User Experience and online dating
A recent study from the University of Chicago contends that more than a third of those who married in the US between 2005 and 2012 met online. Match.com says one in four relationships now starts on the web. And according to eHarmony the relationships that started on their site last longer.and have a much lower divorce rate than the national average. It seems that online dating is not only the norm nowadays, it could just be the way to go.
And its big business. One report estimated that globally the industry is now worth more than £2 billion pounds
And as someone who is interested in human behavior and how technology can enhance our lives; it would seem that online dating offers the perfect match between human needs and technical advancement. And what a great use of technology, making it easier for people to connect with each other. It would appear the potential for this industry to flourish is endless. However online dating is not without heartaches of its own in the form of recent scandals and intense competition.
Online dating firms have faced a barrage of negative publicity in recent years and have been accused of skulduggery in many forms such as of selling off on-line profiles, fake flirting and conducting experiments on unsuspecting users, to name but a few.
The need for dating firms to build a good reputation and a brand that users can trust is now more essential than ever.
And competition online these days is fierce. There seems to be a plethora of dating sites out there catering for anything from Theatre lovers to My little pony aficionados who want to find their ‘brony mate‘.
Exponential growth in the web brings with it, its own trials too in form of indirect competition from platforms such as Facebook and Meetup who provide opportunity and in many cases, free, alternatives to meeting a partner online.
The challenge for those in the dating industry now is to create products and experiences that add value in some way. That offer something above and beyond the rest. Something that makes their product stand out from crowd.
Some of the firms I think have been very successful in carving their niche in the market in the last couple of years are companies like eHarmony with their matching algorithms, Grindr and Blendr with their use of mobile and location based services and Tinder and their use Facebook data, to name but a few.
Other dating firms are hot on their heels and employing strategies such as:
- Merging online and offline experiences; Crossing over from offering an online dating service only to include offline events such as themed dating events and real life matchmakers etc.
- Creating better experiences across multiple platforms: Predictions are by 2018, more than 80% of the population will own a smartphone. This has an impact on how users engage with services and dating firms have to look at how to best optimize their product across different devices.
- Creating compelling ‘sticky’ user experiences. Naturally. In such a competitive market, the firms who create user- centred services that customers actually enjoy engaging with, are bound to be the most successful ones.
These are useful strategies to keep up with competition but are they enough to stay ahead of the curve. Enough to survive?
The Innovators Dilemma
In an industry with such low barriers to entry (you don’t even need your own database these days) I believe the biggest challenge to online dating firms is falling foul of what Clayton Christensen called the ‘Innovators Dilemma ‘~ when new technology causes great firms to fail. Firms don’t fail because they do something wrong. They fail because they stand still. And new ideas and new technologies come along and take their business away.
Enter User Insights . User insights and design research are not just essential in creating superior customer experiences but also in driving innovation.
It is only by truly understanding our customers’ needs and motivations and how our product fits (or doesn’t fit in) into their lives can we come up with the ideas for new, better products and services. And it is only by fostering a culture of experimentation and continuos research and testing can we create experiences that connect people in more meaningful and ultimately more successful ways.