Of all the surprises at Facebook’s annual developer conference last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s unexpected announcement that Facebook is launching a dating service may have taken the cake.
It’s not at all that Facebook couldn’t launch a dating feature. It actually makes a lot of sense, and Chief Product Officer Chris Cox even joked that he thought Facebook would have launched dating more than a decade ago.
“One of the great ironies for me is that when a lot of us joined the very first version of the service in 2004, back when it was just a handful of college students, we were convinced that dating would be the next feature Facebook was going to add,” Cox said onstage at Facebook’s conference last week. “We were right, just 14 years too early.”
But what was so surprising about the announcement was the timing. Facebook is coming off of the most significant personal privacy scandal in company history. It spent a lot of F8 trying to convince people that, yes, Facebook can be trusted again. Observers were quick to point out that launching a new feature like dating, which comes with all kinds of privacy expectations and implications, is either bold, or tone deaf, depending on who you ask. (New competitor, Match Group, was particularly quick to point out the tone deaf argument.)
But as Zuckerberg said: Facebook is going to keep building. And dating is next on the list. “This is about building real longterm relationships,” Zuckerberg said last week. “Not just hookups!”
Here’s what you need to know about the new feature.
Do I just use my existing Facebook profile to date?
Not exactly. The feature requires interested users to create a new, separate dating profile. You will access this new profile through your existing Facebook profile, but potential dates will see your special dating profile instead of your standard one. Facebook doesn’t plan to make this a separate app, according to a company spokesperson.
How are people matched up?
Facebook will make some recommendations based on interests and other data, like your location, but you’ll also be able to find possible matches by “unlocking” groups or events on Facebook, which will allow you to connect with other singles who have unlocked those same groups or events. The idea, of course, is that you’ll immediately have something in common.
How does messaging work?
Facebook is building a separate messaging experience just for this dating feature — it won’t use Messenger or WhatsApp unless both parties decide to swap numbers or usernames. Either person can send the first message, but they’ll only be allowed to send that one unless the recipient replies. Facebook is limiting the messages to text-only, meaning no videos or photos or links. You can imagine why…
Who is building this product?
Facebook won’t really say. The feature is being built by the company’s profile team, which is run by Will Cathcart, a long-tenured product VP who joined the company from Google in 2008. Cathcart oversees all Facebook profiles, not just dating, and I imagine we’ll find out who is handling dating specifically once the company actually rolls this feature out.
So when will this launch?
It’s unclear, but a spokesperson said Facebook hopes to begin testing the feature in the coming months. Those tests will determine when it will roll out more broadly.
Will this feature be free?
Yes, that’s the plan. Facebook doesn’t plan to run ads alongside these profiles, either, and won’t use data associated with a user’s dating profile or behavior to target them with ads on other Facebook properties, according to a spokesperson.