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Dating site eharmony has a plan to stop online daters from ‘ghosting’ each other

·Chief Tech Correspondent

The dating site eharmony is hoping to launch a chatbot to stop people from ghosting, or cutting off communication with potential matches, CEO Grant Langston exclusively tells Yahoo Finance.

The would-be feature, which eharmony has yet to start development on, would pop up in the user interface after an online conversation with another user drops off after several days or weeks. The dating bot could analyze information on both users’ dating profiles and recommend they reinitiate contact by prompting them to “Say something” or suggesting something more helpful. If for instance, the other user lists Miles Davis on their profile as an interest or favorite musician, the dating bot could make an icebreaker-type suggestion like, “Ask her about Miles Davis.”

eharmony wants to tackle the common phenomonon of “ghosting.” Source: eharmony.com
eharmony wants to tackle the common phenomonon of “ghosting.” Source: eharmony.com

“I would call it like a date bot, some machine learning that helps people that are starting to talk actually go on a date,” Langston told Yahoo Finance at the annual WebSummit conference in Lisbon, Portugal. “The fact is a lot of people that got married on eharmony, got married when they were 25 and now they’re 40 and they’re divorced. And they never dated much, and they don’t know how to date. Guys don’t know how to ask. It’s astounding really how many people need help. We think we can do that in an automated way.”

Langston says the dating bot feature could be introduced to eharmony users within the next 18 months.

A first of its kind

The dating bot feature would be a noteworthy one for eharmony and a first of its kind for online dating if and when the online dating service actually rolls it out.

Founded in 2000, eharmony has carved out a reputation in online dating over the years for its distinct focus on quality over quantity, having people fill out detailed questions and profiles and serving up a small number of matches each day based on a formula that takes into account 29 “key dimensions” the company says is crucial to “relationship success.” (The company courted controversy in 2007 when it was sued for refusing to offer its services to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.)

The service, which offers 6, 12 and 24-month paid subscriptions, announced in late October it would be acquired by German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 for an undisclosed amount.

Eharmony does not have statistics on how many of its 45 million accrued users to date have ghosted one another, but ghosting is a common occurrence in today’s digital dating realm — so much so even Psychology Today published an article back in 2015, “This Is Why Ghosting Hurts So Much.” (Hint: being ghosted on can feel like a “very deep betrayal.”)

That said, Langston acknowledges the business has a lot to troubleshoot with the feature before it eventually rolls it out, including addressing possible user concerns around user privacy. While having a feature like the date bot could hypothetically increase the odds of a user scoring that first date, it could also unnerve some other users wondering how their prospective suitor knew to ask about their favorite musician, movie or music to begin with. Such concerns could theoretically call for privacy options regulating what kind of profile information the bot can grab and serve up as an icebreaker. The dating site could also decide to generally reign in what the dating bot suggests based on user testing.

“Just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should do,” adds Langston.

But no doubt a good number of singles looking to mingle on eharmony wouldn’t mind if the company did the latter.

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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