Consultant Mark Brooks jokes that one reason location-based dating hasn’t yet gone mainstream is that there are too many men running the sites. Match is the only major dating site run by a woman, and its CEO, Mandy Ginsberg, has said the company won’t rely on location-based tools. (Instead, Match recently launched Stir, a series of local singles events in major cities like Boston.) While Match’s app does have limited location features, Robinne Burrell, the company’s director of mobile product and distribution, says its experts don’t believe the location-based approach puts singles on the path to long-term relationships. She compares location-driven dating apps to the guy who delivers cheesy lines in a bar. “I’m not going to say that all mobile dating apps are hookup apps,” Burrell says, “but they’re not matching you with someone who has read your profile or your essay or what you’re looking for in a long-term partner — that’s the beginning of a dialogue and the premise for a relationship. These apps are a little more casual, so they may lead to more casual meetings.”
Dave, 33, works in the food services industry on Nantucket. He’s used several online dating sites, but he heard about the SinglesAroundMe app from a friend in New York City who swears it’s an incredibly easy way to meet women. Dave’s friend has met numerous people — “he meets women on there who are around the block!” — and has enjoyed quite a few spontaneous hookups. He hasn’t had much luck with the app on Nantucket — “it’s too insular out here” — but he says it’s made it easier for him to set up dates with women on the Cape when he’s there for work. “It’s not weird,” he says. “It’s amazing. It’s technology. It’s progress.”
Sam Yagan, CEO and founder of OkCupid, which boasts that its site has 10 million profiles, is deadpan when he says he didn’t build a dating app to help people have casual sex. “Obviously, we can’t control how people use OkCupid Locals,” he says, “but we’re trying to guide it toward more meaningful interactions.” Which is why the app asks users to broadcast what they’re looking to do, similar to HowAboutWe’s format, rather than just showing them who is around. For example: “I’m heading to the Celtics game. Want to meet for a drink?” or “Anyone want to go to the ICA on Saturday?” Yagan compares these broadcasts to tweets. It’s a nugget to start a conversation with someone close by, not an invitation for a one-night stand.
Industry executives see your GPS coordinates as an inevitable part of the future of dating, even as they’re still figuring out how to make women feel safer finding dates that way. And they’re working out how to leverage all of the other information they can glean from your smartphone.
Imagine this: You’re on a first date with Jake, a guy you met while reading at a cafe in Cambridge’s Inman Square; he was returning his friend’s kayak and checked his phone, and there you were asking if someone wanted to talk books. The date is going well enough when Jake says he has to go to the bathroom. Inside, he gets a message on his phone: “Did you ask about her interest in Impressionist paintings? She recently went to an exhibition at the MFA.” Jake returns to the table with a grin. “Do you like art?” he asks.
Smartphone technology is bound to get smarter, and as it does, so will mobile dating apps. They won’t rely on daters’ sometimes faulty perceptions of themselves as a tool in matchmaking. Instead, they may use information gathered from your smartphone to compile a detailed catalog of your likes and dislikes, moods, schedules, and behaviors. In other words, whether you like it or not, they’ll know you better than you know yourself.
For example: If you say in your profile that you want a long-term relationship, but then you mostly search for partners open to casual hookups, the app could be programmed to stop matching you with daters who want a serious relationship, or at least stop showing them your profile. Or if you consistently “check in” to bars and restaurants between 6 and 8 p.m., the app may match you with someone who tends to go out around the same time and in the same neighborhoods.
“There’s going to be a much greater understanding of time and location that is only going to enhance the dating experience,” says Schildkrout of HowAboutWe. “We’re going to know where you are, who you’re with, when you’re available and not available; we’re going to make recommendations about bars or restaurants where lots of single people have recently checked in.” Continued...