Wings, the Facebook Dating App, Pulls an Icarus; Relaunches as

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“breaks down the walls between its users, making the process interactive.” Wings was also interactive, of course, but the key difference this time is that co-daters on DateBuzz don’t know one another beforehand. So the often-messy process of evaluation, flirtation, and rejection isn’t unfolding in full view of all of one’s existing friends.

Triangulate’s decision to drop Wings to start DateBuzz is a classic startup “pivot,” to use the euphemism of choice among today’s Internet entrepreneurs. And Nagaraj naturally puts a brave face on the switch, calling the months since Wing’s launch a grand experiment. But the experiment clearly failed. “We came to market with a pretty strong notion of what we could do technologically to make matches automatically behind the scenes; we threw that against the wall to see what would stick,” he says. “We’ve come out of that with a ton of lessons about what people want to do and what their most pressing needs are in the dating world, and DateBuzz comes out of that.”

The primary lesson, in Nagaraj’s words: “People want feedback from real people. They’re not impressed with algorithms.” One of the biggest pitfalls in the online dating world is clumping: on most dating sites, just a few females with attractive profile photos attract most of the messages from males, and vice versa, leaving everyone else feeling isolated and even more insecure than when they started. “We threw some very cool technologies and platforms at that, but we weren’t addressing what people really need, which was that they wanted something back,” Nagaraj says.

To provide members with more feedback, there’s a whole section of DateBuzz called “The Buzz,” where daters help each other. Members can flip through pieces of other people’s profiles, such as their photos, and can mark them as “buzzworthy” or “needs work.” “It doesn’t have to be about the date, in the end,” says Nagaraj. “We’re allowing [members] to pat each other on the back and share support and feedback.”

Nagaraj, a programmer and former management consultant, says his team stumbled on the idea for The Buzz after recruiting Wings members to help with photo moderation, a challenge for all dating sites. Volunteers rated other member’s photos as blurry, inappropriate, or abusive. “It was incredibly addictive for a large portion of our user base,” says Nagaraj. “We’d see people rating thousands of photos, and we realized that there was this interest in interacting, not just because you want to message them date them.”

DateBuzz retains some of the matching technology behind Wings, but here, too, the process is now more interactive. Users can guide the algorithms toward better romantic matches by marking specific members’ profiles as “dateworthy,” a notation that will show up on their profile.

With Wings, Triangulate hoped to earn money by requiring payments in the form of virtual coins for the privilege of sending messages to potential matches. The coins could be purchased with Facebook credits (which Facebook members buy using real cash). Nagaraj says DateBuzz will have a much simpler business model: subscription fees similar to those at … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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