Blog Post

Why Dating Sites Are Broken

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

I met my current boyfriend four years ago in the elevator of our Georgetown dorm. Our friendship slowly grew until we went on our first date, more than two years after we first met. I like becoming friends with a guy I’m interested in first – it’s the only way to know if you might enjoy spending time together or not, and you just can’t do that on a dating site. That’s why they’re broken.

A recent study published last week found that online dating sites were deficient at determining whether people would have chemistry and make a match. The study, published in the journal of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, found that online dating sites encourage a shopping mindset, which is not compatible with two people finding a strong connection. The lead author of the study, Eli J. Finkel, Ph.D., even told CNN: “Not only is there no scientific evidence, despite the claims, [but] my team of co-authors have become pessimistic that there could ever be in principle an algorithm that could match people well based on the approaches these sites take.”

We found a very similar result in a recent survey of 4,000 myYearbook members. Overwhelmingly, people prefer to start out as friends before jumping into a romantic relationship. Friendship is the filter to finding a compatible match with 89 percent of men and 96 percent of women preferring to be friends before lovers. Sure, it may well be that girls are cultivating friendships and guys are cultivating future options, but it’s a critically important part of the courting process.

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. If you don’t enjoy someone’s company, if you don’t like their jokes, if you can’t stand their conversation, you shouldn’t be with them. Starting out as friends is obviously the better way to do relationships. I for one would trust a conversation over an algorithm any day, and that’s the existential problem facing the dating site.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that traditional dating sites become obsolete overnight — far from it. One out of five people, some studies suggest have dated someone that they met online. No one could possibly argue that dating sites aren’t an efficient and pervasive way to meet people, but what I would argue is that they are no better at determining chemistry than picking people out of a list, and they don’t encourage friendships. And I think that is the writing on the wall for the dating industry at large.

Dating sites may be making more money than ever before, but it was only in 1999 that the music business peaked – years after the medium that would kill it first emerged. The rise of social networks and the ubiquity of mobile devices have given way to a new crop of mobile social networks – the Meeting Networks – which threaten to eat the dating industry’s $4 billion lunch by making them a subset of a larger “meet new people” space. (Full disclosure: I am both biased and wildly optimistic as a founder of myYearbook – one such meeting network.)

These Meeting Networks enable people to start out as friends through more casual interactions and relationships. They’re social networks not of your friends and family — like Facebook — but of people you might want to know, and they’re growing fast. It is with dramatic scale where Meeting Networks can realize their full promise: to engineer serendipity based on interests and hyperlocal connections. To the extent a free meeting network helps you discover the people around you on the subway platform, in the coffeehouse, or on the street, it would be difficult to see why people would pay to pick people out of a list on an algorithmic dating site. The question is only whether there will be a dominant winner in the Meeting Networks space, as there has been in the friends-based social networking space.

Large players in this space include Badoo and Tagged, but there are plenty of new competitors added to the mix seemingly every week, from Shaker to Banjo to Highlight. Unlike traditional dating companies like, eHarmony, and Spark Networks, which look to create intimate relationships and skip the friendship steps, these Meeting Networks emphasize casual relationships and let the users decide if and when they would like to turn it into something more. It’s a low-stress, entertaining way to meet new people.

In the graph below, the Meeting Network is the top-left quadrant, combining casual relationships with the people you want to know, and they’re already proven to be dramatically more engaging than traditional dating sites.

If a Meeting Network is an online bar, a traditional dating site is more like a speed date event. You can go to a bar for a variety of reasons. You may want a new friend, a one-night stand, or just a good time. On the other end of the spectrum, speed dating makes you feel like you’re on display, judging the success of the night by if you met “The One” instead of by the company you kept and the fun times you had.

At Meeting Networks, members aren’t just looking for “The One.” It’s more casual than that. 70 percent of Badoo members are looking for friendship, which helps to solve the churn problem endemic to traditional dating sites. Since the goal of a traditional dating site is to find a significant other, it is common for their users to deactivate their profiles once they find someone; in other words, you join a dating site with the goal of leaving it. In contrast, members of Meeting Networks can keep making new friends even if they happen to pursue something deeper with someone. Similarly, I’m not going to stop going to bars just because I have a boyfriend, but I certainly won’t go speed dating.

