case for no-regulation of social media and ultimately when asked, claimed that given a choice of classifying Facebook as a media publisher or a tech company, he would always think of Facebook as a tech company.
While Zuckerberg continued to answer the politicians’ questions about how he would protect data and curtail malafide influences unleashed by Facebook in the forthcoming elections in India, Brazil and elsewhere with a mix bewilderment and patience, one thing seemed clear: that in this brave new world, it was the politicians and not the tech-junkies who were out of their depths. Whatever the future holds, Facebook has arrived and it is a force that will continue to cast a huge shadow on all aspects of our lives, including dating.
Tariq Ziad Khan is a US-based marketer and a former member of Aurora’s editorial team. firstname.lastname@example.org