Connecting hearts: The business of looking for love on the internet

Connecting hearts: The business of looking for love on the internet

By Dipavali Hazra | | 20 February, 2016
The age of candle-lit dinners and old-fashioned dates is passé. Today, young people spend more time searching for the love of their lives on the internet, investing full faith in the matchmaking algorithms of their dating apps, writes Dipavali Hazra.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, look through your app, and make me a perfect match!” These lyrics, borrowed and, let’s say, updated, from the 1971 musical Fiddler on the Roof could very well be the love anthem for a new generation of single young men and women who have, in search of the “right one”, inspected the entire eligible young population of their respective districts in one day through mobile dating apps. Download one of those, answer basic questions about yourself, and you are good to go — right or left — swiping the screen either way depending on whether you are interested or not in the candidate before you.

And you can do this endlessly, dismissing and liking profiles with the blanket of anonymity protecting your identity, therefore softening rejection. Only when both users like each other are both parties informed and encouraged to chat. It may take the mystery out of romance but it sure saves precious time wasted in uncertainty.

“Urban India is on a very steep evolution curve and over the last few years, has leapfrogged to lifestyles very similar to those that you see in mega cities around the world. People have demanding careers, long commutes, and in this kind of context, meeting someone special becomes quite challenging and people are acknowledging that,” says CEO of mobile dating app Woo, Sumesh Menon.

Woo, which was launched in July 2014, currently has over two million users who are urban single professionals in the age group 25-35, and seeking a life partner, according to the company.

“We saw a huge social and cultural change sweeping the country in both urban and semi-urban areas — increased mobility for studies and jobs, more independent-minded women,” says Sachin Bhatia, co-founder of the dating app Truly Madly.

According to a recent report, the number of smartphones in India grew 54% during 2014, reaching 140 million in number. Surely, dating apps may not have worked half as well as they do had people been scouring profiles on a bulky desktop, with people walking in on them while they are at it. During “research” for this report, yours truly had to spend time frequently navigating some of these apps during free time at work which was only made possible due to the privacy of a smartphone. Similarly, Moumita Ganguly (name changed), who works in Delhi, had contracted chicken pox last month and was convalescing at home Kolkata, when Tinder came to her rescue. She says of her experience, “It is a good way to pass time. Though I am still in touch with one guy I met on the app. He reads poems, knows about Bengali songs though he is from UP, plays the flute and the way he perceives people around him is something I can relate to.”

“These apps propagate shallowness as we blatantly judge people based on their appearance,” says 24-year-old Avinash Prasad. Yet, there are others like Moumita who connected with her new friend owing to a shared love for an anime character, which incidentally was his profile picture on the app.

Tinder, which last month announced its first international office in India, only displays a user’s photo and age on the main screen (you can tap to access the full bio depending on what information she or he has made available).

To create a better and safer experience, some other apps only verify users when they have answered a few questions about themselves. Truly Madly, for instance, asks you to choose at least three words from a bank of adjectives to describe yourself — though it is rather inconceivable how being a #chocaholic can sway potential matches in your favour.

Woo, additionally, has features like the QuestionCastTM and TagSearchTM to make connecting more meaningful. “TagSearchTM turns the entire user base into the Internet of People, which can be browsed as simply as how we use hyperlinks to browse the Internet. Smarter discovery means more matches, more matches mean more people who actually find love through dating apps,” he says.

QuestionCastTM is essentially a conversation starter. It lets you choose from a list of probing questions to ask your match, like his or her priorities in life or vacation style.

“The algorithm is proprietary and was initially developed by our team and two senior advisors. We collated data from nearly 4,000 young folks about relationships, what they look for in a partner etc. before arriving at our algorithm,” says Bhatia on how the company developed its match making algorithm. The Truly Madly website introduces two young women employees as “question generators” for the app.

Woo was also launched after intensive industry and market research, where the in-house team, keeping the consumer needs in focus developed the match algorithm and designed the on-boarding questions. Other homegrown apps like Quack Quack too employ matchmaking algorithms that consciously take note of user behaviour, interests and tastes and showcases the profiles that matter.

With the rising competition in the dating app business, it is not only match seekers who are feverishly bending over their phones looking for a suitable boy or girl, matchmakers too are rivalling each other to attract a larger user base. Indian dating apps like Truly Madly, Woo, ekCoffee, Quack Quack, among others are competing with each other as well as with US-based apps like Tinder and Hinge.

To edge out competition from foreign apps, the desi ones share a common detail — they stress heavily on advertising their security and authenticity checks for the date-weary Indians.

More or less all these apps use a mix of social verification for users like linking the app with Facebook and Linked In profiles, and endorsements by friends (girls) plus ID proof checks, phone number verification etc.

“There are multiple filters both automated as well as manual that we use to ensure that the people cannot enter the app under false pretences. Even if you have changed your marital status on Facebook, there is a high probability that the profile will be curated out manually,” says Menon.

Then, there are options to unmatch, report, or flag users who are offensive, and curators step in to re-screen those profiles. “On an average 30% of signups are rejected daily if they don’t meet our stringent standards,” says Menon.

With apps developing their platform around women users, the latter clearly lead the dating game online. Woo only reveals the name of a woman user once she has matched with someone. Bumble, a US-based app, requires the female to begin conversations within a 24-hour window. Many of the women users across dating apps get a match immediately after they like a profile, which triggers complaints from men that these apps do not work as well for them.

“The apps don’t really work for guys the same way they do for girls. From what I’ve seen, guys get very rare likes, and women get a like back on almost every guy they like. I’ve had a few chats here and there, met some people. Nothing really clicked. I would suggest other ways of meeting people,” says Avinash, who works in Noida.

Aakash(name changed), who works at an MNC in Noida, echoes Avinash. “Women have the upper hand on these apps. In fact some girls even make a profile to kill time,” he says, although he did meet a girl who was a “microbiology student, with a 330 GRE score”. They did not score very well as a match, evidently, and are not in touch any longer.

With more than a dozen dating app companies operating in India and more than a million smartphone users who have downloaded at least one of them, one can indeed afford to be picky.

In fact, the dating app phenomenon has even penetrated to tier-2 cities. Woo, for instance, has a ratio of 70:30 of users from Tier 1 cities to users from Tier 2/ Tier 3 cities. 455 of Truly Madly users are not from the top five metros, according to the company.

“Dating apps are like shopping malls. If one doesn’t work, turn to the next,” says Natasha Vats, a development sector consultant based in Delhi. She began exploring dating apps when she relocated to Bangalore, some time ago, and after speaking to ten people on an average every day for about a week, she met a boy, who is a good friend now.

Though she describes these platforms as a market where there are infinite options, Natasha knows someone who met her soulmate through dating apps. “You never know (who you find),” she admits.


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