OPW INTERVIEW - Feb 11 - Michael Bond is the founder of 21Pictures, which uses behavioral matchmaking, of sorts. It's a very different sign up experience. Try it out. Users are limited to 21 matches at a time. And Michael calls the service the antidote to Tinder. Did you know that values and worldview are two of the top elements for matching? Read on...
What's your founding story?
In my day job I'm a science writer specializing in psychology and human behavior. Before I got married (two years ago) I used a few dating sites and it often struck me how little attention many of them pay to behavioral science, and particularly the kind of cognitive tendencies people use day-to-day when meeting people in 'real life' (intuitive decision-making, for example). The point of 21Pictures is to try to amend that, by allowing people to use their natural social smarts as much as possible. Describing yourself and assessing other people through pictures of their life, which is what 21Pictures is all about, is a way of forcing you to suss out potential matches intuitively. We reckon it's more effectively than words, which force a more rational approach better suited to problem-solving than picking a date.
When did you start the site?
I started thinking about it in summer 2012. Development took place throughout 2014 and the site launched on January 1st, 2015.
Why is iDating broken?
I wouldn't say it's broken, just that a lot of dating sites ignore scientific evidence about social behavior and decision-making. A good example is the ability to browse hundreds of people in search of a date, which you can do on most sites. Study after study has shown that this is a bad idea for making any kind of serious choice. Thus we limit users to 21 matches at any one time. This forces them to consider potential dates in depth rather than swiping away on the basis of superficial information. In this way, we're the antidote to Tinder and all those other apps that rely on GPS and instant response. We're aiming at a more considered, traditional approach.
Why and how are you using behavioral matchmaking?
We're using behavioral science in several ways. The intuitive visual-driven approach I describe above is one. Another is our decision to limit people's choice of matches. We also use a questionnaire about people's basic values and cultural worldview – factors that psychologists have shown are more reliable than interests or personality profiles for assessing compatibility. Our members answer 21 of these questions when they sign up (it takes them about two minutes on average). These questions are derived from the psychological literature. We don't pretend to give people perfect matches, but in matching them with 21 others who answer the questionnaire in similar ways to them it narrows the field in a constructive way. We certainly don't pretend to have cracked the secret of compatibility. We're just trying to make online dating a bit more like how it works in the real world, a bit like being at a singles party organized by a friend.
How do you define behavioral science?
The empirical study of human behavior.
How can it help dating sites do better?
I think it can be particularly useful for sites aimed at people seeking relationships. The science of compatibility is inexact, I'm not sure we can really call it a science. It's so hard to predict which factors are important for a relationships. But some things seem clear, e.g. the idea that opposites attract might hold for a few days or weeks but it is antithetical to good relationships. We know more about how people make decisions and the things that influence them. On 21Pictures we try to create an online environment in which users are more likely to make good ones.
Are any dating sites using behavioral matchmaking (very effectively) yet?
In my opinion, no!
What technologies will help us use it more effectively?
I'm not sure technology is the key here. In some ways technology is leading us astray: many dating apps make much of their GPS capability and instant connectivity but neither of these "advances" is significant when it comes to compatibility or helping people choose dates wisely. In the "real world", we are generally pretty good at picking out people we have something in common with, who we might want to know better. The important thing is to make it easier for people to use their natural social smarts online the way they do offline.
How are you driving site growth at this stage?
We're spreading the word mainly through social networks, friends of friends etc – in line with social network theory! – and also through the media and bloggers. We're not ready for big advertising or brand promotion campaigns, believing people will trust the concept more if they hear it via their networks. It would be useful to be able to promote the site via Facebook but its rules don't allow new sites like ours to do that which seems a bit unfair.
Post by Mark Brooks @