May 05, 2009

Online Transparency Leads to New World of Group Dating

Guest Post By Micah Baldwin of Learn To Duck (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Like most everything, even dating has been changed by social media.

Before the explosion of the Internet, a man (or woman) had to find a woman (or man) that they were interested in spending more time with, then ask them out on a first date. The two of them would spend the time over dinner and maybe drinks learning about each other and figuring out whether there was enough interest to continue dating.

It was such a time-honored tradition, that books were written about the practice, and even movies were produced around the subject. Entire professions were created to help people overcome the difficulties of a first date.

Then the Internet came around.

Dating sites such as, eHarmony and others helped people get to know one other through online interaction prior to meeting. For many people, this was an amazing step forward. No longer were the first dates awkward. Now each party knew a lot about the other from all their interactions online. Pictures were exchanged; stories were shared; and likes and dislikes were enumerated. The first date became almost the triumphant conclusion of the online courtship. (15 million users), eHarmony (17 million users) and PlentyofFish (30 million users) thrived in the pre-social network / pre-recession Internet. Even younger users (40% of, 40% of eHarmony and 35% of of PlentyofFish users are under 35 years old).

Enter social networks.

Now we have entered a world of "hyper-transparency." Most everyone between the ages of 25-35 has a Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Flickr, Twitter and a million different social network profiles. Not to mention Google itself. With a simple name search so much information on an individual can be surfaced, that the awkwardness of first dates has returned. "What do they know about me? Did they see that picture from college?" often runs through people's minds. "How did you know that? Oh, you saw that blog post."

While many stories have been written about folks who have lost jobs or potential jobs (see: Cisco Fatty - because of tweets or Facebook photos, how many relationships have been ruined by out-of-context tweets or photos?

As an example, the game "Shots in the Dark," where kids get together and drink shots in a darkened closet to ensure that no photos exist of their hijinks, has become common place in today's high schools and colleges.

As transparency becomes a required part of interaction, especially among people under the age of 35, paid dating sites such as and eHarmony are finding it difficult to hang on to their users, especially those under 35. Jupiter Research indicates that only about 10% of the online population uses paid dating sites, which is a decrease of 6% since 2006.'s largest growing segment is users over 50, seeing a 300% increase since 2000.

Spark Networks, owner of sites such as, has seen annual sales drop to $14mm from $15.8mm a year ago. Free sites such as OkCupid, which appeal to the under 35 crowd, have seen new user signups increase 60 percent since September, from 110,000 per month to 180,000 per month.

Younger Internet users demand greater transparency among their online (and offline) interactions. "As a recent grad, it's expected that I will know more about the people I hang out with, " said Grace Boyle, 23. "With all the social media tools available, why would I use something like"

Now dating sites such as Ignighter, TeamDating and Mixtt have created the concept of "group dating," where groups meet each other eliminating the pressure of the first date. Now there is no focus on the one-on-one interaction of dating sites, but rather on finding compatibility among groups.

Ignighter, the largest among the group dating sites (They were a Techstars company and recently announced $1.2 million in funding), believes that the group dynamic removes the stigma of having to perform on the first date. On Ignighter small groups create profiles and match to other small groups based on geography and interest area. Mixtt, who launched at TechCrunch 50 in 2008, has a similar format to Ignighter, with the group profile and matching concept. (Mixtt has received no funding to date, and their last blog post was in October.

Jacqueline Malan, 25, remarked "It's much easier to go out with a group of friends, since it removes all the pressures of the first date. Of course, if there is someone interesting, we certainly can connect on Facebook and Twitter. Erica Prather, 24, added, "and if there isn't anyone interesting, it removes the awkwardness of the goodbye."

The hyper-transparency of today's social network remove the fear of not knowing most of a person's "dirty little secrets."

For the traditional dating sites, it will be imperative for them to allow users to interact outside of their walled gardens in ways that could potentially reduce the amount of time spent on the sites.

Since everything is out in the open, it increases the difficulty of the first date and the strangeness of matching to someone online and building a rapport that can end up being misleading. Group dating is clearly the 2.0 answer to online dating. By allowing people to see potential relationships interact in the real world and among their friends, there is additional insight into real personalities.

Online dating has to evolve into a collaborative, transparent activity, much like most online interactions have become, to make the fake phone call from a dying mother obsolete, and the drink in the face a relic of yesteryear.

Resources:Read more by Micah Baldwin at