Celebrate the Facts!
Old school dating, where people became acquainted through personal social interaction, was upended by the Internet in 1994, and an entire generation of Americans has become acclimated to online dating. The online dating industrial complex is now maturing and becoming controlled by corporate interests, homogenizing the experience, which has now become trite and boring.
Tinder, Plenty of Fish, and OkCupid are the top three platforms and all owned by the same company: The Match Group. The Match Group owns six of the top twenty platforms including four of the top five, for a total market share of 64% according to recent accounts. The Match Group, now a publicly-owned corporation, goes way beyond its flagship Match.com brand, and now includes 45 platforms. The second-largest competitor, eHarmony, with 12% of the market, is owned by the German mass media company ProSiebenSat.
Badoo is an international platform that had difficulty gaining traction in the United States but created a different platform called Bumble. The Match Group tried to buy Bumble for $450 million but MagicLab, the developer behind Bumble and Badoo, sold the company to investment firm Blackstone for $3 billion, so an intriguing startup became controlled by another stodgy corporate interest, further homogenizing the market.
For non-niche platforms, small amounts of funding are not adequate for the large marketing budgets that platforms require for customer acquisition. Additionally, investors are less likely to provide adequate funding to develop online dating applications due to an unacceptably high customer churn rate. The churn rate of a business is the loss of customers over time. Online dating is like psychotherapy, chiropractic, and surgery in that if it is successful the customer has no further need for the service. Negative churn is losing customers due to dissatisfaction and in this sense, online dating platforms lose customers due to low engagement. It appears the rate of positive plus negative churn is too high to sustain a startup and so seed capital is scarce. It is improbable that new competition will emerge in the United States market as the existing entrenched platforms cover casual to serious, all age groups, all sexual orientations, and so have captured the bulk of the market.
Niche sites, directed to special-interest populations, have trouble building the size necessary to turn a profit, unlike larger sites that offer substantial numbers of prospective partners. Smaller sites cater to unique interests, and the most unusual of these venues include:
Online dating only offers an interface as the content is driven by users. Attracting and retaining the correct number and types of customers is critical to survival. Maintaining the appropriate ratio of female-to-male customers is critical so steep discounts may be offered to attract users. Platform providers design social servicescape and interact with customers to influence their value creation process. Since customers are responsible for value creation the platform provider merely acts as a facilitator and monetizes that for the operating costs and profit.
The subscription model, where users pay a fee to use the system for a set period such as by the month, was the first system used in online dating. This forms a higher barrier to entry for use. These sites are focused on finding people a serious relationship and tend to skew towards an older clientele who are willing and able to pay. The ‘freemium’ platforms such as Bumble, OkCupid, and Tinder remove subscription requirements and make money for their services by advertising and providing upgrades for a price. The barrier to entry in these services is much lower and most users do not pay for premium services.
Customers with few interactions are more likely to question the platform’s value and terminate the service while satisfaction increases with the number of give-and-take communications so it is vital to the service provider to stimulate robust interaction. Platform providers monitor and encourage customers to communicate with prospects which assists in illustrating the value of the service.
A 2018 study evaluated aspirational pursuits in online dating and provided some interesting conclusions:
Trickery is a common strategy in online dating. People tend to describe themselves as holding the assets they think are important to the opposite sex. Men tend to overstate their height and women are more likely to underreport their weight. The magnitude of such misrepresentations was small - about half a year for age, nine pounds for weight, and about three-quarters of an inch for height. Such forms of trickery are common and may even be considered acceptable as surveys have found that many people believed that a bit of prevarication to get a date was tolerable. Partakers misrepresented themselves more when they were trying to get dates with physically attractive partners than with unappealing prospects.
An interesting study, albeit with a small sample number, provided an analysis of the accuracy of online dating profile photos. In this analysis, judges evaluated about one-third of the snapshots as inaccurate. Female photographs were judged as less accurate than male photographs; they were more likely to show them at a younger age, to be photoshopped, to be taken by a professional photographer, and to contain irregularities, such as differences in hairstyle and skin quality.
About a third of romantic relationships now originate from online dating so it is now a mainstream system. This research also shows that relationships originating from online dating are more successful than their offline equals, although effect sizes are small. Online couples were less likely to get divorced within 7 years, and among those who had stayed together, online couples reported greater marital satisfaction. These successes could be due to algorithmic matching such as used by platforms such as eHarmony although it appears this has not been empirically evaluated. More likely it is simply the result of people being able to screen larger numbers of prospects resulting in better outcomes.
As the online dating industrial complex matures, the platforms seem to resemble one another, perhaps a migration to a norm. Are the profiles then resembling one another, and the dating/mating habits also becoming more formalized? Little research seems to have been done in this area so the answers are more qualitative. Regardless the offerings seem more average, whiter, and more suburban, driven toward a new level of boring, swiping, standard, average type-ridden hoards of those attempting to find the most elusive thing it seems possible, love and acceptance.
Statistics on online dating applications were presented at https://www.toptal.com/finance/business-model-consultants/online-dating-industry. A discussion of investor reticence to fund online platforms due to unacceptably high churn rates can be found at https://andrewchen.co/why-investors-dont-fund-dating/. An interesting discussion of positive churn can be found at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1094670518795054. Information about Bumble was provided by https://www.ft.com/content/243bba62-4426-11ea-a43a-c4b328d9061c. An intriguing academic study was presented at https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/8/eaap9815.short. An analysis of deception in online dating was obtained at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1461444818792425. A summary of the study of the accuracy of online dating photos can be discovered at https://academic.oup.com/joc/article-abstract/59/2/367/4098407. The information on the success of online dating was presented at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/9781118540190.wbeic118.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.