The online dating industry has grown from strength to strength and is estimated to be valued in excess of £2Billion, globally. However, the future growth may hinge on how data and new technologies can be leveraged to improve user experience and matching outcomes. Some key questions: Does having more data about potential partners really make any difference in finding the right match? What are key emerging trends that will affect the evolution of online dating?
There are literally thousands of online dating sites worldwide, including over 1400 sites in the UK alone where online dating accounts for 25% of all new relationships. As might be expected, there are many types of players and business models in the industry, including online behemoths such as eHarmony or Match.com; mobile players like Tinder or Hinge; and increasingly niche specialists that match users based on specific demographic factors e.g. age / income / ethnicity / religion / location / sexuality etc.
Regardless of player size, business model or target user groups, a quick web trawl reveals some salient observations about the current and future state of online dating, as follows:
Mobile dating on the rise – A key trend is the increasing use of mobile Apps for online dating – so the major players are refocusing efforts to improve the multi-channel experience for their users.
A question of trust – Online dating services typically require user data for matching potential partners, but this can be greatly impaired by inaccurate data. Users often exaggerate personal attributes, or lie outright, in order to attract potential partners. Providers seek additional data (e.g. from retail, social media, entertainment and online sources) to augment data accuracy. However, there are privacy implications here that will need addressing.
- User behaviours – Some provider prefer to base matches on actual user behaviours. The idea being that people often say one thing then do the opposite, and this is not unusual with online dating where user reactions to proposed matches can often reveal their true preferences regardless of what is stated on their profiles.
Matching algorithms are far from perfect – In fact, some view matching algorithms as just “smoke and mirrors”, and that dating sites succeed simply by providing a larger pool of potential partners. Furthermore, human matching is a bi-directional proposition because, unlike Amazon recommends, your supposedly perfect match may not be all that into you.
The eternal shop window – General attitude to online dating has become more positive, and the number of people using dating apps is growing faster than all other apps combined. However, these also foster the notion that online dating encourages, or at least facilitates, perpetual window shopping for potential matches, even for those people in committed relationships.
It is clear from the above that although data and technology will continue to be crucial in the evolution of online dating, the continued success and growth of the industry will depend very much on how well it can handle complex human behaviours, motivations and inconsistencies.
Matching algorithms aside, there’s still significant opportunity and scope for complex human behaviour modelling, and improved dynamic/predictive analytics, to cater for users’ changing preferences, circumstances and motivations. These must all be in place in order for the claims and predictions of everlasting happiness via online dating can be tested or verified. Perhaps, if Romeo and Juliet had access to such computer enabled insight theirs may not have been such a tragic love story!
Last month, I helped coordinate a BCS London seminar about the role of IT in the airport and air travel industry, and as you might imagine it proved a very popular topic, complete with sold out venue and 4 expert IT practitioners from one of the world’s busiest hub airport. Read on for highlights…
- Airport Operations – Heathrow operates 98% runway capacity which roughly translates to a take-off or landing event occurring every 45 seconds, thereby making it one of the most efficient 2 runway airports in the world. Speaker, Brent Reed (Airport Ops Lead Designer), described how Heathrow introduced a world’s first Time Based Seperation (TBS) system to further maintain / improve on this efficiency, particularly on windy days – every second counts!
- The Automated Passenger Journey – Heathrow is actively implementing the IATA Fast Travel Program strategy which aims to provide 80% of global passengers with a complete and relevant self-service suite by 2020. According to Capgemini’s Don Grose (Lead Solution Architect), this program will deliver multiple benefits for: passengers, airlines and airports, and Heathrow has already delivered or trialled several self service capabilities, including: Self Boarding, Automatic Ticket Presentation and Kiosk self service bag tags, Self Service Bag Drop trials, as well as biometric enrolment & verification.
