Unlike dating in the real world where friends and family provide introductions and serve as wingmen, online dating is usually a very solitary experience. Singles browse through profile after profile (perhaps in addition to filling out tedious questionnaires and compatibility tests) in hopes that they’ll stumble upon someone with a mutual attraction.
Engage is a next generation dating site striving to make online dating a more social (and consequently more effective) experience. The service is officially announcing the second major version of its site at our LA party tonight. (Disclosure: Engage is a sponsor of the party).
Engage differentiates itself from traditional dating sites (Match, eHarmony, PlentyofFish, etc) by getting friends involved in the process of finding you that perfect guy or gal. If you are looking for love (and Engage is certainly geared towards those looking to land serious relationships, not set up transitory encounters), you can invite your real-life friends to become friends on Engage. Once onboard, they sit in a friends list that stays with you on the left-hand side of the site wherever you go.
These friends are there to help you break the ice and determine who’s worth your time. They can suggest people they find on the site for you, they can write recommendations and introductory notes, and they can provide their 2 cents when others have made recommendations. And if they happen to find someone not quite right for you but good for someone else they know, they can suggest that person by providing the other friend’s email address (which helps distribute Engage through viral marketing).
Engage has worked to make it generally very easy and rewarding for friends to get involved. Quick suggestions can be made throughout the site with minimal clicks of the mouse, and users get points every time they behave in a supportive manner. The site is designed much like a social network, which should make it accessible to those familiar with Facebook, et al.
This idea of “social dating” certainly has its merits. People are more likely to respond to inquiries when they see that their pursuers have friends who think highly of them. And friend recommendations could lead a user to discover desirable singles who they wouldn’t have contacted otherwise.
That said, I have my doubts about Engage’s model, such as whether or not there are enough eager matchmakers in the world to make the system work. It’s also unclear to me whether a substantial number of people will feel comfortable getting their friends and family so involved in the courting process, especially when using the still-taboo method of online dating.
This is a site I’d like to see work, especially since the online dating industry needs some kicks of innovation. Whether it catches on will depend primarily on sociology not technology, since the site has certainly been designed well enough.
Engage raised $5M in Series A from Advanced Tech Ventures in 2006. The site will remain free until Q4 2008, at which point it will cost around $20/mo.