Help me fix online dating!

Over the years I have tried out various distribution channels in order to find potential dates, be they offline (introductions from friends, parties, etc.) or online. Online, I have tried pretty much every single site there is to try: eHarmony, Meetic, Lavalife, Matchmaker, Craigslist, OkCupid, Match, Adult Friendfinder and many more, with varying success.

Some online sites have proven to be too much work to be worth it (e.g. Craigslist or Adult Friendfinder), while others just made introductions to grossly incompatible people (eHarmony). I did meet fantastic girls on Match which led to some of my longest and most successful relationships, but even there the process is overly arduous.

Somehow on a flight back from a conference with my friend John Myers we hit upon the topic of our respective frustrations with online dating and decided to break down the issues we observed:

  • Attractive girls receive way too many emails, most of which are from bad matches
  • Most personal essays are generic and do not capture the real depth of someone (e.g.; in New York everyone seemingly “works hard and plays hard”), and descriptions are not objective: everyone describes themselves as being smart and attractive – so the software can’t do the work of separating the wheat from the chaff because it doesn’t have enough real world data to be able to do so
  • Filling profiles out takes too long
  • There is no effective way to introduce friends to each other the way people have done since Jane Austen

We started wondering if there was a way to address those issues and here is what we came up with:

  • Let users define what they are looking for in a match and the importance of each of the criteria (granted it assumes you know what you are looking for; later on we could always add a more sophisticated layer which learns what you unconsciously want)
  • Crowd source the ratings of various users by having friends recommend/rate each other anonymously (to prevent the incentive to lie to flatter your friends) and without anyone ever knowing the ratings, which are all kept hidden inside the app so no-one can ever be upset
  • Have an algorithm match people based on what each other is looking for based on their average rating from their friends (without disclosing those ratings), which should give a much more objective/accurate match

In other words, give people very few, high quality matches with the need to go to the site only if there is a match so it does not feel like work.

Given the social components, John & I decided to build a Facebook application: Find The One. It actually does everything we described above and we even spend a few thousand dollars marketing it, but it’s not taking off.

Given the current Facebook restrictions on virality, we don’t seem to be able to ignite usage (though we might have missed obvious strategies Facebook experts might be more familiar with). Maybe we limited user interactions too much and did not build enough of a gaming or fun component into the application.

In other words, this is a cry for help to all of you. We would love to get your thoughts, feedback and contribution!

At this point we are doing this out of intellectual curiosity – we would be satisfied to create something that makes a difference and have no expectation of monetizing the application.

  • I would love to help you. But as an avid and very sucessful user of online dating, I would like to opine….

    ?Okcupid lets u search on several criteria and sorts by who was online last as well. You could do a search criteria on likes to party, likes to drink, and do qualitative searching that may help.

    ? OKCupid does this as well. They have an app called quickmatch and as you are rated they are showing you similar people that have the same rating as you.

    ? Same as above

    ? Delays the process. I can send a message, if they respond well and good, if not then thats fine I get the message. Hows it diff from sending a wink or something where the site lets u know who is interested. Okcupid has an app called quickmatch. This lets two people connect once they rate each other 4 or 5 stars.

    ? Ok this is fine, but now I have to make friends with my friends on a dating site which is personal. I dont want to be like hey guys be my friend and check out my dating profile…thats too personal. Dating sites are prolific but we still want secrecy. I wanna be on a dating site and dont mind telling people im on it but dont want them to see my profile. Im bragging/talking myself up on my dating profile and dont want my day to day guy and girl friends to see this so they can have a laugh about it at the bar.

    I liked the initial comment where you said hot chiks get too many emails, they do. What you could do is compartmentalize their inbox. Say Im a 10/10 hot chik, then when i open my inbox show me most likely, likely and unlikely based on the guy that sent me a message their rating. i.e. if i was a dude with a 4.5 out of 5 secret rating then chances are the hot chik might like me, but if I am a 1 out of 5 then let the hot chik know these guys are in your unlikely category.

