Location-based dating is FINALLY hot, Hot, HOT!


Some ideas take a while to come to reality. Urban Signals is a New York-based company whose iPhone app notifies you when compatible singles are nearby and would like to meet. The iPhone app is free to download but requires a monthly subscription after the first month.

While some suggest that this was only a matter of time, this has in fact been happening for at least eight years.

Back in 2002 I wrote about proximity dating in my book Living Networks.

In mobile-mad Japan, “proximity dating” has had a big success. As in Internet dating, you complete a profile of both yourself and your desired partner. Instead of suggesting people to exchange e-mails with, the service rings you on your cell phone to let you know that someone with a matching profile is within a few hundred yards of you, and allows you to arrange to meet them. Since high bandwidth mobile technology is now available in Japan, the system can also allow you to see each other on your mobile videophone before you meet.

After the launch of the book, a significant part of the media interest was focused on the idea of proximity dating, as I wrote in early 2003 in Proximity dating is HOT!

Almost every TV and radio interview I’ve had [about the book] has honed in on the idea of “proximity dating”, that I cover in Chapter 2. This is a location-based service for mobile/ cell phone users. You program in your profile and that of the person you’d like to meet, and when you’re within say 200m of someone with a matching profile your phones alert you. You can then speak, exchange photos, or even videoconference, and decide if you want to meet immediately in a local coffee shop. This is currently happening in Japan and Iceland. A similar “buddy finder” service can show a map with the locations of your friends, so you can see who’s nearby if you want to grab lunch or coffee. Japan’s Imahima is providing the enabling software to mobile providers in Japan, Switzerland, and other countries.

After having done quite a few interviews in Australia on this and the broader themes of Living Networks, yesterday Sydney’s Daily Telegraph published an article on proximity dating based on an interview with me. The rest of the media pounced on it, I’ve done several radio interviews off the back of it, and the story even appeared on the late news on national television. Both Telstra and Hutchison – which is about to launch 3G here – have got good mileage out of this, even though they’re just responding to media queries based on my press release, so they’re realizing the level of latent interest out there. All of this illustrates part of my thesis that technology has the potential to bring people together, rather than isolate us, and that these are the services that people will take up and use, not the much-vaunted idea of receiving a McDonald’s discount voucher on your cell phone as you walk by.

The focus started to become more generally on mobile social networks. In 2006 I was interviewed about What accelerates – and slows – the development of social networking mobile platforms and a couple of years later I wrote about The past, present, and future of location-based mobile social networking.

Since then Foursquare, Gowalla and others have finally achieved critical mass with mobile social networking, with the magic ingredient seemingly building in a competitive format for sharing location.

So finally we seem to be back to location-based dating. Let’s see if it takes off properly now.

[UPDATE:] David Olsen has just pointed my to Grindr, a proximity dating iPhone app for gay guys. It seems to have attracted quite a bit of media attention.