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!
Big Data, cloud, social and mobility make up Gartner’s Nexus of Forces, aka super disruptors of the digital age. In a previous related post, I discussed how such forces impact the concept of intellectual property, and in this post I’ll focus on two major issues that impact and influence big data.
Although a lot has been written about big data and the challenge / opportunity it presents to enterprises and individuals, the sparks really start to fly whenever commercial exploitation of digital information and content (incl. big data), enters the realms of personal privacy and IP rights (IPR).
According to a recent Forrester report , your typical firm has on average 125TB of data but only actually utilise 12% of it. This shocking statistic brings home a key attribute and challenge of big data, namely the sheer volume, velocity and variety of data that resides and travels across multiple channels / platforms within and between organisations. As a result, many organisations have turned to ever more advanced analytics and business intelligence solution (including big data and social media) to extract value from the sea of information.
Given such powerful tools, and the vast amount of replicated information across various sources, it is relatively easy to get a picture of any individual’s situation, strengths and limitations. For many organisations, such data could become “toxic” if and when they suffer any loss of control. However, personal privacy is subjective at best, and there are differing world views on whether it should be considered a constitutional or fundamental human right.
Furthermore, the explosion in speed / type / channel of interaction may have brought about a certain degree, (perhaps even an expectation or acceptance), of reduced privacy. However, although some users may be happy to share personal data in exchange for financial gain, according to a recent SSRN paper, data protection and privacy entrepreneurship may have their place, but “people should not have to pay to protect their privacy or receive coupons as compensation”, especially as this might further disadvantage the poor.
In addition to the above issues, organisations also have to deal with the drama of IP rights and how they apply to the masses of unstructured data and content. In other words, every last piece of the aforementioned 125TB of big data held within your average organisation will have some associated IPR which must be taken into consideration when collecting, storing, processing or sharing that information. According to some legal experts, companies need to think through certain fundamental legal aspects of IPR, e.g. “who owns the input data companies are using in their analysis, and who owns the output?”
If you consider all the information / content, (including employee ‘personal’ content), sloshing around in every organisation, then you might begin to perceive the scale of the problem. There may be a lucrative opportunity for information mining and analysis algorithms aimed at the computer audit and forensic investigations market.
The way forward
Below are 3 things that organisations should bear in mind when dealing with the issues and problems posed by big data, privacy and IP:
- Information is the lifeblood of business – implement the right policies for big data governance. The right information, at the right time, for the right user, is the holy grail for business, and it demands capabilities in Data Science and increasingly Data Art .
- Soon it may not really matter who owns your data – Personal information is becoming another currency with which the customer can obtain value. There is a growing push to focus big data governance / controls on data usage rather than data collection.
- It’s not the tool, but how you use it – technology is not really that much a differentiator, rather it is the architecture and infrastructure approach that make all the difference – e.g. Forrester’s report recommended the “Hub and Spoke” model for decentralised big data capability3
In conclusion, although it may appear that the heady combination of big data, privacy and IP could be lethal for any organisation, we mustn’t ignore real opportunities to reap the benefits of big data insight, but first the organisation must put its house in order by adopting the right policies and principles for big data governance.
Note: The above post is adapted from my article of the same title, which was published in the September edition of ITNow magazine, by the BCS Chartered Institute for IT.
- Gartner – Information and the Nexus of Forces: Delivering and Analyzing Data (26, June 2012) – Analyst: Yvonne Genovese
- BCS TWENTY:13 ENHANCE YOUR IT STRATEGY – Intellectual property in the era of big and open data (01-03-2013) – Jude Umeh FBCS CITP
- Forrester – Deliver On Big Data Potential With A Hub-And-Spoke Architecture (12, June 2013) – Analyst: Brian Hopkins
- SSRN – Buying and Selling Privacy: Big Data’s Different Burdens and Benefits (30-June-2013) – by Joseph Jerome (Future of Privacy Forum) – Ref: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2294996
- Out-law.com – Big data: privacy concerns stealing the headlines but IP issues of equal importance to businesses – Ref: http://www.out-law.com/en/articles/2013/march/big-data-privacy-concerns-stealing-the-headlines-but-ip-issues-of-equal-importance-to-businesses-says-expert/
- BCS Edspace Blog – Big data: manage the chaos, reap the benefits – (17-May-2013) Marc Vael (International VP of ISACA) Ref: http://www.bcs.org/content/conBlogPost/2196
- Capping IT Off – Forget Data Science, Data Art is Next! – Simon Gratton Ref: http://www.capgemini.com/blog/capping-it-off/2013/07/forget-data-science-data-art-is-next
It’s not often one gets an opportunity to attend three compelling events in one evening, but as luck would have it, the stars were aligned and I managed to do just that in a mad scramble from one venue to the next. Such are the benefits of living and working in a great city like London, but less so were the thorny issues under debate at each of the three events.
It took a minute to digest and process various messages from these events, but as promised / tweeted, below are three key points, take-away or opinions:
1. Publishers must embrace multi-platform models as business-as-usual (Publishing Expo 2011)
It was standing room only at the Multi-Publishing & Digital Strategies Theatre in a packed final session on “the future of multi-platform publishing”. According to one of the speakers, “the bleeding edge of multi-publishing model is one third print, one third digital, and one third live events.”
My Comment – Never mind multi-platform, it sounds more like a multi-model approach will be necessary for the entire creative industry, in my opinion.
2. But how do you value Intellectual Property? (IP For Innovation And Growth)
This has to be one of the thorniest questions for IP, because consistent and intelligent valuation of IP is at best confusing, or non-existent. IP is really just an economic mechanism, so a fundamental attribute should be the ability to establish an agreed value for the property in question, but this presents a severe problem because current valuation are highly subjective and always dependent on the buyer or seller’s points-of-view. Throw in the ability to effortlessly copy and distribute works via digital technology, and you’ll get the somewhat muddy picture.
My Comment – There is a clear opportunity here to create a dynamic and transparent IP valuation model or approach, which can produce the right valuation for IP, based on the buyer / seller relationship and context
3. And does a cash economy make IP any less relevant? (Private Equity Africa)
Apparently, it’s all about cash in Africa which leads me to wonder if and how global IP will work in a cash economy. This event does not immediately appear to have much in common with the others on IP or the creative industry, and even one of the speakers afterwards, said he considered Intellectual Property in Africa to be, and I quote, “nothing more than intellectual masturbation”. However, when you think of the thriving industry and market for music and filmed entertainment (e.g. Nigeria’s Nollywood), it is easy to see how IP can provide an important boost to developing economies. Therefore, even if there is little point in enforcing IP Rights locally, all developing economies must be interested and involved in any discussion relating to global IP rights and digital distribution / piracy.
My Comment – when it comes to content and IP, it is a level playing field as all jurisdictions and stakeholders struggle with the impact of digital technology
Overall, one clear trend I can see emerging from the above is that such tough questions / issues will need even tougher answers and resolutions to overcome. For example, they may well be pointing to the same underlying problem – i.e. a flawed and inflexible concept of economic value – but perhaps that is rightly the subject of another blog and blogger.