You Need to Pay Attention to Online Dating. Now.
I’m 23, and I’m a huge proponent of online dating. It’s not because I’m some sort of cyber stud, but rather because I love social media and social marketing. Online dating is now firmly post-weird—like the 90’s—and it accurately reflects our current way of living: online daters use online research and social interaction to drive maximum offline enjoyment, utilizing their taste graphs and search algorithms to filter out the crap and select the best possible options. Simply, there’s not a smarter way to date.
A couple of weeks ago, The New Yorker ran a lengthy feature on online dating, and the essay wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been, for three main reasons:
1) They failed to place it accurately—or really at all—within the larger context of social media’s dominance.
2) Instead of assigning the story to a digitally savvy journalist who had online dated before, they assigned it to Nick Paumgarten. Mr. Paumgarten hasn’t even “regular” dated. He’s gone on two dates in his life. The last one was with his wife. In college. In 1988. Everything he knows about dating probably comes from Bret Easton Ellis novels.
3) Mr. Paumgarten wrote about the different dating algorithms at length, but he failed to place search algorithms within the larger context of the taste graph revolution, which is completely changing the way we search (Hunch), the way marketers advertise to us (Compass Labs, amongst others), and how we purchase.
4) Everyone they interviewed was in his or her mid-30s, or older.
I understand that the New Yorker demographic is 35+, but we could have told the story of the 60-year-old woman facing daunting gender odds on Match.com seven years ago. It’s not even a good story.
The real story is in how tech-savvy Millennials are embracing online dating—particularly OkCupid.
While I don’t agree with Mr. Paumgarten’s approach, his description of OkCupid is fantastic:
“OK Cupid, in its profile, comes across as the witty, literate geek-hipster, the math major with the Daft Punk vinyl collection and the mumblecore screenplay in development. Get to know it a little better and you’ll find that it contains multitudes—old folks, squares, more Jews than JDate, the polyamorous crowd.”
Hilarious. But even so, OkCupid is more than that—it’s the site that has a stranglehold on New York’s 20-somethings. All of my single friends are well-educated, attractive, funny individuals in their early-mid 20’s and they’re all on OkCupid. And it’s not a tech thing; most of them don’t even have Twitter accounts.
So, why is everyone on OkCupid? First off, the obvious, as Mr. Paumgarten states: “For many people in their twenties, accustomed to conducting much of their social life online, it is no less natural a way to hook up than the church social or the night-club-bathroom line.”
I’ll take it a step further: it’s a much more natural way to hook up than at a church social (who the fuck hooks up at a church social?) and, for most, it’s a more natural way to hook up than in a nightclub bathroom line. Why? Many 20-somethings don’t have the skills to pick up someone in a bathroom line, but everyone has social media skills. Online dating is just easier.
And no, it isn’t a sign of society’s decline that many Millennials have limited pickup game but great online dating skills. It makes perfect sense: unless you’re on the prowl five nights a week, you’ve probably spent less than 30 hours in your lifetime hitting on strangers. Conversely, if you were born in the late 80s-to-early-90s, you’ve probably spent over 10,000 hours on social networks. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, if you spend 10,000 hours doing anything, you’re likely to be an expert. Practice is what makes online dating so easy and appealing.
The only thing holding any single person back from online dating is stigma, but OkCupid’s ubiquity and popularity solves that. Plus, OkCupid has done things right: they launched as a free service and stayed free; they’re easy to use; and they have the most popular dating blog in the city, OkTrends. And they have all the polyamorous Jews. Everyone loves polyamorous Jews. Even getting bought by un-hip Match.com couldn’t kill their swag.
The world is deliriously excited about the future of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Google+, but online dating sites are being blatantly undervalued. For the coming generation, joining an online dating site at 18 will be a rite of passage, like back in the day when you got your college email and joined Facebook. It’s a ripe platform for investors and marketers. It’s the future of love and sex, and what’s more important than that?