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Facebook finally reveals how its dating service will work

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
Facebook finally revealed how its dating service will work. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

For Facebook (FB), dating apparently is done with small, baby steps. The social network revealed in May that it’s launching a dating service, and Thursday, it revealed that it’s rolling out the feature in phases.

Starting Thursday, Facebook users in Colombia with iOS and Android devices can download a version of the Facebook app that includes a new section with Facebook Dating. But there are several major caveats: those Facebook users will only be able to create their dating profiles initially. The ability to actually review, express interest in and chat up potential matches is coming later at an unspecified date to make sure a sufficient number of people have created profiles and there are enough people to match with. 

Once Facebook Dating is eventually rolled out in is entirety, however, Facebook users interested in dating on the social network must follow a set-up process, in which they create an entirely new dating profile independent of their main Facebook profile. The only information imported over from Facebook proper is the user’s first name and age, as well as Facebook Groups and Events.

Facebook finally revealed how exactly its dating service will work. Source: Facebook

IOS users will be able to upload 9 photos, while Android users will be able upload 12 photos to their dating profiles, as well as input some information that’s optional beyond their gender and the gender/s they’re interested in: height, religion, job title, company, education, children and the answers to questions like “What’s your perfect day?” They can express interest in — and send one unsolicited message to — up to 100 matches a day, a cap Facebook imposed to avoid seemingly endless Tinder-like searches.

“We do think that it’s probably not the healthiest to just message more than 100 people a day,” explained Nathan Sharp, Facebook product manager for Facebook Dating, adding that the figure could change, depending on feedback from users. “We kind of set the limit somewhat higher, expecting that most people won’t hit that. But we think, essentially, a ‘non-goal’ for us is to have people glued to their phones all day and online dating. We want you to be considerate of a few people that you’re really interested in, and message them.”

Matchmaking the Facebook way

For Facebook, the rationale behind entering the dating space is dead-simple. The social network says over 200 million users list themselves as “single,” and while it has no plans of charging for its dating feature, it stands to seriously boost user engagement if even a fraction of those single users spend more time checking out and chatting up other singles on Facebook.

The biggest obstacle to Facebook succeeding in dating? Facebook itself. The social network continues to combat public concerns over data privacy, which includes apprehensiveness from at least some singles who are uneasy over the idea of somehow tying their dating-related data to their Facebook data. That’s a concern that appears justified on first blush.

Coffee Meets Bagel CEO and co-founder Dawoon Kang told Yahoo Finance in August that the dating service saw a 378% increase in requests from users for a different way to log on — besides using Facebook — following the news in mid-March that voting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested the Facebook data of up to 87 million individuals. The rationale for most Coffee Meets Bagel users who made the request? They no longer wanted to use Facebook to sign into Coffee Meets Bagel or they had outright deleted their Facebook accounts because of the scandal.

Dating done privately

Facebook was obviously aware of these ongoing privacy concerns when it developed Facebook Dating. Those privacy concerns explain why dating profiles are separate from main profiles, why its dating chat feature is independent from Facebook Messenger, and why there’s an option to only see matches you don’t share mutual friends with.

Perhaps the trickiest Facebook dating feature — the ability to connect with other Facebook Dating users who RSVPed to a Facebook event or another member of a Facebook Group — also errs on the side of anonymity. Non-Facebook Dating users attending an event or part of a group will never be able to tell you’re looking for a date at that upcoming arts fair or concert. Indeed, with Events and Groups, the only way another Facebook Dating user can tell you’re on the service at all is if you “unlock” that Group or Event for other Facebook Dating members to see and if your dating preferences match with theirs.

“You should take comfort in the fact that the only people that you’re seeing and that are seeing you fit within your preferences no matter where you go on [Facebook] dating,” Sharp explained.

Why is Facebook launching the new feature in South America?

“South America as a region shows online dating acceptance,” explained Sharp, adding that Colombia in particular had a “good mix” of Facebook monthly active users and metropolitan areas for the social network to ably compare online dating behaviors across different cities.

There’s also likely another reason Facebook selected Colombia as a test-bed for its dating feature: compared to the US or UK, at least, it’s a lower-risk market in which to potentially make mistakes and learn from.

Schooling Facebook users on the privacy-heavy settings of Facebook Dating, to the point where enough users are comfortable to give it a try, will likely be a slow process and an uphill battle. But if Facebook Dating succeeds, it could very well become one of the largest dating services in the world and help drive up Facebook user engagement — a boost that could also indirectly benefit the social network’s stock performance in the long run. If Facebook Dating fails? It joins a long string of Facebook failures such as Facebook Deals, Facebook Home and the Facebook Poke app.  

But risk of failure never stopped Facebook from trying.

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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