One of the most successful business segments on the Internet has been matchmaking. People are prepared to pay to get in touch with potential mates. We probably all know people who have met their partners online (whether they admit it or not). Yet the way matchmaking is usually done is incredibly crude, based on checking a series of boxes, and being matched with people who check the same boxes. An advance on this science has been made by OKCupid, which among other approaches allows people to specify their own questions, rate the importance of these, and uses people’s matchmaking behaviors to assess their personal characteristics within defined confidence levels. To boot, the service is free. As a newly-married man I’m certainly not in the dating scene. However I do think it’s an important social function to enhance a key promise of the Internet: to be able to draw on the entire world in finding our perfect mate, as opposed to being limited to who we happen to bump into along the way. Business matchmaking is equally important. How do we find the people or organizations that we can create unique value with? There are a host of event-based matchmaking systems to enable conference attendees to hook up with interesting people. (More on this another time.) One of the most sophisticated is IntroNetworks, which asks people to position a whole range of business and personal topics along a spectrum of how interested they are in them. This enables them to identify with great accuracy the other people at the event who have the closest match of interests. Check-the-box profiling is so last century!
Update August 19: A CNN news article quotes a Jupiter Research analyst who forecasts 9% annual growth in online dating revenue this year to US$516 million. The story is focused on the slowing in growth of the sector after a massive surge. However part of that has been due to the relative lack of innovation in the sector, thus the story above. Still, 1% of all Internet activity is attributed to online dating, which is pretty hefty. Social networking software such as Friendster and Google’s Orkut cross boundaries, including both dating and other personal networks. The story of Ruper Murdoch’s News Corporation recently acquiring the popular social networking MySpace shows that mainstream media are recognising the power and potential of social software. News Corp’s Australian media rival Fairfax recently paid A$40 million for Australia’s premier online dating service RSVP, demonstrating that this truly is a convergent media space.