Blogs & Comment

OkCupid CEO Sam Yagan talks geo-dating

The goal of online dating has always been to meet people in real life, so it helps to know where they are.


Last August popular dating website OkCupid added a new feature to its iOS and Android apps: location. Information on those burly bros and/or lovely ladies you’re checking out now includes their current neighbourhood—or at least that of their phone.

Other dating apps—like Skout, Blendr and Grindr—also do this, although a little differently, and I have an article coming out in the next issue (May 10) of Canadian Business magazine that more broadly explores what’s being called ‘geo-dating’ and where it’s headed. But, as is often the case, my interview with Sam Yagan, OkCupid’s co-founder and CEO, had more interesting tidbits than I could fit into the story. Thankfully, the Internet. So here it is: my conversation with Yagan on the future of dating.

Canadian Business: Why did OkCupid add location-based features to its apps?
Sam Yagan:
The ability to search, plan and schedule dates in real-time while you’re out and about is really valuable. Think about the number of times your plans change or you have downtime.

Online dating is one of the few services where the whole goal of your online experience is to eventually meet someone offline. If you’re a newspaper or whatever, you may not care that much about your users’ location. It’s not inherent—it’s not part of the very fabric of the product you offer. What we do is we essentially facilitate people meeting, so knowing where people are is a critical component of that. It’s sort of a no-brainer for what we do.

Also, dating sites have a really hard time knowing how the dates go, because we don’t really know which people go on dates with each other. We know when people are communicating on our site, but as soon as you exchange phone numbers, Facebook contact info or e-mail, we’re done. We’re out of the loop. We don’t know if you actually met or if the meeting went well. There’s a tremendous opportunity for us to enhance our algorithm by actually knowing when people go on dates and how those dates go. The ability for us to follow you—

CB: Hah.
SY: I don’t mean that in a creepy way. The ability for us to keep track of your relationship with this other OkCupid person beyond just your website communication will help us do a better job matching you up in the future.

CB: I tried your app and noticed it locates people by neighbourhood, so it’s not too specific. I’m in Toronto, so it’ll say I’m in Upper Jarvis and this woman I’m looking at is in The Annex. How do you tell from that whether or not people have met?
I’m looking a little more forward than what our app currently does. Down the road, imagine you can check into your dates. There’s something confirming that, yes, I am in this place with this person I met on OkCupid. That would be very valuable. We don’t offer that right now, but going down the path of building location into our product has those implications.

CB: So kind of like checking in with Foursquare?
SY: Yeah, but I’m just using that as one example.

CB: If people are checking into places, should we be worried about privacy? I mean, that’s a little revealing for a dating site.
SY: If we publish it to strangers, maybe. It’s all about being smart with this stuff. If you check into Foursquare, you’re being public about your location. It depends what Foursquare does with it. If Foursquare creates a list of their hottest users and where they are at 2 a.m. in the morning, that’s probably bad.

CB: Do you expect most of your users will eventually be using location-based features?
SY: Yes. And if you think about it, people already are. They’re already searching based on their zip codes. At a very trivial level, all we have to do is say—instead of search near my zip code—search near me. That’s a very small change in behavior, but it’s how we’ll get people to start thinking about using it. It may be a gradual process.

CB: Any final thoughts?
SY: The biggest thing is making dating work better. That’s what we’re passionate about. We’re passionate about using data, science and math to make dating work better for single people, and I think location will be a part of that solution.

Update: My article on geo-dating is now online. See it here.