OPW INTERVIEW - Aug 21 - If you think launching a mobile app is tough for your dating site, think again. White labellers have a compounded problem because they have hundreds to thousands of partners to keep happy. WhiteLabelDating’s CTO gave us the scoop on how they did it. - Mark Brooks
You've got a new mobile platform that you've launched for WhiteLabelDating.com. How's it doing for you, and can you tell us how it works?
We started the project one year ago and we launched it officially in May. It's a brand new platform we built using Ruby and Ruby on Rails. It uses Rackspace and JSON to transmit data under an API. It's a series of components, including search for sites and members, communication, and an API on top. What it really means is it's a great way for us to scale up and down because it's hosted on the cloud.
Did you think about using HTML5? Was that a consideration?
LinkedIn took that approach as well. Their app is 95% not resident on the devices. Have you taken the same approach?
Yes. Again, it looks like an app, it interacts, it feels very native. It's a nice rich interface.
What are the downsides of using mainly an HTML5 approach?
You can't just tell someone to download our app from the app store. It gets that prime recognition. Also with apps, it has a bit more native capability. With an app, you can use your phone's camera. There's also more offline capability. Phones are richer in the interface and it can be a bit faster. But we felt the trade-off at the moment is that desktop and mobile web are getting similar to the app experience and it was the right choice for our project.
How do you accept money?
All of the desktop payment options are available on mobile. You can use a card, premium SMS which fits very nicely with mobile phones. You can also use PayPal.
What's the cut on premium SMS these days?
It's quite high and we've talked to our supplier about it, and they despair as well. But the carriers are charging a hefty premium on top.
Last I looked, it was on the order of 50%. Is it under 30% now?
I think it's a lot lower than that, but it's still a hefty amount.
Will the app be in the Apple Store?
It is mobile web, so it won't be able to use the Apple Store for mobile payments. Mobile web is actually a very successful system. Since we launched in April, we're now seeing about 20% of our daily signups on mobile. 10% of subscriptions are coming on mobile. That's about 7% of our total revenues. That's increasing about 10% month on month.
How else do the mobile daters behave differently than the web-sourced users?
We are finding that people are spending about twice as long on the mobile as opposed to the desktop.
You also have some internal brands. How are you recruiting people into the Global Personals brands?
Both us and our partners are starting to explore advertising networks, especially targeted campaigns. We also have online advertising as well using the ad networks.
How is WhiteLabelDating's mobile app different from other providers?
I think the main difference for us is that we focused on the mobile web. It's the fact that with a dating site on our platform, a partner can have a mobile site set up very quickly and get up and running in minutes.
One of the nice things for the WhiteLabelDating partner is that they must surely be seeing improved retentions because the users are able to access the dating sites both online and on mobile. Is that increasing your retention numbers?
Our retention numbers are strong. We've seen through our visitor stats that the number of people using mobile is increasing. 26% of our visitors are coming through mobile, which is great.
What do you think the numbers will end up at in a year's time?
I think mobile will exceed desktop internet usage in the next couple of years, maybe by the year 2015.
How about the iPad?
We're not viewing the iPad as a mobile device at the moment, in terms of the experience. It will still display the standard desktop version of a dating site.
Was the WLD mobile developed entirely in house?
Yes, we recruited quite heavily last year for Ruby and Ruby on Rails. It's a core part of our business and very strategic, so it's something we wanted to be in house.
Do you recommend building in house or using a third party for a mobile app?
We've got a team of 37 split between Windsor and London. We like to keep development in house.
So you're taking the Apple approach?
Yeah, I think with Apple, design is a big part of their ethos. We believe that you can get greater conversions and greater satisfaction through the user experience.
Having been through this process, the thinking, design, and evolution of this mobile platform – what lessons did you learn? What would you have done differently?
You've got to get it right. Testing is a huge part. One of the things is that when we started we had a nice bank of iPhone, Android, Nokia, Blackberry, Symbian, and Windows phones on hand to do testing.
What about WAP? It's still prevalent in those markets such as South Africa. Is it a consideration at this stage?
It doesn't work on WAP. We feels it's a dying platform.
What feature are you most proud of?
We're really proud of how fast it works. It's a very nice, slick interface. It really feels like an app. It doesn't really feel like it's a mobile website.I think that's the biggest thing. We are quite pleased by how well the location services work. It takes advantage of the latest browsers in phones.
Another favorite subject: geolocation. What do you think the biggest concerns and issues are?
I think with privacy being a big part of using any location services, it something we wanted to be very careful about. We don't tell anyone where a member is. We don't give their exact pinpoint location. We give a fuzzy range of how far away they are from you.
How is WhiteLabelDating doing overall?
We just had another record month for April for us and for our partners. As you know, we just went past 12 million members and we're expecting about 15 million by the end of the summer. That's about one member every four seconds. Annual revenue is about 36 million pounds. About 23% of our traffic is now non-UK. Australia is one of our key markets. South Africa is very strong, and of course US as well.