A Surprising Announcement at Facebook’s Developer Conference: A Dating App

Mark Zuckerberg introducing “Dating” at the Facebook F8 conference.

Mark Zuckerberg introducing “Dating” at the Facebook F8 conference.

Facebook recently had its annual developer’s conference, also known as Facebook F8. With the Cambridge Analytica scandal still fresh in everyone’s minds, the developers were not the only ones tuning in to hear what Mark Zuckerberg had to say. While some maintain that Zuckerberg’s remarks leave much to be desired, he did touch on Facebook’s renewed efforts to ensure the responsible use of data, but amid the fallout and turmoil surrounding this year’s conference, it becomes easy to miss out on some of Facebook’s new and exciting plans, such as the introduction of cheaper VR headsets and the creation of a dating app.

Yes, you read that last one right. In an announcement endowed with just a smidge of irony, Facebook admitted to wanting to learn even more intimate bits of users’ personal data. However strange this may at first sound, it seems that Facebook is very serious about the project. And given a look at their reasoning, I am inclined to agree with their decision. So what is it? And why are they doing it?

Facebook envisions this dating platform as an app, which means it will exist as a matchmaking software similar to the likes of Tinder. Additionally, it will be based off of their existing platform, and has been given the simple name: Dating. Users who choose to have Dating enabled will have some of their data from preexisting Facebook accounts migrated over. However, Facebook intends to keep Dating relatively removed from users’ current, public accounts: only first names will be available to view on Dating and it will not match two people who are already Facebook friends. The idea is to make Dating related in terms of user pools/data it can draw upon, but while also preventing someone’s Dating profile from being traced back to their regular Facebook profile. 

While the app will likely go through more changes as it continues in the development stage, Facebook has announced some other noteworthy features. For instance, users can select Facebook events they intend on attending as viewable to potential matches in Dating, so people who go to similar events can meet up there. Another interesting feature of Dating will be a messaging capability between matched people, and unlike Messenger (Facebook’s messaging app), Dating’s messaging capabilities will be limited to only plain text (i.e. no images or links) to preserve user safety. Lastly, Dating is purported to not have any advertisements within the app: a feature that several current dating apps have. That about does it for the noteworthy, known details of Dating. So why has Facebook decided to create this app at all?

There are 200 million people on Facebook that list themselves as single, so clearly there’s something to do here.
— Mark Zuckerberg

One of the most compelling answers to the question of why Facebook is deciding to make a foray into the dating app arena comes from the social media’s sheer size and applicable user base. In the words of Zuckerberg: “There are 200 million people on Facebook that list themselves as single, so clearly there’s something to do here.” Looking at it from this viewpoint, it seems obvious that Facebook would eventually try its hand at matchmaking, given that the company’s mission is to "Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together." However, there are other reasons why Facebook is uniquely poised to release a dating app. For one, it already has its foot in the field. Most modern dating apps allow users to transfer Facebook data to their dating account. Once again, it seems to be a relatively small logical jump for Facebook to recognize that they are already providing the data, so why not just create their own platform? Another reason why Facebook has decided to create Dating is that since Facebook’s inception, company leaders have toyed with the idea of creating some form of dating/matchmaking service. Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox stated during the F8 conference that back in 2004 he and several other members of the early Facebook team “were convinced that dating would be the next feature Facebook was going to add”. And nearly a decade later it seems Facebook has finally waited long enough.

The reception to Facebook’s announcement of Dating has been mixed. Many were concerned considering the odd timing of the reveal given the recent data scandal. Current matchmaking software companies, such as the Match Group, owner of Tinder and Match.com, voiced doubts that this new Facebook service would be welcomed by its users. For the most part, firms in the field seem to believe that current users wish to firmly separate their Facebook lives from their dating lives. Despite all of this general negativity, the market showed a different development. Almost immediately after the announcement, Match Group shares closed down more than 22%. It seems that investors and the public are at least intrigued by the announcement and recognize the potential for Facebook to come into the dating app space and shake it up considerably. Only time will tell how well Dating will eventually perform, but it is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Sources: NBC News, NY Times, Wired, Reuters