  • We can’t rely on 0s and 1s to do what is obviously (and has been for millennia) a fundamental human activity. Perhaps online dating will evolve when technologists start paying more attention to exploring human behavior rather than algorithmic problem solving.

  • Hey Fabrice,
    Virality is also a factor of whether users *want* to post anything from your application on their own walls. Remember it is them telling their friends something personal about themselves. Now, how many people you know want to advertise “I am single”? We had the same experience with the weight loss application. Probably the same applies for concepts like “I want to improve my IQ”, “why did I lose my sex drive”, “summary of what people really think of me”, etc.
    Cheers, Sabie

  • Hi Fabrice,

    I actually considered writing a book on this very subject at one point (and may still) so I have tons of thoughts, ideas, and experiences (from myself and others) to share. Like you, it’s an intellectual curiosity, and for me specifically, it stems from an interest in the psychology of what drives us to choose a mate, what actually creates good matches, and how people behave once attached. The psychology of relationships is a huge topic of interest to me… I would love to help in any way possible with this project…

    I understand the frustrations of online dating as I tried it myself over a period of 5 years. I tried e-harmony, plenty of fish, okcupid, and match. e-harmony delivered terrible matches, completely incompatible on many levels. I actually called them once to complain after they matched me with someone who described their employment as “street worker”. Plenty of fish and okcupid were entirely too time consuming as most emails received were from people I would never consider. Match was by far the best where I actually met people and although most were not good matches for me, I did become friends with a few people I met through match and experienced one long-term relationship from it. I ended up meeting my actual significant other offline rather than on any dating site but I agree there should be better options available to singles.

    I have found through speaking to others that a man’s perspective of online dating and a woman’s can be very different. While I received plenty of emails, most men’s profiles were either devoid of any real information or full of inaccurate information. I also found that many men appeared to be on there as a means to find easy hook-ups rather than develop relationships. I was shocked at the number of men who after emails and a few phone calls suggested a “first date” of watching a movie on my sofa. Sorry, but I’m not that naive. For women it would seem that the most important factor, outside of safety, would be one of intention. I’d like to see an anonymous rating system that shows what the intention of the person seems to be. While most dating sites allow you to disclose if you’re looking to date only or to develop something lasting, many people are less than honest on that point.

    Another key area of contention is how ready someone actually is for a relationship. I found many people (men and women) hit the online dating sites immediately after breakups, divorces, death of their spouse, etc. in an attempt to simply feel better. While these may start out well, they end shortly after they begin with the other person feeling like a therapist. If rebounders were somehow grouped together, perhaps they could help each other without wasting everyone else’s time.

    The biggest problem I think both men and women run into is the outdated photograph issue. I know plenty of men who were shocked when they met their online date for the first time, only to discover someone much older and/or heavier than described and pictured. I myself had this problem when after finally meeting a man I had spoken to several times on the phone, discovered him to be closer to 75 than the 45 years of age he professed himself to be.

    As far as virality goes… I’d love to see the currently attached people get involved by recommending their single friends. You’re right in saying that this is a key missing component in every dating site out there. It’s also a fact that people who have a significant other truly enjoy fixing up their single friends. I would target attached people rather than the singles. Singles may look at Find The One as just another dating site whereas long-attached people may look upon it as a way to finally get involved with online dating by living vicariously through their friends… another tradition nearly as old as the fix-up. In fact, when I was still married, I created a profile on match for my little brother without his knowledge, paid for it, and then called him and told him what I had done. He wasn’t entirely happy but a few months down the road, he met a woman he was engaged to a mere 6 weeks after their first date. Today, 7 years later, they are still very happily married. At the time I thought online dating was the very coolest thing out there… “imagine an online store where you can shop for a person, lol!” and was excited to take a part in getting my brother hitched.

    Hope that gives you something… Please let me know how else I can be involved with this. 🙂

    — Angela

  • I think the honesty issue will go away. If I meet a girl whose picture is from 5 years and 30 pounds ago I will not even go on a date with her. Given that an in person rejection is more hurtful than being ignored online (which you are not aware of), I think it tends to push people towards honesty.