- Shadow IT at Heathrow – Andrew Isenman (Passenger Experience Design Lead), described how Heathrow employees are starting to engage their colleagues and digitally enabled passengers in different ways, sometimes even bypassing the IT departments. As a result, the latter have proactively started encouraging and shaping how this engagement happens, at the same time they’re addressing the usual questions around: support provision, reduced Total-Cost-of-Ownership (TCO), increased security and minimal technical debt.
- Airport Innovation – Heathrow has embraced the drive for innovation with various initiatives, some of which were presented by Richard Harding, (Head of strategy and innovation at Heathrow). They included: the Heathrow innovation Process, Crowd dynamics (detecting / measuring / alerting via CCTV), WiFi digital finger printing, Airfield Asset inspection, Mobile Display units and treasure hunts. Key insights gleaned from Heathrow innovation highlight the need for: open innovation, active promotion, new governance processes, skills enablement and innovative culture / process metrics.
The above titled event, which I attended in November, was just one in a month-long series of high profile launch events for the UK’s Connected Digital Economy Catapult (aka Digital Catapult Centre). As you might imagine this event was designed to bring together the right mix of entrepreneurs, digital start-ups, academics and financiers for a day of insightful presentations, conversations and networking about the UK digital economy.
The event was organised by BCS Entrepreneurs, in collaboration with the Digital Catapult Centre, and it featured 3 themed sessions on: Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), and Finance for entrepreneurs. These hot topics provided the framework for many interesting viewpoints and discussions on how best to accelerate digital innovation and keep the UK at the forefront of the unfolding digital revolution (click here to see videos). Some highlights and key takeaways include:
- Innovation opportunities abound– The speakers described or demonstrated a plethora of novel concepts, products, services and emerging uses for such things as: big data / analytics, wearable technologies, smart city technology and ubiquitous connected devices / sensors / actuators (aka “Internet of Things). The abundance of new digital products, services, capabilities, and behaviours are self-propelling and accelerating their own evolution;
- The demographic skew– Digitally enabled independent living and age related health care solutions are set to grow dramatically over the next few years – A few presentations touched on the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging “baby boom” generation to their “digital native” inheritors, and conclude that the demographic time-bomb is well and truly ticking down the minutes to a seemingly inevitable conclusion – from baby boom to ka-boom!
- Universities lead the way– For example, University College London’s UCL Decide program provides a ready test bed, (with a potential captive test population of 35,000 staff and students), that can be deployed to put any digital offering through its paces before launch. Such Institutions of higher learning are increasingly leading the digital gold rush by providing fertile breeding grounds for more digitally savvy entrepreneurs (i.e. those people formerly known as graduates);
- Pervasive Smart City tech – One speaker described the ability to leverage open street data, transport network information, air traffic control and meteorological data to provide real time city simulations which, in conjunction with virtual / augmented reality and gesture based controllers, can present any city as a living, breathing digital organism. Smart City visualization and logistics solutions on display point the way towards a pervasive cloud of data and technologies with which city dwellers in the not-too-distant future can carry out their day-to-day activities including: planning / transport / communication / collaboration;
- Funding models abound– The panel on “Raising Finance” featured speakers from: venture capital, angel investment, banking, grants and crowd funding organisations. They represented different styles, types and stages of financing available for high-growth companies or start-ups. One audience member questioned why grant funding was so complex that it required 3rd party organisations to help would be entrepreneurs, to which the panel responded that government was “institutionally incapable of providing anything simple” – Enough said.
Anything that simplifies and facilitates entrepreneurship, such as government backed Digital Catapult Centres, can only be a good thing in my book.
Overall, I thought this event was a great introduction to the Connected Digital Economy Catapult Centre, staff and attendees, but the real star of the show for me was the venue: a purpose built facility for open, collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship which is aptly located in the heart of London’s emerging Knowledge Quarter, surrounded by world class institutions such as: the British Library, Wellcome Trust, Turing Institute (for Big data), the Crick Institute (for Genetic Research) and University of London.
