The Big Four Release Third Quarter 2013 Financials

Finances
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Four of the biggest names in the dating industry have released their 2013 third quarter financial info. And it's probably a surprise to no one actively involved in online dating that IAC, Meetic, Spark Networks, and MeetMe all saw growth.

IAC

Revenue for Q3 2013 was $756.9 million, a growth of 6% from Q3 2012, the majority of which came from Search & Applications. Websites revenue increased primarily due to the contribution from About.com (acquired September 24, 2012) and CityGrid Media (moved from Local to Search & Applications in July 2013).

IAC also saw growth in Match revenue. Core, Meetic, and Developing revenues grew 7%, 11% and 58% to $118.8 million, $56.3 million and $26.0 million, respectively, thanks to increased subscribers and the contribution of the introduction service Twoo. As of September 30, 2013, IAC had $768.0 million in cash and cash equivalents and marketable securities as well as $580.0 million in long-term debt.

Meetic

At the end of Q3, Meetic, the European leader in online dating, had increased revenue over the first nine months of 2013 by 2.7% to €126.1 million. Meetic's subscribers for the same period of 2013 increased by 72,998 or 9.5% year over year to 840,801 as of September 30 , 2013. Meetic owes the majority of its growth to its online offerings, but mobile is playing an increasingly important role in the company's success.

Spark Networks

Total revenue for Spark Networks grew for the 11th consecutive quarter in Q3 2013. Divided, Christian Networks revenue grew for the 12th consecutive quarter and Jewish Networks revenue grew for the 2nd consecutive quarter. Q3 2013 revenue totaled $17.4 million, up from $15.9 million in Q3 2012. Most importantly for Spark Networks, revenue growth outpaced the growth of marketing expense, meaning company-wide contribution hit its highest level since the first half of 2012.

MeetMe

MeetMe's 10.1 million in quarterly revenue for Q3 2013 was primarily driven by its mobile segment. Mobile revenue reached another quarterly record of 2.9 million, up 65% year-over-year and 12% sequentially from the second quarter of 2013. The MeetMe team is now focused on driving engagement and bringing new audiences to the MeetMe application, with a significant update planned for the first quarter of 2014.

David Clark, Chief Financial Officer of MeetMe, added, "Third quarter results build on the improvement in top and bottom line financial performance achieved in the second quarter. Together with the launch of our new apps, we are encouraged by the start of what is traditionally our seasonally strongest quarter.

Privacy & Online Dating: The Majors

Privacy
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Are you concerned about your privacy when you use online dating sites? EFF is, and you should be too.

What is EFF? EFF is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to confronting cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights in today's digital world. Of course, no discussion of today's digital world would be complete without a conversation about online dating sites. When EFF examined eight popular online dating sites to see how well they safeguard user privacy, they found that the majority of the sites tested did not take even basic security precautions.

We already took a look at how well the two most popular free dating sites, Plenty of Fish and OkCupid, performed on EFF's tests, and the results were less than stellar. Now the question is: does paying for a dating service guarantee better protection of your privacy? Let's take a look at how major dating sites eHarmony and Match stacked up against the freebies...

Neither Match nor eHarmony uses HTTPS, standard Web encryption, by default. By failing to use HTTPS, these sites expose their users to eavesdroppers when accessed from shared networks. All it takes is free software such as Wireshark for someone to access data that is transmitted in plaintext. This is potentially worrisome on any website, but it's particularly distressing on dating sites where information of a sensitive nature is routinely posted.

The next factor tested by EFF was whether or not the sites are free of mixed content. Mixed content is a problem that occurs when the site is primarily secured with HTTPS, but delivers part of its content over an insecure connection. Even if a page is encrypted over HTTPS, it may still be possible for an eavesdropper to access portions of the page if it displays mixed content. In some cases, EFF warns, a sophisticated attacker could even rewrite the entire page. Both eHarmony and Match contain mixed content.

EFF also tested whether the sites use secure cookies or HSTS. Failing to use secure cookies, which both eHarmony and Match are guilty of, can expose users to session hijacking. HSTS (HTTPS Strict Transport Security) can be used to request the use of HTTPS when communicating with a specific website. The user's browser will remember this request and automatically turn on HTTPS when connecting to the site in the future. Once again, both Match and eHarmony failed to employ HSTS.

