Online dating has matured from Internet fringe activity to full-blown phenomenon. Online dating apps? Less so. With the exception of the wildly popular Grindr, hooking up via your smartphone has been an anathema to app developers and a hazard to those looking for mates, a kind of no-man’s-land between skeeze city and sociopath village. "Another day, another creepy mobile app," observed the New York Times’ Nick Bilton, writing about the spectacularly creepy Girls Around Me app.
"There’s a really low perceived value for dating apps right now," agrees Gene Liebel, chief strategy officer at Brooklyn digital agency Huge and the force behind CrazyBlindDate, a mobile app for OkCupid that launched yesterday. "There’s a lot of failure in this space. But being first to market a thing is overrated. We spent some time on this, and I think in this case, we got it right."
First, an intro to CrazyBlindDate. Open the app, and it asks you to select two things: a time for your date and a place from a list of locations. Submit your request, and an algorithm pairs you with a like-minded date. An hour before the rendezvous, the app opens an anonymous IM window on your phone, letting you text with your blind date to find each other. After the date is over, you can leave feedback in the form of a 99-cent "Kudos." Build up enough kudos, and the algorithm starts to give you preference over other candidates. It’s a romantic kind of capitalism. But more on that later.
Eight months ago, when Liebel and his team were tasked with creating CrazyBlindDate, Grindr was the success story their client wanted to replicate. But early on, the team at Huge realized they were barking up the wrong tree. "Grindr is this amazingly successful app," he says, "but the thing is, the workflow of straight dating is radically distinct from gay dating. One of the things we realized was that women aren’t out to hook up." (For the record: Plenty of women are out to hook up.) But statistically, based on OkCupid’s analytics, the majority of female users wanted romance, not random sex.
So Huge pegged the success of CrazyBlindDate on a single hope: women. If you build it for women, the thinking went, the men will come (the reverse, historically, hasn’t worked so well). "We figure men will endure a little more pain," says Liebel. "So everything, from the design to the algorithm, is geared to giving women a successful dating experience." That meant building an infrastructure of safe public places to populate the location list, a safety net against dates gone wrong. It also meant putting the focus on meeting more men, in smaller doses—a romantic test drive to see if things click, rather than weeks of online browsing and messaging. The 99-cent Kudos, which might seem a bit cynical, are intended to be a way for women to vet dates for their fellow comrades-in-romance. "The idea is to lower expectations for how much an algorithm can really do," adds Liebel. "Just meet someone. Meet someone quickly."
It’s a novel idea: Let’s take the Internet surfing out of Internet dating. For OkCupid, it’s a gamble that intends to draw users away from the computer and into the real world. What remains to be seen is whether users can get over the initial shock of what the app expects of them. Being thrown into an old-school blind date is stressful enough. Being expected to "tip" their date, and be "tipped" or dissed in return? Yelp for dating comes to mind as a tagline. Yet in their Sunday article, "The End Of Courtship," the New York Times described Millennial dating is an amorphous affair conducted mainly through random text messages. And an app that seeks to capitalize on that? Well, it might just work.
Judge for yourself by downloading CrazyBlindDate here.
[Image: Hearts via Shutterstock]