Love: There’s An App For That

Today (Feb. 14) is Valentine’s Day, the official day we collectively celebrate love in all its glories. Couples will go out, and dedicated singles will stay in, while the not-in-love-but-looking-hard will likely head to the web and the wonderful world of digital dating — well, as long as they aren’t too good-looking, apparently.

According to the New York Post, Instagram model Holly Valentine claimed that she was bounced from Tinder, despite paying for membership, because she was “too hot,” such that her matches didn’t believe she was real.

“It’s like, $86 for an app is expensive! I used clean pictures, did everything I was supposed to, swiped right on a couple people, I got some matches and then started binge-watching ‘Game of Thrones,’” she said.

Users complained that the model was catfishing them. However, according to Valentine, she was bounced from the app before she even got to meet anyone. Tinder, thus far, has offered no official comment. Though Valentine noted that she was sad she wouldn’t be able to swipe right to find her Valentine this year, there isn’t too much worry that she’ll be alone for the holiday — what with her 1.2 million Instagram followers.

Yet, for those relying less on dedicated social media followers for a fall-back plan (and, thus, less crippled by natural beauty), there is an ever-expanding menu of choices beyond the Tinders and Match.coms when it comes to getting online and selecting a date for the evening.

There is a near infinitude of customized dating apps for just about any demographic one can imagine: farmersStar Trek fansgolfers, etc. Name a hobby, subculture or profession, and the odds are incredibly likely that there is at least one digital portal that can offer an opportunity to meet and mingle with fellow travelers.

The upside of niche sites is the specificity they offer. If one loves farming, then it makes sense to find a true love who shares that passion for cows. However, niche sites can be expensive. For example, FarmersOnly has no free tier and costs $22 a month, and most Star Trek-themed dating portals start north of $30. By comparison, Tinder has a free version and a $10 premium subscription — unless one is over 30, at which point the price increases to $20 a month.

In addition, niche dating sites can be a magnet for fraudsters and catfishers. Romance scams — according to various data streams, including the FBI and Federal Trade Commission — have become an increasingly favored tactic among scammers and fraudsters looking to take advantage of the unwitting. Online dating platforms are a favored hangout for said scammers, and while the bigger names in the industry have begun cracking down (hence, Holly Valentine’s unlucky experience on Tinder), smaller niche sites tend to remain fertile ground.

Facebook, with its official entrance into the world of online dating in September, notably aimed to fix these problems with a dating platform designed to be safe, secure and private from the get-go.

“We worked with experts in these areas to build protections into Facebook Dating from the start, including the ability to report and block anyone; prohibiting people from sending photos, links, payments or videos in messages; and by providing easy access to safety tips,” Facebook said in its initial post.

The app was also built to avoid the infinite swipes to find a match, for which Tinder and its various imitators are famous. Instead, according to Facebook, matches are proactively suggested by the dating app based on preferences, interests and other things one does on Facebook — and users are encouraged to make the first move, as it were.

It was an idea with a lot of promise, Karen Webster noted shortly after Facebook Dating was first publicly announced. It got back to Facebook’s roots as a service that Harvard students used for matchmaking, consumer report-liking and meeting friends of friends. The app offered a solid monetization path in the form of a subscription service, and perhaps an even more lucrative revenue stream in setting up an entire commerce ecosystem around the happy couples it was creating. Dinner dates, show tickets, weekends away could all be excellent things to book through Facebook someday, Webster pointed out.

Alas, as is often the case in the world of dating, and despite having a lot of potential, consumers just weren’t that into Facebook. One reviewer of the Facebook app, who noted that she had signed on out of professional curiosity and romantic idealism, decided to give love on social media a try. Her conclusions?

“I have given up on dating. Not just dating, I’ve pretty much ruled out having a relationship with anything but my pets and my work. And it’s fine. Better than fine really. And better than the carnage that is the online dating pool,” she said.

The apps’s founding idea of matching people with similar interests and hobbies is a good one, she noted, but probably works better in metropolitan areas with a large diversity of young singles looking to mingle. Rural Oregon is a somewhat different story, and no matter how good a matching algorithm is, it is limited by what is available locally. The author knew her adventures with Facebook Dating were officially over when she was matched with a profile that mentioned crystal meth under “guilty pleasures.”

While such complaints about Facebook Dating stateside have become common (due to limited choices, working far better in some regions than others), it has at least gotten off the ground in the U.S. Its attempts to launch in the European Union, however, have been stymied thus far by regulators and their concerns about consumer data privacy.

The launch has been officially delayed in the face of concerns from Irish regulators, saying they had not been sufficiently briefed on the project or seen any paperwork about it. This has stopped the E.U. launch directly, and will do so for the U.K. launch, despite Brexit’s recent completion.

“It’s really important that we get the launch of Facebook Dating right, so we are taking a bit more time to make sure the product is ready for the European market,” a Facebook representative said.

The question, of course, is if — even after clearing the regulatory hurdles — Facebook will find greater success in love on the other side of the pond than in the U.S. It is a strategy that has certainly worked for countless college students studying abroad, after all.

Of course, Facebook Dating is still relatively new, and it remains to be seen if it will grow on consumers in the U.S. — and if a wave of “Facebook Brought Us Together: Just Married” posts in the spring and fall on Instagram and Facebook will persuade a host of singles to give it a try.

Until then? Well, if one isn’t sold on Facebook, and they are looking for a date, start with Google. Enter in a hobby or some other defining feature, and follow the links. That’s because, in the age of dating via digital platform, we can almost certainly guarantee that there’s a romance app for that.