Finally, EFF investigated the sites' policies on deleting data after the closure of a user's account. eHarmony's policy was deemed "vague," while on Match.com the fate of a user's information wasn't discussed at all.

So, where privacy is concerned, does it pay to pay? According to EFF, the answer is no. There is no significant difference between free dating sites and paid dating sites when it comes to privacy and security practices.

Christian Daters have New Online Resource

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Spark Networks, owner of several popular religious dating sites such as JDate and Christian Mingle, announced the launch of the new Believe.com website, described as a faith-based lifestyle destination designed to serve the Christian community.

The idea for the new site came after a poll of Christian Mingle members was taken. An overwhelming 86% felt that "they needed additional support to help in their daily walk with God," but 74% were not aware of any digital destinations to help them do this. The new makeover to Believe.com is the company's answer to this problem.

"A tremendous amount of research and outreach to the community helped us determine the most important issues, trends and topics for today's online faith-based consumers," said Ashley Reccord, Christian Community Manager at Spark Networks. "Unlike any other content destination, Believe.com offers today's Christians a platform to engage, learn and pray in their everyday lives."

Believe.com is meant to be as interactive as possible with its members. Its features include a section called "Contributor's Corner" where users can engage with content that highlights messages, articles, and sermons from renowned Christian leaders and best-selling authors such as Jefferson Bethke, Sharon Jaynes, Jerry Jenkins and Mandy Hale. "Sunday Sermon" provides a video platform that enables people to view sermons they missed or to find new church leaders they wouldn't otherwise have heard about. "Ask a Pastor" allows members to ask questions about their faith and challenges they have in relationships, work, and other areas of life and receive faith-based feedback.

The most popular feature on Believe.com is called "Pray it Forward," which is a central place for people to share prayers for friends and family so they can engage a larger Christian community in the power of prayer.

The new site is making itself available over social media as well, with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus platforms where people can leave messages, post inspirational quotes, and interact with each other.

"With the experience of building an unprecedented audience on Christian Mingle, Spark Networks has become a recognized leader in the Christian marketplace," said Ted Gartner, Partner at Grace Hill Media, an advertising partner. "It's exciting to see the new Believe.com respond to the market demand for a modern, multi-platform Christian lifestyle site."

To celebrate its launch, Believe.com declared the month of October as "Pray it Forward" month. They encouraged Christians everywhere to come together at anytime and anywhere to pray online (via the Believe.com website or through the mobile phone app). Members were also encouraged to promote and post prayers via social media using the hashtag #prayitforward and the Twitter handle @Believe.

Amy Webb Tells TED How She Hacked Online Dating

Matching
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If you haven't heard of TED (and what off-the-grid deserted island have you been living on, if you haven't?), TED is a global set of conferences owned by a private nonprofit foundation dedicated to showcasing "ideas worth spreading." Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Gates, countless Nobel Prize winners, and artists of all kinds.

Amy Webb, author of Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match, took to the TED stage to tell the story of how she hacked online dating. After a bad date left her at a restaurant with a $1300 bill, she decided to game the online dating system by creating an algorithm of her own. Using dating sites as databases, she came up with 72 data points designed to identify her ideal partner. She prioritize the 72 points and devised a scoring system:

  • 700 points and she'd send an e-mail
  • 900 points and she'd go on a date
  • 1500 points and she would consider a relationship

What she was attempting to quantify with serendipity. Most people take the "expect it when you least expect it" approach to love, but that wasn't enough for Amy Webb. She wanted to know the exact probability of finding her Mr. Right, and she knew her passion for data and numbers was the way to do it.

Of course, it wouldn't be a story if it was always smooth sailing. Webb began her online dating journey by copying lines from her resume and posting them into her online dating profile. I'm sure you can guess how that turned out: not well. The dating site's algorithm paired her with terrible matches that led to even worse dates. Some would give up then, but not Amy Webb.

She began collecting data points during her awful dates. She tracked things like awkward sexual remarks, bad vocabulary, and the number of times her dates attempted to high-five her. After gathering the data, she crunched the numbers and started making correlations.

Perhaps the most surprising finding was that the algorithms on online dating sites weren't actually failing. They were doing exactly what they were designed to do: take user-generated information and match it with other user-generated information. The problem with Webb was that she'd put bad information - her resume - into the algorithm in the first place. "The real problem here," she explained to her TED audience, "is that while the algorithms work just fine, you and I don't."

