Meet friendlylook, the Facebook of Online Dating

November 11, 2011

11:00 am

Millions of singles in the United States are eager to meet their perfect match, yet only a fraction are looking online – a sign that dating sites are missing something. Friendlylook cofounder Trevor Chidester thinks he knows what that is.

“The user experience with traditional online dating is not much better than abysmal, as singles find themselves afloat in a sea of unreferenced e-strangers,” says Chidester. “Friendlylook is modeled exactly on how we socialize with our single friends in real life.”

That makes friendlylook a lot like Facebook, with profile pages, status updates, and a newsfeed featuring singles who meet your match criteria. That includes basic traits like gender, age, and location, as well as deal-breakers like wanting children, religion, etc.

Channeling Facebook, friendlylook – launched in public beta at our Tech Cocktail DC mixer yesterday – is also aiming to disrupt an industry. It starts by questioning the assumptions of traditional dating sites, in a few key ways.

No more strangers. Friendlylook wants to pair you up with friends of friends, so it asks new users to import contacts from Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo! Adding these friends, or “connections,” will expand the network of singles within a few degrees of you. And your connections don’t have to be single; they can just enjoy friendlylook as a social network and (hopefully) help set you up on dates. Once you’re registered, you can “follow” singles that catch your eye and keep tabs on them.

Chidester, who is single himself and has experimented with other dating sites, has seen some pretty ugly behavior: married men trolling around, and women who lure guys into buying them expensive dinners all the time. But that probably won’t happen on friendlylook, he says, because users are held accountable by their actual friends. On the positive side, connections can “vouch” for your character on the site, boosting your reputation.

Friendlylook’s focus on real-life friends also means more sharing: you can use the network to get dating advice or show your friendlylook connections who you spent Saturday night with. Chidester and his cofounder, David Patton, decided to not let users see who is viewing their profile because that feature lowered engagement during the private beta.

No more awkward introductory messages. Instead of searching and messaging, friendlylook users break the ice with a status update. You can choose who sees these updates based on their number of degrees away from you. Unlike on Facebook, though, comments are private; they become part of a one-on-one conversation between you and the responder. Ideally, this means that men are no longer discouraged by sending out hundreds of messages and receiving few replies, and women face a newsfeed instead of a flooded inbox.

Another unique feature of friendlylook is the Datecast: you can broadcast a date idea and time, and wait for the acceptances to flow in.

No more stigma (hopefully). Chidester acknowledges that one of their biggest challenges is overcoming the stigma of online dating. To do this, he is focusing on making friendlylook social, conversational, and natural – a place where you aren’t embarrassed to stumble upon a friend.

Like all social networks, friendlylook may also struggle to enroll enough initial users to fill up the site with content. This issue is especially crucial for a dating site, where singles want to meet mates who live nearby.

Despite these challenges, Chidester is earnest about disrupting the online dating industry with a real-life-like experience: like being at a party with your close friends, looking for potential dates. But whether or not friendlylook succeeds against industry leaders like OkCupid, it sure beats stalking your secret love on Facebook.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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