On May 1, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the social networking site’s foray into online dating. “There are 200 million people on Facebook who list themselves as single,” Zuckerberg said at the F8 Conference in San Jose, Calif. “So clearly there’s something to do here.”
Within hours, stocks for Match Group—the parent company to OkCupid, Tinder, PlentyOfFish, and Match.com—had plummeted more than 20%. The Twittersphere was abuzz with speculation about Facebook’s monopolization of online dating.
For a moment, the end of the hookup app seemed imminent.
A Financial Times headline read, “Facebook threatens to upend online dating market,” while Wired suggested, “Facebook’s New ‘Dating’ Feature Could Crush Apps like Tinder.”
But as a scholar of digital media and sexuality, my hunch is that these headlines sensationalize Facebook’s impact on online dating ecology. News of Tinder’s death has been greatly exaggerated.
Like we’ve seen in other media industries, online dating is going through its fragmentation and diversification phase. New technologies typically do not simply replace old technologies—at least not immediately. People tend to adopt new media while continuing to use their favorite “old” media.
We still read books even though we have iPads. And video didn’t kill the radio star. The same goes for the online dating marketplace. In an era of vast options, online daters can choose to use both Facebook and FetLife, Tinder and ChristianMingle.
The average online dater belongs to 2.4 dating sites or apps, according to the research firm ReportLinker. Being active on one app doesn’t preclude being active on another.
Facebook is also framing its dating platform in opposition to swipe-left, swipe-right, gamified apps that rate potential partners on photos first.
“Now this is going to be for building real, long-term relationships, not just hookups,” Zuckerberg explained at F8, with mockups of Facebook’s dating features floating behind him. The app’s algorithm matches singles based on mutual friends, similar likes, and common events attended. It harnesses users’ real-life social networks to facilitate romance.
That’s a fundamentally different model than geolocation-based apps like Grindr or Tinder, which are popular with millennials. (And it’s a far cry from the hot-or-not site, FaceMash, that Zuckerberg created while in college, before launching Facebook.)
My estimation is that Facebook’s dating feature will appeal to over-40 adults—folks who will easily pivot from Facebook’s social networking service to the dating service. It will help connect people who need activity partners and who want to bond over common interests. It might be a great option for divorcees and widowers.
At the same time, Facebook can expect continued declining popularity among young people. Singles under 40 will continue to search for partners in all corners of the Internet—and that means they’re unlikely to completely jump ship to Facebook’s dating service.
After all, more than a third of online daters aren’t looking for love. The same ReportLinker survey found that 34% of them are just hoping for a hookup.
Good news: There’s an app for that.