When OkCupid co-founder Sam Yagan announced yesterday that the company’s mobile app would now let users connect with members “near you, right now, on the fly,” he did so with no small measure of chutzpah. Along with revealing a “Twitter-like” broadcast feature to plan your night and an integration with Foursquare’s venue database, the headline for the press release came out swinging at the competition: “OkCupid Goes Local with Mobile Dating that People Will Actually Use.” Zing!
Betabeat got Mr. Yagan on the phone to find out what exactly he meant by that, what makes OkCupid Locals any different, a time before smartphones (yes, Virginia, it did exist), and why we may soon see the resurrection of CrazyBlindDate, a dating service before its time.
Were you trying to imply that other dating apps have poor adoption? Which apps were you referring to there?
So Grindr is obviously the most successful mobile dating app out there. The things that make it so successful—I’m going to terribly stereotype this community—but it’s larger used as a vehicle for short-term, physical relationships. Now it turns out, taking the stereotypical heterosexual case, that the vast majority of women don’t want that. In fact that’s what creeps them out the most about this. They’re worried about stalkers, they’re worried that it’s 10:30 at night on a Friday and you know someone at the bar next to you thinks you want to have sex with them.
How is OkCupid Locals different?
Number one, we’re populating Locals with the OkCupid database. Our entire reputation is built around the fact that we have this data-oriented way to understand people’s personalities. We can actually layer in compatibility. So now, when you make yourself available in Locals, it’s not just, “Oh, who are the people around me who are hot and horny at this moment.” It’s sliced by who are the people around me who are compatible with me. Instead of it being like everyone’s out there in this meat market, it’s more like I can say, “Who wants to go to karaoke.” You can post that not to just everyone in the West Village, but you can say: everyone in the Village who has a compatibility with me over 80 percent.
It sort of cleans the unwashed masses. It’s like, ohhhhh. You’ve been on OkCupid for a couple years, you know that people with high match percentages tend to be people that you could tolerate having a beer with. (Or not—there are creepy people everywhere in every compatibility index.) But in general we’ve got this sort of filter of the users, which I think is super valuable.
What else do you think will get you more adoption than other dating apps?
We come with a user base. It’s just so critical. Mobile requires both synchronicity and proximity—you have to be at the same place at the same time. And that makes it super hard unless you have millions of users already to populate the system with. [Ed. Note: Mr. Yagan emailed us later to say the OkCupid has 1 million downloads, which is an eighth of its 8 million registered users.]
Unless you have massive database, you don’t want to start filtering too much because you’ll take an already small database and make it even smaller.
Are all OkCupid users now going to be in the Locals App?
You’ll be able to turn it on. But a third of our log-ins everyday are on people’s mobile phones. So even if we don’t get 100 percent of our people using it, we’re gonna to instantly have a lot of people, especially in dense populations like New York.
Does this mean you have to ask permission for location? Because I don’t think you were before?
That is right. Oh actually, I think we did ask before?
Now if people log-in at a certain place, will it show on the app that another OkCupid member is there?
Once you’re in Locals, then yeah, you have the ability to show up. The thing that I think is cool is this idea of broadcasting what you want to do for the evening. With Foursquare you check into where you are, but it’s not great for planning events. We allow the ability to post to people of a certain compatibility level or a certain geography and be like, “Hey, I’m going to be at a piano bar in the West Village.” Or better yet! “Me and three of my girlfriends are going to a piano bar in the West Village, let’s find three guys who want to come hang out with us.”
How does that mitigate the idea of being a woman alone in a bar making it known that you’re . . . available?
There’s a process. You can post the idea of saying, “Hey I want to hang out in the in the West Village,” without necessarily saying where you are at that moment. Then there’s a back-and- forth process where you guys can suggest venues you want to go to. Because you know we’re plugged into the Foursquare venue database, so you can say “How about this place, how about that place, you guys pick.”
Wait! Didn’t you guys do Crazy Blind Date too? [Company description via Crunchbase: “Users fill out a set of questions to help match them to other Crazy Blind Date users, and then indicate at what times and in what neighborhoods they are available for a date. When Crazy Blind Date has a match, they will text you to confirm that you are still available for the date.”]
Yes. We did! But that was pre-Foursquare.
God, that was a long time ago.
My friend and I would try to use that because we thought it would be really funny, but there were never any dudes who signed up together. Why do you think it’s going to work this time?
First of all the time may come again when Crazy Blind Date will revive itself.
Yeah, Crazy Blind Date was pre-smartphone, so we had to have this like bizarre text message relay thing where we had to anonymize your text message. And now you just have an app. It’s so much better now.
Before smartphones it was very, very hard to maintain anonymity across the communication layer, right? You really only had texts as a way to communicate when you’re out on your mobile. And texts obviously reveal a very personally identifiable piece of information, which is your phone number. So there was also this clunky process where OkCupid had to mediate the texting and that was just a pain in the ass. We had tens of thousands of people, but it was so hard to find overlapping people who wanted to go on dates at the same place at the same time. But if Crazy Blind Date were integrated into the OkCupid app, I think you can imagine it would be much easier to have blind dates set up all the time. That may be something that we would pursue down the road.
You mentioned Grindr. But you know they’re putting out an app for straights, right?
Sure. But I think their straight user base is probably zero going into it. So they’re going to have this problem of how do you seed it with a million people. I hold Grindr up as a model of success. I’m not disparaging them. But their reputation and their name in many ways is about something that I think the majority of straight women don’t want. It’s one thing to be on an adult dating site and you’re in your home and there’s this fantastical element that it’s not really happening. It’s another thing to be on an app that’s about one-night stands and being in a bar on a Friday night kind of drunk.
I don’t think the folks at Grindr see it that way. But you’re right, it will be a hurdle for them to cross into that market. Say I’m someplace and I don’t want to use the forecasting. Can I just look up who’s nearby?
So that’s like Grindr?
Yeah, but that’s more or less all Grindr is. The very first wave of mobile dating apps were like, “Find out who’s close to you!” And to me that’s like an oh-by-the-way in what we’re doing, to me it’s much more about the filtering by compatability, so you don’t have freakshows hanging out with you.
[Checking app] Oh, I have to answer 25 questions before I can use it??