Facebook begins publicly testing its online-dating product, called Dating, in Colombia today. The service was first announced at the annual F8 conference in May this year, and will likely be available in other locations in the future. For now, users aged 18 and older in Colombia will be able to create dating profiles and, once those reach a critical mass, find some matches. WIRED got to preview an early version of the service, and it looks promising—especially for users looking for meaningful long-term relationships rather than hookups.
In other words, you can expect to find exactly zero swiping.
Facebook enters the dating-service market years after competitors like Tinder and Bumble, but it starts with a huge advantage: Most people already have Facebook accounts. And while Dating works only on mobile right now, it doesn’t require downloading an additional application to your phone. But in the US at least, younger—and more likely to be single—people say they’re using the social network less. It’s not yet clear whether Dating would be enough to lure them back to the social site preferred by their parents.
As Facebook announced in May, users will create separate profiles just for the Dating service. The only information ported over is your age and first name; you will need to manually fill out additional required information including your verified location, gender, and the gender(s) of the people you’re interested in matching with. You can also specify your height, religion, job title, where you work, where you went to school, and whether you have children.
You can round out your profile with up to nine total photos or ice-breaker questions provided by Facebook. Currently, there are 20 questions to choose from, like “What does the perfect day look like?” For now, you can’t write your own.
‘It’s all about opting-in and making sure that people are really intentional.’ –Nathan Sharp, Facebook
Once your profile is set, Facebook will use a unique algorithm to match you with potential dates, based on factors like things you have in common and mutual friends. You won’t see anyone you’re already friends with on Facebook, nor will you see people you’ve blocked. You can also report and block users with the same tools available elsewhere on the social network.
Facebook restricts potential matches to people located less than 100 kilometers away (there will be a different metric-system equivalent when the product rolls out in the US). Like other dating apps, you can also choose only to match with people who live nearby, have children, share the same religion, or fit into a specific age or height bracket.
“We’re trying to connect people that are open to getting to know each other in the future,” says Nathan Sharp, a product manager at Facebook. “It’s all about opting-in and making sure that people are really intentional.”
As part of that mentality, Facebook Dating doesn’t have a right-or-left swiping mechanism. To sort through potential matches, you’ll need to tap “Not Interested.” Facebook Dating users won’t be able to start a conversation by simply saying “Hey.” Just like the dating app Hinge, users will instead need to respond directly to one of a potential date’s nine photos or questions, like “Was that taken in Morocco? I’ve been there too!”
Facebook Dating messages will live in their own inbox separate from Facebook Messenger, and you won’t be able to send links, photos, or payments for security reasons. If you want to start swapping photos or news articles with a potential match, you’ll need to give them your phone number or switch to another messaging service.
But Facebook Dating will be able to hook into other features on the platform. For example, you can choose to match with people who attend the same events or who are a part of the same Facebook groups. To do so, you’ll need to “unlock” each event or group manually; by default users won’t be able to search for a missed connection unless the other person opts-in to being discovered.
All events and groups are fair game; users will have the ability to unlock that Taylor Swift concert from 2012 and the housewarming party they’re attending next week. One important note: group and event organizers have no control over whether members or attendees choose to date. For example, the organizer of an Alcoholics Anonymous group, or someone planning an event at a church, can’t turn the dating feature off. “The ethos there is that if people want to date, it shouldn’t be in the hands of another person,” says Sharp.
It’s these sorts of features that really stand to differentiate Facebook Dating from competitors. By utilizing the trove of data it already has about users, Facebook has the ability to become a powerful player in the online dating space. While many dating apps have relied on Facebook data for years—like to show you when a potential match has mutual friends—they’ve never been able to leverage everything. That dependence may also make them vulnerable as the social giant enters their territory, which is a weakness some companies appear to have been preparing for.
In May, for example, Tinder said it was testing a new feature called Places, which allows users to match with people who like to hang out at the same spots, like bars, restaurants, or clubs. The product relies on information from Foursquare, rather than Facebook. Other apps like Bumble and Hinge have also recently stopped requiring people have Facebook accounts to sign up.
Facebook doesn’t seem content to settle with just building a better Tinder. When the product was first announced in the spring, Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, stressed Dating is designed to foster meaningful relationships. But to do that, the company will need to truly innovate on the dating apps already in existence, which have been criticized for sparking less-than-worthwhile relationships or being more work than they’re worth.
“I would advise Facebook to make sure that [users] have an opportunity to create fully developed profiles that tap into a lot of different aspects of the person’s personality,” says Joshua Pompey, who runs two companies that help people craft and manage their online dating profiles. He says he often recommends clients use more traditional dating sites like Match.com and OkCupid, because they allow for longer profiles and tend to attract a higher number of singles interested in more serious relationships.
In the end, all Facebook Dating really needs to be is entertaining. Millions of users find swiping and chatting on dating apps to be fun in itself, even if they aren’t meeting their future partners. “A lot of the gratification itself is from just using the app and playing with it,” says Jessica James, a lecturer at Texas State University who has studied user behavior on dating apps. While some Colombians might find love on Facebook Dating, the true test might really be whether they’re simply having a good time.