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At a time when people are increasingly expressing themselves through curation services like Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram and comfortable connecting via social networks, most dating sites still rely on anonymity. That’s opened up a big opportunity that start-up TheComplete.me is looking to exploit.
The service, formed by former Match.com executives, hopes to leverage social networking and hyper-personalization to create a social network that’s akin to the Pinterest of dating. It works to connect people through their interests using their real identity and encourages users to express themselves through Pinterest-like pinning of objects. The result is a Facebook app that looks very different from Match, which is exactly the point, said CEO and founder Brian Bowman, former VP of product at Match.com.
“Pinterest is for products you’re interested in and Match is for finding people, but there’s no social experience,” said Bowman, who was also VP of Community at Yahoo and CMO at Reply.com. “There’s a huge disconnect in allowing people to find others with mutual interests with real identity. That’s unique to us.”
TheComplete.me, which went public today at the Launch conference, pulls together a person’s profile using data from social services including Facebook, LinkedIn (s lnkd), Twitter, Google+ (s goog), Photobucket, Flickr (s yhoo), Foursquare, GoodReads, and Instragram. Their interests get visually represented on a FraME similar to a Pinterest Board. And like Pinterest, people can use a bookmarklet to add items to their FraME from anywhere on the web. The more a person shares, the higher their ME score is, indicating how authentic and real they are. Users can keep their accounts anonymous and lock any shared items. But if they open up their accounts, TheComplete.me can show links between users with mutual friends. During an alpha test, 70 percent of users opened up their accounts.
The service operates like a social network with free communications, so users can message each other without subscribing. They can also indicate what other dating sites they’re using including Match.com, Zoosk, eHarmony and Badoo, and communicate with other users on those servies for free on theComplete.me.
Bowman said he decided to leave Match.com after he realized that the company was not prepared to leverage the social web. He said sites like Match.com rely on keeping people apart and making them pay to get access to each other, which leads to users exaggerating and distorting who they are.
Trish McDermott, former VP of Public Relations Match.com who is also on the founding team, said the old way of checking off boxes and creating lists of interests doesn’t reflect the true personality of people and actually keeps people from learning who someone really is. But with social networking, people are learning to be transparent and authentic.
“Match is about checking a box to look the most desirable. Match tried to make dating happen in a social vacuum, but dating is incredibly social,” McDermott said.
The company plans on adding mobile apps in the second quarter. And it’s got some ideas on how to monetize. It will let users pay to place themselves near people they’re interested in or next to a sponsored interest. There will also be some premium features like advanced filtering. And there’s also going to be a video chat service with a small number of minutes of free service with unlimited minutes paid for with a one-time fee.
I think theComplete.me has a good shot at disrupting the dating space. While some dating sites are blending in social features, many still cling to the old habit of making money by enforcing anonymity. But as more people share online and get used to the idea of expressing themselves, it makes sense to leverage that for dating. A robust FraME that more accurately reflects a person’s identity can help establish a better link than a list and an old photo can. But I wonder if being the Pinterest of dating will work equally for men, who are not nearly as savvy at pinning their interests as women. McDermott said men can still learn to share and also use the sharing of the people they’re interested in to help start conversations.