Even though it grew out of Facemash, Facebook has always been, by default, a dating site. With its portable social graph, an enormous user base and repository of images, and droves of social and interest data, it’s no surprise that so many dating startups have chosen to build on top of its platform. Each in some way leverages Facebook’s social graph/data to find you better matches.
Yet, even so, Michael Brotzman believes that the majority of Facebook dating sites still aren’t taking full advantage of the social graph — that they’re just compatibility engines in disguise. The biggest problem for single people, he says, is discovering other trustworthy daters in their circles, seeing how they’re connected, and getting an introduction. That’s why Brotzman and team are today launching The Datable, a dating site that is on a mission to build its own social graph on top of Facebook data — in other words, a “singles graph.”
Now, if you’re like me, the thought of another dating site really couldn’t be less exciting, nor is the prospect of yet another “graph.” But, it does seem that if you’re going to go for it, the “singles graph” could have the potential to be a much more powerful tool that simply using Facebook data to compute similarity or to present a list of matches at random. This is the team’s quabble with sites like TheComplete.Me, Circl.es, and Yoke.
Brotzman said that he thinks of TheDatable as being akin to Friendster 2.0 but strictly for dating or like Facebook when it was college-only. Originally, users were the same age, and even if they went to different schools, were only a few degrees of separation away. But then Facebook opened to the masses, and suddenly your mom was posting naked pictures of you as a kid on your wall.
The founder believes that, as Facebook opened up, it became tacky to date on Facebook, so the startup is on a mission to “make social networking okay for dating again” by facilitating the discovery of single people, starting with your FB Friends list. (It’s definitely on the right track, though I would probably dispute the idea that Facebook was every actually a dating site.)
Instead, the more dating sites emulate the process offline and actually get out of the way rather than creating more unneeded noise, the better. TheDatable wants to be a tool that facilitates relationships the way they happen offline by way of your extended circle.
The logic goes that, if you share the same circle of 2nd and 3rd degree friends, you’ll have a much higher probability of meeting someone. So the key, then, for TheDatable is to show you all the singles in your extended circle within those three degrees. Users can then message people directly or get introduced (or get the scoop) to people through friends.
The other core functionality of the site is enabling users to easily tag their single or datable friends through Facebook Connect, which then allows them to see their friends’ single friends and their single friends, etc. This way TheDatable aims to give you access to hundreds or thousands of singles within first, second, and third degrees of separation. “It’s a viral way to grow your dating circle,” he says.
TheDatable also enables non-single friends to join, as users can tag their non-single friends as “Wings,” who then tag their single friends, etc. It has a few nifty tools to automate getting intros, to suggest matches, and getting the scoop.
Of the many diminishing characteristics of dating sites, the creep factor is probably at, or near, the top. Privacy and privacy controls are extremely important, especially for a dating site that touches the largest social network on the planet.
But Brotzman tells us that when you tag your FB Friends as datable, they get a notification on Facebook, which is always private. They are then taken to the site, where they can join if they choose. Necessarily, the site does not activate wall posts when users join or when someone is tagged.
TheDatable also offers blocking and flagging options and lets users select their privacy level in settings so that you can, for example, restrict who sees your list of datable friends to “only first degree friends,” or expand it to second and third degree circles. And, in turn, users can select 1/2/3rd degree for people that can tag or message them, etc.
Online dating is a hard nut to crack. It’s a very personal process that, historically, has been ported to an impersonal medium, or at least in impersonal, reductive ways. There’s the creep factor, noise, faked pictures, lazy filtering, shady profiles, and having to judge between actual interest from spam and “pokes.” Dating on Facebook reduces some of the impersonal and creepy aspects of online dating, and pictures and profiles are going to be at least partially authenticated.
And, to give them credit, dating sites do have some of the best business models on the web, with paying members at Match.com, for example, spending $264/year on memberships, a comparatively high average revenue per subscriber. Even if online dating is unappealing to you, from a business perspective, it’s hard to deny that the market leaders are ripe for toppling. There really hasn’t been innovation in the space for half a decade.
It does seem, though, that dating sites built on Facebook — if done correctly, and that’s a big “if’ — can cure many of these ills. User behavior is changing in the Facebook Era, and a lot of the old walls are coming down. It has a lot left to prove, but if TheDatable can successfully build the “singles graph” and avoid the pitfalls of the incumbents, it may be around for awhile.
TheDatable was founded in 2012 and is based in NYC. For the last month, the startup has been in private beta and launches publicly today. The founders have collectively invested $200K+ of their own money, and will look to raise venture funding at some point this year.