Facebook — you know, the company that’s ruined your attention span, warped national geopolitics and hawked your personal information to the highest bidder — wants to help you find a date.
On Sept. 5, Facebook launched its dating app in the U.S. Promising to help you “start meaningful relationships through things you have in common, like interests, events, and groups,” Facebook Dating will “suggest” potential matches to those who opt into the service.
The service is similar to other dating apps. The algorithm picks profiles for you based on where you live, your interests and your Facebook groups. You either “like” the profiles the algorithm picks for you, or you take a pass on them.
Its most unusual new feature is both sweet and invasive, like a traditional matchmaker. If you and a mutual friend both add each other to a “Secret Crush” list, Facebook will let you know.
The least interesting features are the ones that make it clear Facebook is interested in you not as a person but as a data-mining opportunity.
It’s encouraging users to add Instagram posts and stories to their profiles, and to see if other people on the app will be attending the same events.
Of course, the entire enterprise feels a little suspicious, mostly because it’s Facebook. There’s got to be an unintended consequence somewhere, right?
The simple answer may just be that Facebook is just trying to wring more money out of your data. The company’s user base in the U.S. is shrinking. Younger users are fleeing the platform. To offset market softness, it’s tightening its grip on the still-popular Instagram (so many demands for users to cross-post their photos!) and … looking for new opportunities.
Like the online dating industry. It’s worth billions of dollars, and nearly all of the major apps — Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge and Plenty of Fish, for example — are owned by the same conglomerate, the Match Group. Many of those apps are ripe for “disruption” — they have a captive audience in the tens of millions and they don’t look like they’ve gotten a design overhaul since the early 2000s.
Facebook probably ran the numbers, analyzed your personal information and decided it had a good-enough shot at overcoming its competitors’ first-mover market advantage to worm its way into another facet of your life.
In other words, this service isn’t coming about because anyone was clamoring for a new dating site.
Which is interesting, because online dating makes so many people miserable. The questionable photos, grammatically dubious bios, ghosting, direct messages consisting of nothing but genitalia — when I was single, I had to periodically take breaks from the apps, and every single person I know now does the same.
It surprises me that Facebook didn’t consider what should have been an obvious answer for a social network based around friendship: What about a dating app that helps you make choices with the input of your friends?
In the long-forgotten offline days, people used to meet their partners through friends all the time. As the average age of marriage has been trending up in the U.S., friendships have only become more important. When your friends are like your family, they’re deeply invested in your romantic life. Who wants to absorb a jerk into the friend group?
Plus, many single people are already relying on their friends to help them survive dating apps. They’re just doing it on an ad-hoc basis.
Last weekend I was out with three girlfriends, one of whom is single. She was dreading the process of weeding through her in-app inbox and match selections.
Of course you are, we told her. Most men aren’t worth dating.
Burnout was overtaking her willingness to stay in the game. So we did what any good friends would do — we took her phone and went through each profile with her.
When we saw red flags — the guys whose photos all included their mothers or ex-girlfriends, the ones with bad politics or absurd relationship expectations or alcoholic beverages in every shot — we rejected them without hesitation.
If we saw someone who seemed pleasant enough but would not have been right for her — guys who loved motorcycles, for example — we reminded her why (safety risks make her anxious). Objectivity made us ruthless; understanding who she was helped us narrow the field.
But once we’d weeded out the nos, we encouraged her about everyone else.
There’s no context online, we reminded her. We’ve eliminated the disqualifying options. The rest you’ll have to meet in person. And you should!
Will any of those guys wind up being her happily-ever-after?
I don’t know. But I know they wouldn’t have had a shot without her friends.
Someone should leverage this terrific market opportunity. As of today, it’s not Facebook. But considering how much it already knows about our lives, maybe that’s for the best.
Caille Millner is a San Francisco Chronicle staff editor and writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter:@caillemillner