The growing ecosystem of digital dating

By Matt Hulett , written on October 23, 2013

From The News Desk

Over the past decade we’ve seen what is known as "Software as a Service" or SaaS radically transform the physical world, from the way we shop to how we send mail. It has birthed a new “on-demand” generation of consumers that expect to get what they want, when and where they want -- even when it comes to dating.

In recent years, many entrepreneurs see a digital divide in the lives of singles, whether seeking a fling or true love. Dating-related apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Blendr have tapped the SaaS bandwagon and are increasingly changing the way millions, especially for the hyper-social millennial, date and define relationships.

These digital dating services aim to provide users with access to a high-volume, high-value inventory of other singles. And we’ve seen this SaaS-love story before, whether it was between brand advertisers and consumers, video game developers and players, or airlines and travelers. Entrepreneurs building businesses today want to reach, engage, and have a meaningful impact with their customers -- or in this case, singles.

The single status is “in” now more than ever. Advancements to technologies are helping entrepreneurs cater to this growing, hyper-connected audience, and just like shopping or sending mail, dating is becoming simpler, easier, and faster. That might sound cynical, but dating is a booming business for entrepreneurs. Yes, business can help keep alive, or at least help you find it.

So why has digital dating become so hot in the past few years? First, there’s a growing market of singles interested in dating. There were 112 million unmarried people over age 18 in the U.S. in 2012, representing nearly 47 percent of the adult population, reports the US Census Bureau.  And Pew Research reports that one in 10 Americans have used a dating site or app, including 38 percent of people who currently describe themselves as “single and looking.”

And with advances in social and mobile, as well as new technological innovations like geo-tracking, developers are applying algorithms to help people find the perfect date and possibly mate with just a swipe. Our online interactions and preferences are influencing our IRL (in real life) decisions about dating and love more than ever.

Tinder alone has disrupted the digital dating industry since it was released to iPhone users in 2010. The application is downloaded more than 20,000 times each day and to date they’ve made 20 million matches through the service. Also, 77 percent of Tinder users are between the ages of 18 and 25 -- a sweet spot for digital daters.

But what’s the risk? Are singles today giving up love, then marriage (and even the baby carriage as the saying goes) for a simpler dating experience?

Some say the rise of digital dating presents more pitfalls and caveats than benefits. Nancy Jo Sales received attention for her Vanity Fair article, “Friends without Benefits,” which looked at the dark side of digital dating and the impact it may have on the next-generation of relationships. She points out how the rules of dating have changed, and while social and mobile apps might make it easier to date -- does it really make it better?

There’s no question that more and more people are entering the digital dating scene and embracing technology to help find love. Equally, more and more people are seeking in-depth expert opinions about dating and relationships online to help bridge the new cracks and cravats that have now emerged.

For instance, ClickBank-enabled sites such as Meet Your Sweet, which offers a variety of products containing expert dating and relationship advice for men and women, or Text the Romance Back are attracting online users seeking information to help with their personal, rather than professional, growth and development. And it is working.

In fact, since the availability of the first relationship-based product on ClickBank back in 1998, dating and relationship category have an annual growth rate that would make most digital dating apps envious. Relationship-based products on ClickBank have an average year-over-year growth rate of 173 percent since 2011, generating an average of more than $30 million in annual revenues. Today, ClickBank now supports more than 1,500 vendors providing more than 20,000 products about sex, dating and relationships. On average, online users make a combined total of 1,700 daily purchases of relationship-based products on ClickBank.

In the past, many businesses were quick to snub the single status for their lack of influence (in or out of the home) or purchasing power. But times have changed. Entrepreneurs are building new businesses that specifically cater to single men and women, and the rise of the digital dating ecosystem in recent years is a testament to this growing trend.

From new digital dating services to the growing consumption of e-learning materials indicates that looking for love has never been more personal. It's also never been a better example of SaaS, which could easily stand for Single as a Service.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]