The algorithms behind the rules of attraction

With so many people using online dating sites and app, can algorithms really determine whether the next person will be 'the one'?
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Dating used to be as simple as boy meets girl, boy takes girl out for dinner, and then the rest is history.

But these days, with technology being so involved in our lives ,it's even intervening in the way we meet people, with "dating" having so many different meanings -- and many don't even require initial face to face interaction anymore.

Research from IBIS released last August showed dating services in Australia over the past five years have grown in popularity, mainly because as individuals increasingly postpone marriage until later in life, they have had to recruit outside help in their search for the perfect match.

IBIS predicted that during 2014-15, the industry would reach a value of AU$113.3 million, while post annualised growth was forecast to be 4.7 percent in the 10 years through to 2019-20.

According to IBIS senior industry analyst Ryan Lin, the uptake of online dating services has been driven by how comfortable people have become with being online. At the same time, he said the perception of online dating has now changed, and it's no longer seen as the place for desperate singles, but as a legitimate means of meeting new people.

"Busy lifestyles and social pressures to find 'the one' have encouraged many individuals to turn to online resources when looking for love. This trend is particularly pronounced among the eastern states, where the uptake of online dating has been quite strong," he said.

"With many individuals struggling to find new ways to meet new people, dating services provide a ready avenue for singles to meet other like-minded singles without having to negotiate Australia's bar scene."

To serve the growing interest, online dating sites, such as Australia's RSVP, have worked on improving their services by using complex algorithms to match users with the right people based on similar interests.

Daniel Haigh, RSVP and Oasis Active director of product and technology, said using algorithms helps optimise the platform, and therefore provide users with a better outcome and experience.

"RSVP is based around a lot of deep algorithms that have been refined over many years, which has has involved many research groups as well," he said.

"At RSVP, we take the whole profile into account: a person's interest, what you want, what you don't want, what's important, and as an RSVP member, you can spend a bit of time really filling in those details so the matching algorithms can really find you the right people."

This is unlike the company's sister site Oasis Active, which is less reliant on algorithms, but is more focused on the idea of increasing communication levels between users, explained RSVP and Oasis Active CEO Dave Heysen.

"Oasis is a communication tool where you certainly get to meet a lot of people, and we try to give you as much choice as possible, whereas RSVP -- with our matching algorithms -- it certainly guides people a little bit more into what they're looking for, and matches them with more suggestions," he said.

"I would say Oasis is for people who are looking for a date or casual dating, and RSVP are for people who are looking to date, but if they have a good date, to form a relationship."

Haigh added that Oasis relies on using basic information to help users find people who they want to communicate with them right at the time, such as if they are online, in the local area, or are possibly looking for people with similar interests.

"It's more like finding people to talk to, and the emphasis is on the communication between the members," he said.

While the approach to dating differs between each site, the company boasted there is proof people are taking up online dating as an option.

"We have found around 33 percent of Australians who have met online, have met on RSVP, and are still in a successful relationship," Heysen said. "We judge success by how much communication happens. So for Oasis there are over 1.5 million conversations a day in Australia, and there are about 250,000 'likes' sent out in Australia."

Additionally, smartphones have added another dimension to the dating services industry. Industry operators, such as RSVP and Oasis, have created app versions of their websites, making their services more readily available to customers on the go.

Heysen said since the introduction of the mobile apps for both brands, the company has seen a shift of users opting to find their matches on the go.

"Right now 60 percent of Oasis' traffic is through apps or through mobile, and RSVP is probably closer to 50 percent," he said.

"It has just become the norm. We've certainly found that younger people are getting into online dating, or are starting at a younger age. Obviously, with Gen Y coming through, who are more mobile savvy, certainly it's an applicable product for those people."

The concept of online dating has been further enhanced since the introduction of apps such as Tinder and Grinder. These apps rely on accessing a user's social network data and phone location to suggest possible matches, and then users would 'swipe' either right if they like the match, or left if they don't.

To control the swipes, Tinder earlier this year wrote in a blog post that it introduced algorithm to "intelligently" limit the number of likes a user can make in a consecutive 12-hour period. It said since introducing the control, there has been an increase in the "quality of matches".

"We've seen a 25 percent increase in the number of matches per right swipe, a 25 percent increase in the number of messages per match, and a 52 percent decrease in spam bots (another of our biggest user complaints)," Tinder said.

(Image: Supplied)

According to Lin, apps such as Tinder have proved particularly popular among younger users, mainly because it helps lessen the fear of rejection that usually accompanies the online dating process.

"The influx of free services and smartphone applications -- such as Tinder -- has provided for strong growth in the volume of users that far outweighs the rise in revenue," he said.

"The recent success of Tinder is only expected to breed further success, as singles flock to the app due to its large user base and anonymous 'swipe right' system that negates common fears of rejection. Additionally, applications such as Tinder are expected to be particularly popular in New South Wales due to the density of population and the higher chance of finding singles in your area."

Taking advantage of the growing interest in dating apps, Australian-based firm HeroBoyfriend is launching an app in coming months to help partners nurture their relationships. The "boyfriend improvement" app will use location-based services to push curated content, creative suggestions, and timely reminders of anniversaries and other special occasions to help keep their partners happy.

HeroBoyfriend head of technology Andrew King said the app will also rely on scheduling algorithms and the user to provide information about themselves and their partner.

"Personalisation will be a big thing because you've got what the guy likes and what the girl likes, and they don't always match up. So at the start it will be very hard to personalise experiences but as the profile of the user grows, it becomes a huge value add.

"We'll be able to push out, at an appropriate time, some content whether it's a date or gift suggestion, and it will depend on what the user has previously told us what they've liked."

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