What was her solution? The answer will amaze you...

Related Article: Amy Webb Tells TED How She Hacked Online Dating (Part II)

New Study Links Virtual Image to Real-World Behavior

Studies
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Maybe you're not a gamer, but a new study by Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab brings up an interesting conundrum. Researchers found that online avatars (our own virtual representations) could cause us to take on certain personas in the real world. Specifically, sexy avatars are making women objectify themselves in real life.

Researchers immersed 86 participants into a virtual reality world, giving some sexualized avatars (dressed suggestively in short dresses, high heels, and tight shirts) and others conservative, neutral avatars (wearing jeans, jackets, and tennis shoes). When asked about the gaming experience afterwards, the women with sexualized avatars were more likely to talk about their bodies. More than that, if they found themselves physically identifying/ resembling their avatars, they were more likely to believe sexist myths like women are manipulative.

Women with sexualized avatars actually started to see themselves as objects, rather than as human, during the course of the study.

While this study was specific to the relationship between women and avatars in the virtual gaming world, it made me wonder how our online images in general affect our real-life personas, especially in online dating. If you create a profile to project a certain image to potential dates, do you start thinking of yourself in a different way in real life?

Or to take it one step further, think about your social media profiles - Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Do you sometimes post comments or report a specific status to cast yourself in a certain light? For instance, do you post comments about the parties you attend or who you're meeting as opposed to saying "watching television in my pajamas and eating mac and cheese." If you post pictures of yourself in sexy dresses at bars, do you think of yourself differently than if you just post pictures of yourself hiking in your sweats and running shoes?

It's an interesting subject to consider. We are more than what we do in our day to day lives, we are also our online images. Many people we interact with online we don't see that often. Our image of ourselves can be crafted, and in turn make us think that who we are online is really who we are.

So what does this mean for online dating? We all want to present our best selves, so we pick photos that we think make us look sexy or powerful or confident, and we craft profiles to emphasize how we're sexy or confident or successful. This can make a first "real life" meeting nerve-wracking, because you will be compared to your online persona.

One thing is for sure, the virtual world is shaping all of us.

Privacy & Online Dating: The Freebies

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Smart online daters are concerned about their privacy no matter what online dating site they use, but those less familiar with Internet privacy issues might assume that major dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony.com are safer than their free counterparts. Does "free" automatically mean unsafe? Does "paid" automatically mean secure?

EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to defending your rights in the digital world, conducted an investigation into the privacy and security practices of major online dating sites to see just how well they're safeguarding your privacy. Two of the sites they tested, Plenty of Fish and OKCupid, are the Web's most notorious free dating services. How well did they stack up against the paid competition?

Neither Plenty of Fish nor OkCupid uses HTTPS by default. For the less tech-savvy among you, HTTPS is standard Web encryption used to secure websites (often those that allow financial transactions). Without HTTPS, users can be vulnerable to eavesdroppers when they use shared networks like those found in coffee shops or libraries.

EFF also found that neither Plenty of Fish nor OkCupid is free of mixed content, meaning that even if certain elements of the site are generally secured with HTTPS, other portions of its content are served over an insecure connection. Again, it may be possible for an eavesdropper to see the images on a page or other content when the page is not properly secured.

EFF also tested whether Plenty of Fish and OkCupid use secure cookies. A "cookie" contains authentication information that helps the site recognize you and allows for easy access to information in your account. It's cookies that allow you to return to a site and be logged in without having to reenter your password. If the cookies are not secure, an attacker can trick your browser and use your cookies to take over your session with the site.

The last thing EFF tested was whether or not the site deleted your data after your account was closed. Both Plenty of Fish and OkCupid were vague about the details. After looking at the sites' privacy policies and terms of service, EFF could not find a clear description of what happens to a user's data after deleting their account.

Plenty Of Fish says "We keep your information only as long as we need it for legitimate business purposes and to meet any legal requirements," but who knows what that really means? OkCupid says they "may still retain certain information associated with your account for analytical purposes and recordkeeping integrity," as well as for a host of other things.

Things look pretty bad for Plenty of Fish and OkCupid when it's all laid out like that, but how do they compare to other dating sites? Stay tuned to find out...