Making money in the online dating business isn’t easy. There’s built-in churn: If you match people successfully, then they leave the platform, taking with them any ad or subscription revenue they were generating. Customers can also be expensive to attract; if they leave soon afterward, then it’s impossible to recoup the hefty acquisition costs.
Facebook, by contrast, can afford to have people stop dating so long as it learns things about them it can use to sell advertising on its main site. It can track couples from their first “likes” to the point at which they’re ready for engagement ring ads, and beyond. This means that Facebook could have better incentives than most dating platforms to help people find real relationships.
Customer acquisition might be easier for Facebook, too. The company already has an ad empire. And it is pretty good at predicting when you’re likely to break up with your romantic partner, so it can guess when you’ll be receptive to Facebook Dating ads.
Facebook also has a data advantage. Apps such as Tinder and Hinge use Facebook connections to identify potential matches. But those apps can only see their own users’ networks, so they’re missing most of the picture. Facebook, by contrast, can see almost everything. In particular, it can see non-daters’ full networks -- a data set it’s hard to imagine any other dating service ever being able to access.
Like other apps, Dating promises not to match users with their Facebook friends; this means that Facebook’s most avid users might have less to gain by joining. Moreover, nothing announced so far suggests that Dating will mitigate existing services’ problems with misrepresentation, congestion and bad behavior.
And of course some would argue that the last thing we need is to spend more of our time on Facebook.
So will Facebook’s inherent advantages in the online dating business be enough to overcome the platform’s numerous problems? It’s hard to say. A few of Facebook’s attempts to enter new product spaces have succeeded; most have been major flops.
But in the meantime, at least when people who connected on Facebook say that they “met through mutual friends,” we’ll know it's the truth.
To be fair, Facebook also announced a new data deletion feature although it’s not ready to launch yet (and its scope isn’t clear).
If you have a huge number of Facebook friends, then your relevant dating pool may already be contained in your network (even though you will have a large number of “friend-of-friend” connections).
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.