Latest Trend in Matchmaking:
New apps help singles make a date with someone they’ve never seen.
Many online dating sites claim that romantic chemistry is a science. They tout the complex computer algorithms they use to help people find their match. But some singles — wary of the notion that the bonds between two people are as easily explained as the ones between two atoms and fed up with filling out 100-question personality profiles — seem inclined to leave things up to chance.
Rather than analyzing a person’s disparate traits and desires, dating site OkCupid’s new Crazy Blind Date app just rolls the dice. Getting set up indiscriminately may sound unappealing to some, but when the app was launched, it was downloaded 100,000 times within the first 24 hours, says Sam Yagan, the site’s co-founder and CEO. “With just a few clicks, you could have dates every night of the week,” he says.
In recent years, research has suggested that haphazard picks can be superior to informed choices. One Italian study, for instance, found that firms might be better off promoting employees at random. (See The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study) And the same can be true for picking prospective dates, a study co-authored by Northwestern University psychologist Eli Finkel found. See Grading the Online Dating Industry.
The app doesn’t pick dates completely at random, of course, but it doesn’t take into account many details either, besides basics like age and sexual orientation. Crazy Blind Date then chooses nearby contenders and suggests venues to meet — and it only shows pixelated photos. (Depending on the original photo, a limb or pair of lips may be decipherable.) It’s not unlike a pre-Internet blind date where people relied on newspaper classified ads to arrange a meeting and wore red carnations to identify each other. The app gets rid of the hassle of filling out questionnaires — and going through a painful selection process where people cherry-pick potential partners based solely on their looks, Yagan says. “You just tell us when and where you’d like to go, and we set you up,” he says.
There are other alternatives to the usual dating algorithms. Match.com — owned by the media company InterActiveCorp, which also owns OkCupid — is tripling the number of “group blind dates” it offers, in which members skip the profile searches and sign up for or are invited to events like cooking classes and movie screenings or happy hour at a local bar. The site hosted 1,600 of these “Stir” events in 2012 with 150,000 attendees, and plans to feature 5,000 to 6,000 this year. The element of surprise is key, says Match.com CEO Mandy Ginsberg. “It’s just a group of people who have never met before.”
The traditional approach also remains an option. OkCupid’s main site has a maximum of 4,000 active questions at any given time, while the subscription-based eHarmony provides up to 270 questions to help users find matches.
Consumers’ willingness to try blind dates though could be backlash to today’s voyeuristic dating culture. The first thing people do when they connect online nowadays is to punch the person’s name into a search engine, says Jeffrey A. Hall, assistant professor of communications at the University of Kansas. Having a checklist can be counterproductive, he says. Even Facebook entered the fray this week with its new “graph search,” which allows social networkers to search for singletons based on a band or book they like. “They’re missing something serendipitous and exciting,” Hall says. See: With graph search, Facebook joins the dating game.
And while online dating is no longer taboo, success brings other complications. Many of America’s estimated 30 million online daters spend their time chatting without real-time interaction. “People are beginning to realize that it’s easier to take a chance instead of browsing hundreds of profiles,” Hall says.
Dating profiles have also become less reliable, particularly the photos, experts say. The use of old photos used to be the most egregious misdemeanor, but that was before Instagram, which can add flattering filters, and airbrushing software like Portrait Professional, which says it has 200,000 U.S. customers. And even recent, untouched photographs don’t always look like the person who shows up. New York-based Jessalyn Smith, 41, went to a movie with a man she met online, but he pretended to take an emergency call from work and then fled. “He emailed later to say I really didn’t look like my photo,” she says.
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