Dating websites get hitched with social networks

Facebookers can check out potential partners before ever going on a date. Photo / Thinkstock
Facebookers can check out potential partners before ever going on a date. Photo / Thinkstock

With the rise of the internet, people began looking for love on websites such as Match.com and EHarmony.com. With the growing popularity of social networks, they're turning to services like AreYouInterested.com.

The dating application, available on Facebook and Apple's iPhone, lets users see beyond the personal details of potential mates to their social circles, including friends and family. AreYouInterested.com is adding more than 50,000 users a day, according to New York-based parent Snap Interactive, compared with the 20,000 new daily users Match.com reports.

AreYouInterested.com is now the largest Facebook dating application, with more than 13 million average monthly users, according to research firm AppData.com. Its popularity may cut into the growth of Match.com, part of IAC/InterActiveCorp, and EHarmony.com, whose Facebook programs have 72,712 and 8607 average monthly users respectively.

"Those traditional online dating companies don't have a large app presence like us," Snap chief executive Cliff Lerner said. "Our growth, as well as the growth of a couple of competitors, has come out of nowhere."

Match.com has greater appeal for serious daters and a stronger long-term business, though it may not be signing up as many new users, said Gregory R. Blatt, CEO of IAC. Founded in 1995, the dating site collects pages of data from users to help them find appropriate mates, with a large engineering team to refine its site and algorithms.

"AreYouInterested is a flirty, fun little app," Blatt said. "They have a few people working in a garage. We've got hundreds of engineers maximising our business. You need huge degrees of sophistication, huge amounts of data behind it, and a huge community."

IAC's Match business, which includes other dating websites such as Chemistry.com and SeniorPeopleMeet.com, had revenue of US$292.4 million ($390 million) in the first nine months of the year, up 13 per cent from a year earlier. Blatt ran the business until he took over the CEO role this month from Barry Diller, the billionaire who built and controls New York-based IAC.

Snap, traded over-the-counter, had US$3.9 million in revenue in the first nine months, up 65 per cent. Lerner and his brother founded the company with US$750,000 from friends and family. Cliff, 32, had worked as an equities analyst at Lehman Brotherswhile Darrell, 36, ran a fantasy-sports company. Snap has 17 employees and operates from an office building in Midtown Manhattan.

Snap Interactive's shares have increased 233 per cent this year. IAC has gained 45 per cent this year.

The brothers first started a dating website called IamFreeTonight.com in 2006, and shifted their focus after the initial success of their social-networking products.

AreYouInterested.com is a software application that users can load on their Facebook page or iPhone with a half-dozen mouse clicks. It lets you click through photos of potential matches, and exchange messages or virtual gifts of digital roses or teddy bears.

One reason dating apps on Facebook are popular is that they give romance-seekers insight into potential partners through the social-networking site's existing information, according to Darrell Lerner, Snap's co-founder. People who meet on AreYouInterested.com can become Facebook friends and learn about each other before they ever agree to a date, he said. They typically can see another person's Facebook posts and photos or videos of them and their friends.

"A lot of people on dating websites don't put up legitimate information," Darrell Lerner said. "Because we're an app on Facebook, every user is legitimate. Before people go out with someone, they look them up on Facebook, they add them as a friend, and they see who their friends are. They get a better representation of the person, and it makes them more comfortable."

IAC's dating sites have 1.8 million subscribers, who pay US$24.95 a month or US$99 for a year. The websites had 6.5 million unique visitors in November, up 60 per cent from a year earlier, according to the market-research firm ComScore. Operating profit for the group rose 25 per cent over the first nine months to US$77.3 million.

"Never has Match experienced the kind of growth it's experienced in 2010," Blatt said.

The company is working to introduce new Facebook apps that will compete with AreYouInterested.com, he said.

Zoosk.com, backed by Canaan Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners and ATA Ventures, has 6.1 million average monthly users for its Facebook app, according to AppData.com.

- BLOOMBERG

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