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The Match Game And How Search Stinks

Today marks the announcement and beta launch of Match.com’s new service, Chemistry. (It’s now available in Denver, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington D.C., and rolling out nationally early next year.) I’m not on the dating market (if you are, stay tuned, we’ll get to my opinion of Chemistry in a minute), so what interests me here is that Chemistry employs matching technology rather than search technology.

Today marks the announcement and beta launch of Match.com’s new service, Chemistry. (It’s now available in Denver, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington D.C., and rolling out nationally early next year.) I’m not on the dating market (if you are, stay tuned, we’ll get to my opinion of Chemistry in a minute), so what interests me here is that Chemistry employs matching technology rather than search technology. That means that rather than let you do whatever you want and find people who interest you, you answer questions that you have no incentive to fudge and then a computer algorithm finds people whom it thinks will be a good match.

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Dating isn’t the only online realm where this idea is taking hold. The next generation of job sites, founded by the same folks who were behind the first generation of job sites, are now all about matching rather than searching. In the November issue of the magazine (which will be online soon), there’s a small item about some new job site services, Mkt10.com and Jobkabob.com, that use detailed information from you and algorithms to pair you to the jobs that may be best suited for you rather than letting you search for and apply for whatever you want.

Am I the only one who finds this a bit odd? I thought the Internet was about self-service, empowerment, choice and all that. Now I’m going to surrender my control to let the computer do all the work for me?

Here’s the thing, though: Search doesn’t work.

Yes, search works in the sense that if you’re interested in Fast Company, you can type that into Google and get links to our site. But for anything where there isn’t a right answer but only a best answer–and that’s most of life–search isn’t going to help you. It’s going to complicate matters rather than simplify them. And that’s why we can spend hours looking at dating profiles trying to find a spark and hours applying for jobs at a Monster.com.

But that model doesn’t work for a lot of people. Those who don’t possess the patience of a true believer. Match.com is launching Chemistry because its executives believe that there’s a large audience who wants a more structured online dating experience and who’ll pay a premium (Sources reveal that Chemistry is very similar to eHarmony, although Match.com execs distanced themselves from eHarmony when I met with them). So a product that reveals only 5 potential matches at a time based on your detailed questionnaire responses, that manages the flow of information, and helps lead to in-person meetings holds more appeal than being on their own in a sea of profiles. In the job realm, the appeal is more evident for employers who can now cherrypick based on their needs and not whether you think you’re right for a job. But even job seekers can theoretically benefit from the new services because it’s less overwhelming to be passive and let things come to you.

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Alas, matching is still highly unproven. You have to devote about 40 minutes at the outset to completing a profile in the hopes that it’ll bear fruit in the end. In my experience, the harvest is a long way off. With the job sites, I’ve yet to be offered a match from Jobkabob and Mkt10 has only found one job where I have a 70% compatibility. On Chemistry, none of the five women I got offered today interested me (I’m sure my fiancee is happy to hear that).

The reason for this is that no one has had time yet to build a market with enough buyers and sellers to satisfy most people. When eBay started, it wasn’t that interesting because there wasn’t much stuff for sale and there weren’t that many buyers for what was up for bid. But after awhile, that corrected itself because enough people had faith and then more and more people were satisfied as buyers and sellers. That’s what has to happen for matching services to take hold. Will you stick around when you’ve spent the better part of an hour on something and there’s no immediate payoff? We’ll see. The job sites at least incentivize employers by not forcing them to pay until they deliver in one form or another. Could Chemistry offer you some incentive until it develops enough people to offer high-quality matches? What would that be? Maybe the service offers to pay for your first date once you find it.

I also think that matching has to get more sophisticated–and quickly. Starting with the profiles you input. Although all of the services I’ve seen are slick applications, the questionnaires lack some critical intelligence in places. Chemistry’s answers are either geared in such a way that you don’t have any bad traits, only lesser degrees of positive ones, or they make it so that any reasonable person would answer “Sometimes” almost every place it’s offered as a response. In the end, you’re left with a middle-of-the-road profile that’s going to mean that you’re still most likely to get paired up with a mate based on whether you both smoke or not rather than based on how likely you both are to share your feelings. For the job sites, I’d suggest that they go a bit deeper in the level of understanding and intelligence when considering the skills behind particular job types.

On the whole, I’m bullish on the idea of matching technology. I could see it used successfully for selling complex things, everything from cars to enterprise software. Imagine filling out an intuitive profile about your business’ IT problems and finding out if a company had a particular solution for you and what it was. You’d learn something about how to improve your business and the company offering it gets a real prospect. I could see matching used at Amazon and other ecommerce hubs to help me find new things that would interest me in a more sophisticated way than just by what I’ve previously bought.

All of these ideas would require us as consumers to give up a lot of personal information to the companies we’re interested in doing business with. Very personal information. Perhaps we should wait until matching technology works in finding important stuff–mates and employers–before we rely on it to help us find a new toaster.