Improving Online Dating Sites Step 1 – Move Beyond the Static Profile

Dating sites seem stuck in the past and follow basically the same blueprint: User creates a profile talking about themselves and their interests and can then search for other people based on what those users wrote about themselves.  There are niche sites that act as a preliminary filter (senior citizens, trekkies, farmers, dog lovers, etc) and there are sites that try to collect different data and do matchmaking based on a variety of factors, but they all work the same at the fundamental level.  Online Dating is one of the verticals that doesn’t act anything like the offline version.  There are many things that the sites can do to improve the experience and make it more natural, engaging and effective, which I’ll discuss over multiple posts.  For this one, I’ll focus on the centerpiece of the experience: the user profile.  Dating site profiles have the following problems:

  1. Users have to write about themselves – Not everybody likes to write.  Even fewer people like to write about themselves.  It is awkward and hard for many to figure out what to say that will portray who they are.  So many profiles end up looking very similar.
  2. Static Profiles Grow Stale – Because of the way the profiles are framed, users don’t think of them as a live thing that they need to come back and update regularly with their latest news.  So after a user first registers and creates the profile, it usually just sits there growing stale.  And users don’t like to look at old profiles; they assume the person is no longer active on the site.
  3. Even things like interests are hard to gauge on profiles – Many sites give the users the ability to select activities that they like: hiking or reading or crochet.  However, there is a gap in the level of interest a typical user who checks the ‘hiking’ box on their profile has in hiking and the level of interest in the activity for a user who searches for people who like hiking.  This leads to mismatches, poor results and frustration at the process.
  4. Fake Profiles – Major dating sites have a huge number of fake profiles on the site, which makes it that much harder for legit users to find a good match.  And many real profiles are still full of lies and exaggerations.

There is a pretty easy way to ease the above pain points: integrate lifestreams into the profile.  Let a user share their facebook and twitter feeds on their profile and use that data in search to enhance relevancy.  If someone searches for people who love hiking, surface the user who posted “Just got back from 6 hours of hiking.  What a rush!” last weekend to the top.  The searcher can be pretty confident that this person actually does actively hike and didn’t just check it off as something that is fun when they do it once every 5 years.

The lifestreams give a truer picture of what a person is really about than a static profile ever could and keeps the profile from going stale as well.  They are also harder to fake, so there will be less fake profiles to weed through on the site.  And those who don’t like to write about themselves can use the lifestream that they are already creating to fill out their profile instead of coming up with generic text that everyone else uses.

It doesn’t stop at facebook and twitter, either.  Allow users to integrate their flixster profile as well.  When a user who has done so goes to a profile of someone else that has linked their flixster account, they can automatically see their movie compatibility score.  This can give them ice breakers for when they contact the user, as can facebook status message  and tweets.  And flickr and facebook photos can also be viewed on the user’s profile so people can get a better sense of the user before contacting them.

Note that lifestream integration should not replace the current profiles on these sites.  Not everyone uses facebook and twitter, and among those who do, many don’t feel comfortable sharing that much and still other don’t write enough messages to make a full profile.  The dating sites can keep their existing infrastructure and just layer the lifestream integration on top to solve the pain points listed above.

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