Data Innovators Josh Fischer

Published on February 14th, 2014 | by Travis Korte

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5 Q’s for Josh Fischer, Online Dating Data Expert

The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Josh Fischer, VP of Product & Data Insights at social dating company SNAP Interactive, about AYI.com, the company’s flagship dating app. Fischer discussed a range of topics, such as what people from different demographics want in a partner and how the app clusters people with related interests together to form communities.

This interview has been lightly edited.

Travis Korte: First, can you introduce AYI and explain a little about how its approach differs from other dating sites.

Josh Fischer: AYI.com (Are You Interested?) is a dating app that has been around since 2007. Much like Zynga, we built our dating app off the Facebook platform very early on and have had over 70 million people install it during that time.

We utilized our integration with Facebook to build a dating app that is incredibly simple to join and use, while also building a profile that has a lot of data on who our members really are. We are able to match people up using their mutual friends, mutual interests, and even similar interests without requiring them to fill out lengthy profiles. And with 25 million Facebook-connected members from around the world, we have the type of scale that few dating apps anywhere have available.

TK: I’ve heard that different types of AYI users are matched according to different criteria—older people having different preferences for partners than younger people, for example. Can you speak a little bit about different users’ different preferences?

JF: AYI has built itself to be as simple as possible, which we’ve found has a tremendous amount of appeal for an older audience. We now bill ourselves as “Dating for Grown-Ups” with 85% of our members being 35+.

A great example of an AYI feature that appeals to older members is our ability to identify members who are friends of your friends. We found that people under 30 are only marginally more likely to contact someone who shared a mutual friend than someone who didn’t. But for people over 40, especially women, our data showed that having a friend in common made that person more than two times as likely to contact you.

TK: AYI lets users connect with Facebook and uses interests to match up users. I imagine Facebook interest data must be extremely messy, with misspellings, alternate names and other ways different names can refer to the same thing. How do you mitigate this sort of problem?

JF: For us, the biggest challenge was: how do we match people up who have similar interests that would clearly make a great icebreaker to starting a conversation. To do this, we looked at the most popular interests and identified several “buckets” of interests geared around a community of people.

For example, we found that surfers were an avid community, but only a fraction like the interest “surfing”. What we did was build a tool that ranks all current Facebook interests by their total number of likes. Then we searched for top surfers, surf brands, surf magazines, surf movies, other variations on surfing (e.g., surf, longboard surfing, etc.) and anything else someone who is passionate about surfing might ‘like’ on Facebook.

So now if you like the Facebook page ‘Surfers for Autism’ and I like ‘Kelly Slater’, AYI will introduce us noting that we have a mutual interest in surfing. We’ve now created dozens of community-oriented interest groups such as Bikers, Craft Beer Fans and Sci-Fi Fans to help our members easily meet people with something in common without filling out surveys or quizzes.

TK: Is there a big differential among groups of people as far as how easy it is to match them with someone else? What predisposes a person to being especially “matchable?”

JF: The single greatest attribute of someone who is “matchable” is someone who is open to as many possibilities as possible. We find that our members are often open to matching with more people than they think. For example, many men will only search for women younger than themselves. However, if a woman who is a couple years older reaches out to him, our data shows he is nearly as likely to respond to a woman slightly older than a woman slightly younger. My recommendation: second-guess your limits and anyone can find a match.

TK: In the future, do you think everyone will find their partners online?

JF: I don’t believe that the Internet will replace all other avenues for discovering new choices, whether that is discovering new products to buy, new movies to watch or new people to meet. The internet has been terrific at providing easy access to a large amount of options and more information on these options than was previously available. For us, we’ve found AYI has been tremendously popular with people outside of metropolitan areas and people who are older where these options had been even more limited. But we don’t believe that the internet will replace all other ways of meeting new people.

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About the Author

Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Center for Data Innovation specializing in data science applications and open data. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining the Center for Data Innovation, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics. He has worked on data science projects with HuffPost and other organizations. Before this, he graduated with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, having studied critical theory and completed coursework in computer science and economics. His research interests are in computational social science and using data to engage with complex social systems. You can follow him on Twitter @traviskorte.



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