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Online Dating Is Great—for Investors. For Customers, It’s Complicated. (WSJ)

24 July 2022


Wall Street Journal title: Online Dating Is Great—for Investors. For Customers, It’s Complicated.
WSJ subtitle: Apps like Bumble and Tinder are doing booming business. But finding love is never easy, and finding love online comes with its own set of pitfalls.
By: Laura Forman
Date: 15 July 2022

“Dating used to be about the end result. Its shift to an online business has made it about the journey.

That might not be great for the longevity of consumers’ relationships, but it should continue to benefit investors’ love affair with publicly traded companies like Match Group [] and Bumble []. Match’s apps had nearly 100 million collective monthly active users as of the end of the first quarter. Meanwhile, the number of people willing to pay for so-called “freemium” dating apps continues to climb. Bumble’s namesake app and Match’s Tinder both had more than twice the number of paying users in the U.S. in May as they did the same month five years earlier, according to figures from research firm YipitData. Together, Wall Street expects Match and Bumble to generate well over $4 billion this year off their users’ quests to find…whatever it is they are looking for.

Note LO: see article for diagram on Gold Diggers

Even before the pandemic, a national study by Stanford University and the University of New Mexico published in 2019 found connecting online had become the most popular way heterosexual couples meet. And a 2020 Pew Research study found those adults who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are more than twice as likely to have tried a online dating as straight ones. Nearly half of young adults aged 18 to 29 have used a dating site or app, according to Pew. Lately, the business of dating seems more rewarding for the platforms than for the customers, though.

True, anyone who has tried to find a mate in a crowded bar would likely tell you that a dating app is convenient. Online dating provides more specific results from a wider net. Tinder, for example, has more than 10 million people paying to meet someone on the app. Even your most popular friend or family member has a limited social network by comparison.

But pitfalls abound. Your friends probably have your best interests at heart when they set you up. Dating apps are run by for-profit corporations that risk losing your business when you find a forever match. They also capitalize on FOMO: An Evercore ISI survey found paying dating app users are shelling out for more than one app on average at time. What if your soul mate is on the app you aren’t paying for? That fear can be almost as draining for your wallet as it is for your psyche.

Note LO: see article for diagram on Swiped

People use dating apps, in other words, because everyone else seems to be using them. But that doesn’t mean they are any better at ensuring happily-ever-after. A recent study by the Marriage Foundation found couples who met online were six times more likely to get divorced in the first three years of their marriage than those who met in college or through family or friends.

Even the best dating algorithms are only as good as you are at determining who is best for you—or even worth meeting. Advanced height filters, for example, are used in dating apps the same way shoppers might filter for prices, features or star ratings on an e-commerce platform. A former Bumble product manager says that a majority of women on the platform tend to set a floor of 6 feet for men, which would limit their candidate pool to about 15% of the population. Bumble claims the statistic is inaccurate without providing its own figure, but the distinction with e-commerce remains: Love isn’t shopping, where you are guaranteed to have what you want, so long as you have the funds; it is matching, where the preferences must be reciprocated.

Romantic love may need to adapt to technology rather than the other way around. If Netflix’s dating show “Love is Blind” taught us anything when it filmed potential partners chatting for hours without seeing each other, it is that love based on personality alone is quick to find but as quick to shatter upon physical revelation. But that probably won’t stop people from trying new ways to connect. Relationships in the metaverse would mean you could appear however you wanted to—even differently to different people. And futuristic bodysuits could conceivably make it so that virtual relationships could become physical—sort of. In that case, the notion of “too good to be true” would bend with your definition of “true.”

Today’s dating apps enable users to appear to be someone they are not—what the kids call “catfishing.” But some degree of truth could conceivably be verified technologically via blockchain. Social verification is also possible: Like ratings for Uber drivers, would-be suitors could develop reputation scores—if not based on users’ preferences, at least based on accuracy.

If all of this is starting to seem ridiculous, maybe it is time to rethink an investment in online dating, since today’s apps are already moving in this direction. Bumble has publicly talked up its potential in the metaverse, and is adding virtual gifts to its stable. Match Group’s new chief executive Bernard Kim comes from the gaming industry, having served videogame developers like Zynga and Electronic Arts.

“Swipe Night,” a multipart show on Match’s Tinder, is at its core entertainment. Emmy nominated, it is essentially a choose-your-own adventure game show where you have seconds to decide how you will face a series of moral dilemmas and practical choices. Match is also using its recent acquisition of Hyperconnect to build “Single Town,” a virtual world where singles will engage as avatars.

Ultimately, the destination isn’t always going to be perfect, no matter how you arrive at it. In Netflix’s, The One, a DNA researcher figures out how to genetically determine your soul mate using a single strand of hair. “No one has to settle anymore. I have loaded the dice. Everyone rolls a six,” the fictional co-creator proudly boasts to an elated audience in the show. Spoiler alert: It ends in heartbreak for most everyone involved.

Entertainment might be the best option for a generation that doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants. Popular in Europe with GenZ users, Bumble’s dating app Fruitz has users choose from four fruits to signify dating intentions like a relationship or a hookup. Then again, Fruitz says just because you’re a cherry doesn’t mean you can’t fall in love with a grape. A recent press release from Tinder called the future of dating “fluid,” noting that in a recent survey of Tinder members, the number of daters looking for “no particular type of relationship” was up nearly 50%.

You might not find love that way. But dating app companies have to love those odds.”



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