The organisers (i.e. BCS Entrepreneurs and the Digital Catapult Centre) are very keen to work with entrepreneurs, service providers, financiers and academic institutions to create innovative digital solutions that make the most of opportunities in the digital age. This is also reflected in a growing corporate appetite for collaborative innovation, as evidenced in the likes of Capgemini’s Co-innovation Labs and other such corporate innovation ventures / hot houses and incubators. For any would be entrepreneur, these are exciting times indeed!
- The copyright yin and technology yang – Copyright has always had to change and adapt to new and disruptive technologies (which typically impact the extant business models of the content industry) and each time it usually comes out even stronger and more flexible – the age of digital disruption is no exception. As my 5 year old would say, “that glass is half full AND half empty”
- UK Copyright Hub – “Simplify and facilitate” is a recurring mantra on the role of copyright in the digital economy. The UK Copyright Hub provides an exchange that is predicated on usage rights. It is a closely watched example of what is required for digital copyright and could easily become a template for the rest of the world.
- Copyright frictions still a challenge – “Lawyers love arguing with each other”, but they and the excruciatingly slow process of policy making, have introduced a particular friction to copyright’s digital evolution. The pace of digital change has increased but policy has slowed down, perhaps because there are now more people to the party.
- Time for some new stuff – Copyright takes the blame for many things (e.g. even the normal complexity of cross border commerce). Various initiatives including: SOPA & PIPA / Digital Economy Act / Hadopi / 3 strikes NZ have stalled or been drastically cut back. It really is time for new stuff.
- Delaying the “time to street” – Fox describe their anti-piracy efforts in relation to film release windows, in an effort to delay the “time to street” (aka pervasive piracy). These and other developments such as fast changing piracy business models, or the balance between privacy vs. piracy and technologies (e.g. popcorn time, annonymising proxies, cyberlockers etc.) have added more fuel to the fire.
- Rights Languages & Machine-to-Machine communication – Somewhat reminiscent of efforts to use big data and analytics mechanisms to provide insight from structured and unstructured data sources. Think Hadoop based rights translation and execution engines.
- The future of private copying – The UK’s copyright exceptions now allow for individual private copies of owned content. Although this may seem obvious, but it has provoked fresh comments from content industries types and other observers e.g.: When will technology replace the need for people making private copies? Also, what about issues around keeping private copies in the cloud or in cyber lockers?
In line with my previous theme of Intellectual Property (IP) and the digital economy, this post looks at a recent Position Statement which I helped to draft for the BCS Chartered Institute for IT.
As you may know, one of the core values or mission of the BCS is to advance the role of IT in bettering society, business, education and the economy, and what better way to do this than by suggesting ways in which IP could work better in the evolving digital economy.
Some key issues highlighted in the position statement include:
- The rapid pace of technology change often leaves behind the Intellectual Property (IP) construct which was created to provide economic benefit for the creators, authors, inventors and owners of related IP
- An enormous amount of money is spent annually on IP related litigation (particularly when IP is viewed and used as a tactical weapon). This could be better spent building the right system in the first place
- According to BCS feedback from the 2013 Parliament and Internet conference, intangible and virtual goods online extend to more than just music, written word or software – I’m thinking about the Internet of Things too
- Also, The EC announced an initiative to define a position on taxation of the digital economy – this gets very interesting when you try taxing something like Bitcoin!
- Creating a feedback mechanism to regulate the impact of IP changes on the digital economy, in a transparent manner.
- Developing fast, automated and dynamic IP mechanisms to cope with blurring boundaries of IP (e.g. for emerging trans-media content), and surge in high-volume / low-value transactions online.
- Keeping everything in context, because society is still at a very early stage in understanding and adapting to changes introduced by digital technology – digital IP is in a period of transition without any appreciable end state to speak of.
2. BCS understands the need to ensure all 5 digital stakeholder groups (i.e. the creator, commercial, consumer, technology and governance stakeholders) are consulted, engaged and involved in the creation of digital IP structures for the future. BCS has representative groups and forums that cover all 5 stakeholder groups of interest.