For mobile dating services trying to grab a piece of the $212-million revenue pie, love is labour.
After four years of unsuccessful attempts at finding his perfect match on traditional dating websites, Ian Bell sat in his South Granville apartment and surrendered to the swollen inbox of irrelevant messages from locals seeking a date. He estimates he would spend upwards of two hours a day combing through thousands of online introductions just to find a single person who piqued his interest.
Vancouver’s dating scene is notoriously dismal, which may be surprising given the spate of B.C.-based companies that claim to pair lonely hearts. More likely, however, the scene is the impetus for the existence of modernized matchmaking services such as Vancouver-based Plentyoffish Media Inc., Divine Intervention Inc. and It’s Just Lunch International LLC. These companies claim to be functioning healthily in the black – so the business model appears to work – but do they deliver on their promises?
“Pretty much every online dating site in the world is engineered around selling women to men. That’s not much different than a certain age-old business, and women don’t want to be a product, fundamentally,” Bell says. “I started to understand the dichotomy that exists between the business models of every single online dating site and the needs of the people that actually use them. And they’re totally misaligned.”
From his skepticism of digital dating grew an idea that involved scrapping the old model of building personalized profiles to attract potential mates. Bell then elaborated on some lessons gleaned from the cheesy chat lines of the ’90s and successful sites like Match.com and eHarmony (such as letting customers sign up for free, then charging them for communication), and then eliminated the need to wade through hundreds of electronic messages. Dubbed Tingle, Bell’s brainchild is an app that allows users to anonymously connect – for brief dalliances or longer-term relationships – through a smartphone’s GPS tool, which notifies the user when other singles using the app are nearby.
Of course, Bell isn’t the only one taking matchmaking mobile. Dating services want a bigger slice of the estimated $212.6 million in annual revenues for mobile dating – an industry that was projected to grow 29 per cent in 2012, according to market research firm IBISWorld. Tingle has acquired 5,500 users in the Lower Mainland since its official launch a little more than a year ago, while Vancouver-based Plentyoffish boasts three million users worldwide and 65,000 B.C. users logging in daily. Plentyoffish also added an app version of its “freemium” service in 2011.
“The online dating industry shifts directions so quickly, so six months will pass and the landscape will be completely different,” says Shannon Smith, public relations coordinator at Plentyoffish. “I would definitely say the shift to mobile platforms has arrived.”
Smith adds that just a year ago Plenty of Fish’s mobile users only accounted for around five per cent of traffic. Now more than 70 per cent of subscribers last logged in from a mobile device. She says that number grows exponentially every week.
And Bell? He did eventually find his perfect match, but he won’t disclose whether they met online.