16 February 2016 15:01:29 IST

The matchmaking marketplace

The Web is emerging as one big match-making economy  — and we are not just talking dating apps

Astrologers must be a worried community in India, for matchmaking is emerging as one of the top activities online. Desi dating apps Truly Madly and Woo now boast a user base of 2 million each, and both Tinder and Hinge are strong “players” as well. If Tinder is any yardstick — it boasts 26 million matches every single day globally and claims to have linked up 9 billion people in all — that’s a lot of pairing activity going on online.

On Valentine’s Day a host of new online matchmaking sites sprang up, showing that it is also the most frenetic start-up activity. So what if it is an over-crowded space with Match.com, Ok Cupid, Plenty of Fish and other players all in the business of connecting lonely hearts. That hasn’t deterred new ones from wading into the turf, each convinced that there is a gap they can fill, and a monetising model they can crack. Interestingly, going by the funds floating around for such ventures, the angels and VCs are biting the bait too.

Lucrative business

And why not? Online dating is a $2.2-billion business in the US alone. Love begets a lot of money, with people actually willing to pay to find the right partner. What’s more, these users create profiles on multiple dating sites and apps to increase their odds of finding a date.

Such information has proved so lucrative to Interactive Corp (which owns Tinder, Match.com, Ok Cupid and several other matchmaking sites) that it spun off its dating assets into a separate company altogether and filed for an IPO.

Some reckon there are over 4,000 dating sites right now and new ones are still taking off — some of which are niche. For instance, Bumble is an app where only women can make the first move. Then there is Once, which junks algorithms and goes the old-fashioned route by getting a human to make a match.

On the other hand, Bernie, an upcoming Canadian app, plans to use artificial intelligence to pair people. It works with sites like Tinder and Plenty of Fish, using facial recognition software to find your preferences, and deposits potential candidates into your inbox.

This Valentine’s Day, homegrown chat app Hike Messenger launched its dating spin-off, Match Up, that offers to hook you up with interesting people. Delhi-based Thrill Group, which had shut its dating app Thrill, is planning to gamify the dating process by launching Frivil, another application.

More than romance

It is not just online dating, but all kinds of connections that the Internet is sewing up. Matching cars to people, as Uber does, and movies to viewers, as Netflix does, Internet start-ups seem to have taken lessons from Nobel Prize winning economist Alvin Roth, whose matching market structure determined who wound up with whom.

While Roth concentrated on things like matching patients with organ donors, doctors to hospitals and students to schools by finding out people’s preferences, the online world focuses on all kinds of pairing models imaginable.

Some of these may sound truly bizarre. Take Rendezwho, which engineers chance encounters between two strangers digitally by asking a whole set of questions — the modern equivalent of finding a pen-friend.

Another app that’s coming up is Ameego, created by a Texas-based developer, which is something like Uber, but to find friends.Ameego lets you rent a stranger to hang out with if you are in a new city and are looking for local company.

It’s a truly bizarre world when you have to rent a friend! What next?