The popularity of online dating services has skyrocketed over the last few years. Among young adults, the use of dating sites and apps increased by almost three times between 2013 and 2016.
There are good reasons for this surge. Many people today are highly career-focused, and don’t have the time to meet people the way they did fifty years ago. Dating services can also introduce us to a much wider range of people than we’d usually encounter, making it more likely that we’ll find the perfect person.
The sites themselves are keen to stress this, with lofty promises about success rates and super-efficient algorithms.
These services can be extremely successful; the sheer numbers of people jumping into digital dating suggests that it must have some promise. However, this medium also brings a lot of potential worries, too.
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The worries of online dating
Many of the concerns we have about online dating tend to come from a lack of trust. In a survey of people who had never tried online dating, 48% of them were put off by worries about information security, and 46% of them were worried about getting scammed.
And it’s not just about crime.
47% of men and 27% of women said they’d had a date with someone who looked nothing like their profile photo. Of course looks aren’t everything, but it’s natural for people to feel betrayed and cheated when someone misleads them and fails to match their expectations.
This last stat is one of the biggest problems with online dating — how easy it is for users to lie about themselves to potential partners. In the same survey, 33% of women and 20% of men said they had retouched their photos on dating sites to look better.
So it should come as no big surprise that there’s a widespread lack of trust in the world of online dating. Users of these services are matched with complete strangers with no real way of knowing what to expect. The only information they have about their date is an internet profile, which are laughably easy to fake.
This could even raise safety issues; agreeing to meet with total strangers can be risky at the best of times.
So what’s the answer to all of these concerns?
The friends approach
The solution to many of these trust issues could be found by looking back; to a time before internet dating services even existed.
Traditionally, it was common to meet romantic partners through mutual friends or shared contacts. That still happens today, in real life, but it’s absent from online dating.
However, a new platform called Ponder is aiming to change that. Their plan is to use blockchain technology – the building blocks of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin – to re-introduce the influence of friends and acquaintances to the world of dating.
It’s a simple enough concept — users of the app will be made up of single people, and friends of single people. The friends and shared contacts will be able to suggest matches between people they know. If a matched couple decide they like each other and want to take things further, they’ll pay a success fee of $20 to the platform.
$10 of this will then be awarded to the matchmaker, an incentive for users to take part in the process. The platform will use its own tokens, based on the Ethereum blockchain, to manage these transactions.
Users will even be able to make groups based on their own interests, to connect with other like-minded people.
This way of doing things comes with big advantages. It helps build trust between participants by reducing the risk of them getting a nasty shock when they meet. This is because it relies on trusted intermediaries — friends who have each other’s best interests in mind.
With Ponder, people aren’t going on dates with complete strangers, they’re instead meeting up with people who have been vetted and suggested by their friends. It’s an extra layer of reassurance in an industry that can sometimes be quite daunting.
There’s also the issue of accountability. In a survey of men who sent unsolicited photos to women, 90% said they’d stop if a match could review them. This kind of social pressure is even stronger when a couple has been introduced by friends. People are likely to hesitate before ruining their reputation by behaving inappropriately towards someone in their social circle.
Ponder could really change the way online dating is done. It would bring a much-needed element of transparency and trust to the process, removing a great deal of the fears and anxiety associated with dating online.
This is apparent in the results of the beta, where couples introduced by friends had a match rate six times higher than the industry average.
By using blockchain to make dating apps more democratic and using trusted friends as intermediaries instead of faceless algorithms, the whole activity will become safer and lead to better outcomes.
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