Facebook Dating was a catastrophic failure — and I know why

Facebook Inc, now called Meta, announced its dating application, Facebook Dating, in May 2018. There was real excitement, with people expecting a revolutionary dating app that would soon beat Tinder.

And it is no wonder when you consider the size of the company, its technical capabilities, and most importantly the large volume of data that Facebook has collected about its users. After all, research shows that Facebook knows us better than our mums, so why wouldn’t it live up to its goal of creating “meaningful relationships”?

But four years later, it hasn’t taken over the market – most people have simply forgotten about it. Numerous reports claim the dating app practically doesn’t function. Facebook’s own data suggest not many people use the service – about 300,000 in New York, compare with the claimed 3 million Bumble users in New York.

As an online dating technology researcher, I had an eye on Facebook Dating since its announcement. But as I never heard anything about its market success, it took me a while to look into it. Now, I think I have a good idea of why the app failed.

My experiment

When I activated my Facebook Dating profile ( purely out of academic curiosity), I was overwhelmed by the number of very attractive profiles that I was exposed to in the first few hours. I started pressing “like”, soon receiving “match” notifications, meaning people had also “liked” me.

My own research shows that receiving a positive signal on a dating app for a male heterosexual user is a rather rare event. Nevertheless, my phone didn’t stop buzzing for hours. But I started checking the profiles and soon realized this was too good to be true – with the matches seemingly out of my league.

To see what was going on, I started chatting. I didn’t have ethics clearance from my university for full-on research, therefore I made it clear on my profile I was there just for chatting.

But writing a couple of messages to one person, I got a phone number and an invitation to take things to WhatsApp. My past work has shown this usually happens after at least 20 messages and within three to four days. This was light-speed-dating – according to science.

Within a few hours, I had a long list of attractive matches who all wanted to talk to me “about interesting things” – not on the app, but on WhatsApp. Interestingly, nobody sent me an Irish number (often UK or Polish), even though they all lived in Ireland, supposedly.