  • Eternal question. If I had used one of these sites to meet the girl I ultimately married 10 years ago and have been with for 17 years now, we would never have found each other. Because we still are so different and never have been whatever we ever imagined we would have looked for in the first place. And I can tell the same for every single couple I see around me lasting more than a decade or two or more. Yes we all met through common friends and real life together is the only thing that really makes a couple. Grids, answers & cross computing seem to me a roten root from the start, even if some advertised examples prove me wrong. I’m sorry to say I cannot see any virtual solution, except with the fact that shaging is mostly the true primary motive for most men going to these sites. Then some might find love. And yes you’re right, FB social reality approach is the most effective in my observations. Ask Houellebecq, he might have genious ideas 😉 Good Luck.

  • Hi Fabrice, here are a few ideas I found interesting:
    • No universal ratings: I found that ratings usually perform low because there’s no shared opinion on what the good ranking factors are. Some people may find others attractive for a specific thing that others will just hate. That may depends on social category, studies, etc. So, ratings only conduct to an average that make everyone unhappy.
    • Selection by other members: In France, AttractiveWorld started with a 1000 selected members. Then, they asked existing members to vote for new entrants. That worked because the 1000 members came from the same social category: they had a shared rating appreciation.
    • Selection by studies: Another approach is HappyFew where they do a first selection through studies (they verify your diploma).
    • Duo dates: In Duodater, you make a duo with a friend and meet other duos of people

  • Hey F,

    Your idea is a lot like something I’ve been thinking about, so I’m excited that you went ahead and did it! Really nice execution of the wingman concept. Great use of existing technology, incorporating Facebook. I might even use it, but I just couldn’t quite get into it tonight. So, noting that, here’s my self-observation of what happened when I didn’t sign up to use your app.

    I suspect your biggest problem is your marketing approach. Visually, the app’s pretty darn clean, but your language is all off, to my ear.

    First of all, “FindTheOne” does not separate you from the many other online dating sites. What makes you so special? A name like “WingMan” or “Wingd” or “MeetMyHotFriend” gives me a clue (names are hard… I can never name my own stuff.)

    Also, your opening page’s copy has too many words and doesn’t sell the concept from the first sentence, and that’s very important. Studies have shown (oh pls don’t make me go hunt them down) that most readers don’t get past the first three WORDS on any given page.

    It also opens on a negative, rather than focusing on what’s positive about your site. AND it opens talking about YOU, your annoyance, rather than what the user might be feeling or hope to experience.

    In short, (and worst of all), nothing about your front page sets you apart or feels intriguing, relevant, and/or exciting, which is really important if you’re going to clear that all-important “Access my basic information” hurdle. My eye wants to jump down to the fast numbered boxes, but the all-important #2 (“Recommend your single friends for their best qualities.”) is an unclear statement AND a non-informative graphic. You’ve wasted every chance I’ve given you at that point.

    *I* cleared that hurdle, just out of interest in your problem. The next step–the information form–is another issue. People who use online dating AND Facebook have filled out SO MANY of these forms, and we know (or believe we know) that online dating forms are the WORST. Am I going to have to write an ESSAY? Will you need me to answer 5000 questions to get a decent match? This is where I stopped trying. I SUSPECT (based on how you say the system is supposed to work) that you actually need comparatively LITTLE effort from the user. You may even need them to input less new information than any other dating site. That could set you apart, for me. But you haven’t told me that. It may even be written all over the page, but the writing was small and the form was big and that’s where I flinched and said, “I’ll do this later. Maybe.”

    So that’s all I’ve got for you at 1am. But I hope it’s helpful. G’night.

  • Main problem for women is that sites such as do not force participants to state what types of relationship they are looking for — one-night stand, casual dating, long-term relationship, marriage. Also, women get so much mail that it would be of paramount importance to be able to *filter* mail based on stated criteria. E.g., I only want to see mail by men who at least have a Master’s degree, lean politically left and are atheists, etc. Or I never want to see a message from a Mormon. Such functionality is not realized at all.

