OnDating: Dating by Mobile Phone

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 27, 2009

Christian Wiklund didn't set out to run a dating company.

He intended to create a service that would simply allow people to share cellphone pictures and videos marked with their exact location.

The technology worked, but then something surprising happened: Most customers ended up using it to flirt and share photos with other users reported to be nearby.

So last year Wiklund's company, Skout, changed its business model and joined a growing wave of firms trying to turn smart phones into dating devices.

For years, technology analysts have predicted the rise of mobile dating, which would allow customers to meet new people using cellphones just as they had through personal computers and online dating sites. But so far adoption has been slow.

The iPhone, Wiklund and his rivals predict, is about to change that.

"They've provided a very explosive technology with a strong distribution channel . . . on the iPhone alone we see [2,000]-3,000 new users every day," Wiklund says.

The main dating advantage smart phones offer is the ability to see high-quality photos of potential dates.

"I see usage going through the roof because it's no longer a compromised experience," says Mark Brooks, a consultant to the online dating industry.

Juniper Research agrees: A January report by the firm predicts the market for mobile dating and chatrooms will grow to nearly $1.4 billion by 2013.

So how does it work? In the case of Skout, it's all about immediate gratification. If you feel like going on a date that night, you log into the system, which knows your exact location. Photos of users who meet your basic requirements and are in the area pop up on the screen. Skout will present only users who are logged in or have used the system in the last few days; thus never offering old profiles of former customers, a common complaint about traditional online dating services.

Once two users view photos of each other and agree to chat, Skout enables them to send a text that doesn't reveal a phone number. Then they decide when and where to meet. Right now the service is free, but the company will soon charge a $5 to $10 monthly subscription.

It's meant to be a faster, less-formal process than online dating. You might not know everything about a potential date, but you will know you're both free that evening and two blocks away from your favorite neighborhood watering hole.

Got a D.C. dating tip, trend or gripe? Drop us a line at dating@washpost.com.

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