There has always been a thin line between friendship and romance. A recent survey found that 60 percent of men would make out with a female friend if given a chance (which feels a little low). So maybe Billy Crystal is right — maybe men and women can’t be friends — but Meeting Networks let them start out that way.

Catherine is the co-founder of myYearbook, a social network built around meeting new people, that recently merged with the Quepasa Corporation (QPSA: NYSE AMEX).

9 Responses to “Why Dating Sites Are Broken”

  1. I’m curious about the 70% who are supposedly just looking for friends.  Are these “friends” equally split between the sexes or are they pretty much looking for “friends” of the opposite sex (talking heterosexuals here)?   BTW, that’s a rhetorical question. 

  2. Actual online dating sites offering compatibility matching methods are only fueled by big marketing budgets and not by serious scientific evidence. No one ( eHarmony/eDarling, Chemistry, PerfectMatch, PlentyOfFish Chemistry Predictor, MeeticAffinity, Be2, RewardingLove, Parship, True, etc) can prove its matching algorithm can match prospective partners who will have more stable and satisfying relationships than couples matched by chance, astrological destiny, personal preferences, searching on one’s own, or other technique as the control group in a peer_reviewed Scientific Paper. They are all like placebo, because
    * Actual online dating sites offering compatibility matching methods, when calculating compatibility between prospective mates, have less or at least the same precision as searching on one’s own. [in the range of 3 or 4 persons compatible per 1,000 persons screened]
    * That is because they use:
    a) simplified versions of personality traits, instead of the 16PF5 or similar with the complete inventory (16 variables)
    b) inadequate quantitative methods to calculate compatibility between prospective mates, like eHarmony which uses Dyadic Adjustment Scale or other sites which use multivariate linear / logistic regression equations o other equations.

    Latest Research in Theories of Romantic Relationships Development shows: compatibility is all about a high level on personality* similarity* between prospective mates for long term mating with commitment.
    *personality measured with a normative test.
    *similarity: there are different ways to calculate similarity, it depends on how mathematically is defined.

    I had reviewed over 55 compatibility matching engines intended for serious dating since 2003, when I had discovered “the online dating sound barrier” problem.

    Breaking “the online dating sound barrier” is to achieve at least:
    3 most compatible persons in a 100,000 persons database.
    12 most compatible persons in a 1,000,000 persons database.
    48 most compatible persons in a 10,000,000 persons database.
    100 times better than Compatibility Matching Algorithms used by actual online dating sites!

    The only way to achieve that is:
    – using the 16PF5 normative personality test, available in different languages to assess personality of members, or a proprietary test with exactly the same traits of the 16PF5.
    The ensemble of the 16PF5 is: 10E16, big number as All World Population is nearly 7.0 * 10E9
    – expressing compatibility with eight decimals, like The pattern is 92.55033557% +/- 0.00000001% similar to the pattern
    Using a quantized pattern comparison method (part of pattern recognition by cross-correlation) to calculate similarity between prospective mates.

    That is the only way to revolutionize the Online Dating Industry.

    All other proposals are ………….. NOISE 

  3. I’ve been a member on myyearbook for 5 or 6 years now. I found it more fun to go on whenever it wasn’t mainly a dating site. Since they’ve taken the forum down it’s lost it’s spice, just like MySpace.

    Yes, you can meet somebody on there, after going through the million piles of pedophiles and creeps that try and get to you first.

  4. Mlati praznu slamu

    What a poisoned text!  Quote “If you don’t enjoy someone’s company, if you don’t like their jokes, if you can’t stand their conversation, you shouldn’t be with them.”
    And yet mostly girls 10 years later started to enjoy someone’s company, starts to like their jokes and ican stand their conversation after they deny the very same person 10 years ago.

  5. This is a bogus piece. The article is clear self promotion of myYearbook so it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Second, it is making an acute point that dating sites don’t have a good matching algorithm. Hardly anyone thinks that they do so this is a moot point. The bigger point is that they have served many people well and users found a way to get around their shortcomings with not much of a problem. Back to myYearbook, can we talk about their crappy UI and crappy user base and crappy experience and spamming users…

    Then the whole thing about being friends first?! Give me a break. Are we in kindergarten here?

  6. I met my fiancee on Craigslist, of all places.  More than half my friends found long-term relationships (including spouses) online. 

    The claims by the commercial dating sites are mostly spurious, but having first contact online is pretty standard these days.