    Anyway — I’ll date you.


  • Message to Every Body: please help me fix Fabrice and find him a perfect girlfriend that respond to alll his criterias and fullfill his life IN ORDER not to answer Fabrice question on How to fix online dating and spend less time on internet!

  • Agree on the symptoms side when you defined the actual state of many dating sites. But – on how you’ll make it better:

    “Crowd source the ratings of various users by having friends recommend/rate each other anonymously (to prevent the incentive to lie to flatter your friends) and without anyone ever knowing the ratings, which are all kept hidden inside the app so no-one can ever be upset”

    What makes you think I’ll get home and use my time after work to rate my friends for a service I still don’t know if I’d use myself?

    Honestly, I’m asking: I’ll just would avoid using your app if that’s needed – Why don’t you match / rate uses on how they actually approach dating (how fast they answer back to invitations, how many messages they send before meeting)?

    • Thanks for all the feedback! I am definitely reaching the conclusion that dating is not viral and that the app might require too much work from people. I will ideate a bit!

  • Sure, try out the behavioral approach. I’d completely use your service if you’d match for me women relpying messages fast, those sending the fewer messages to accept to date, or to decline it(both ways have value for me).

    Have you invested in GetAround? I’m building a similar business model for BA and Sao Paulo, and maybe we can connect (FB me with this email address).

  • Fabrice,

    You make such good points… so good, in fact, that the problems you pointed out led to my starting my business, A Little Nudge. It’s hard to write about yourself and pic your own pics, and it’s extremely time-consuming. So, I do that for you! I meet with people for about an hour, get to know them, and write their profile and help choose pics. Then, I can even do the searching and help with the initial e-mailing. No more sitting in front of your computer last at night for it! Feel free to check out my site. 🙂


  • We just made a lot of changes:

    * When you sign up for the app you don’t get a long text description of what we are trying to do.

    * We immediately show you attractive matches even if you did not rate or recommend anyone

    * We loosened a bit the matching algorithm

    We’ll see if the app can become self sustainable in the next few months…

  • I amazed that was not already reserved. Genious you prove again by taking away a long description and replace it by the proof. Don’t say, show! Bravo.
    PS: When you click connect, can you avoid that annoying message telling that it must deactivate the secured FB navigation. I don’t want no https. TK.

  • Interesting topic with a lot of potential anywhere in the world 🙂

    I have been trying most of the dating sites you mentioned the last 9 years. Craigslist gave amazing results, twice. But I believe it was pure chance. Then I tried OKCupid & still use it. I have met really awesome people there. I think the path OKC took on asking tons of questions is the most relevant so far. Some are dumbs, some are actually giving a good insight on the person values & tastes. I would work on that direction over anything else. At some point, it could be inspired from the Myers Briggs test. And it’s fun! The gaming component that makes you come back and discover yourself, if nothing else.

    I also believe than in a global, collaborative world, relying on friends to find mates is restrictive and not a mix I would personally like. Taking chances on unexpected profiles (ie. same psychological traits even if quite different in colors, country, education, culture etc.) was a path impossible to take before the internet, but full of possibilities, therefore one to explore. The conclusion may not be “the one” but another kind of relationship that could still makes sense, worth to develop… and see where it goes.

    Good luck with your search!

  • If I may, I propose another direction that is a total other way around. I just observe that, in Europe at least, the best encounters mostly come from one primary common interest that is all BUT dating. You meet so much more people who attract you in every social circumstances other than the labeled date time. Worst, just labeling from the start the encounter as possibly sexual just perverts the whole from the roots, due to most men nature and everyone’s false expectations. Helping dating should be helping people engage in any activity with passion (social games works well & easily), give them reasons to interact and help them to naturally end up opening themselves to others and be honest or bold if they like someone. In other words, social games/clubs of interests in an open & localized network with real faces. That kind of intersects with your first very good instinct to use existing social networks. They are crucial indeed. How could anyone seriously initiate any serious relationship if cheats are possible from the start? Am I wrong?