Stirring up love on a lonely planet

Updated: 2016-08-25 07:13

By Deng Yanzi in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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Stirring up love on a lonely planet

Editor's note: Here's something for the lovebirds - a dating app that may go a long way in helping to nail the notion that a tense city like Hong Kong may be too sterile for romance. Male and female users can be hooked on to a matchmaking process that allows them to exercise full control over dating and also be selective in choosing their potential future lifelong partners.

Even with a reputation for being one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Hong Kong can still be a lonely place. South Korean-American entrepreneur Dawoon Kang hopes to make it less so.

With a new matchmaking model on her dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, Kang hopes to make it easier to find love in this city, which has seen the highest daily engagement on the app compared to all other cities it operates in globally.

Unlike most matchmakers that apply the same procedure to both male and female users, the Ladies Choice model by Coffee Meets Bagel hopes to treat them differently, based on their disparate behavior with online dating.

Stirring up love on a lonely planet

Each day at noon on the mobile app, male users will receive up to 21 profiles, dubbed "bagels", matched by the app based on their common interest, education background and more, and they can choose to "like" or "pass".

At the same time, female users will receive only five profiles of male users who have already "liked" them, and then can "pass", or "connect" with them using the messaging function in the app, which makes a match.

"The whole idea is to give women what they want, and what they want is to have full control over their dating experience, and also be selective," Kang, co-founder of the San Francisco-based startup, explains to China Daily.

The app used to provide one potential match every day for each users when it was originally launched in 2012, but the team has learned from research with users that men are willing to spend more time viewing profiles on dating apps.

"(Women) hate to waste time on guys they don't find interesting or not of quality, whereas guys have a very different approach. They love browsing lots of photos of women," she continues.

Coffee Meets Bagel tested the water in Hong Kong earlier this year with this new model, and has reported an 86-percent increase in the number of matches per user each week.

"We started with Hong Kong because local users are the most engaged and most active we can get the fastest results," says Kang, adding they'll introduce the new model to other markets like Singapore, Australia, Canada and the UK.

The app also hopes to encourage more active interaction after the match. If users find it difficult to start a conversation, Coffee Meets Bagel can actually suggest "icebreakers" based on the descriptions on their profile.

The matches expire in a day and the chatting function lasts only seven days for each match, as an effort by Coffee Meets Bagel to urge their users to seize the opportunities and meet up.

While female users can still take the initiative to browse men's profiles at the app's Discover section, those pre-selected "bagels" may hit the spot for women looking for efficiency in matchmaking and dating.

According to a 2014 survey by local social service group Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre, most Hong Kong women blamed long and irregular working hours for leaving them not enough time to start and maintain romantic relationships.

Kang had lived in Hong Kong for a few years when she worked for JP Morgan before starting the company with her sisters Arum and Soo Kang.

"Many people say Hong Kong is like New York but on steroids," Kang quipped, referring to the city's highly intense work schedules and lifestyle, especially for young professionals in industries such as finance and law.

Financial professionals are the biggest group among Coffee Meets Bagel users, according to the company. The English-language app hopes to raise its awareness among the local community, as it plans to launch a Chinese version in November, and expand to regions such as Taiwan.

Stirring up love on a lonely planet

Since its launch in March last year in Hong Kong, Coffee Meets Bagels claims to have generated more than 600 actual dates weekly and relationships for more than 250 couples in the city, while over one million dates have happened globally to date through the app.

Online dating used to be a largely anonymous experience in virtual space, but is now more involved with the real world, experts say.

The cyberspace seemingly helps us conceal our identity and physical self with looks, age and background, but with social media such as Facebook and Instagram, reality and the virtual world have overlapped and it's harder to fake information, Tommy Tse Ho-lun, a social science researcher at the University of Hong Kong, told a local media.

Kang agrees that using real identities has been one of the most important trends in online dating in the past few years. Coffee Meets Bagel requires its users to log in through Facebook accounts using their real identity.

Finding out real life mutual friends is also one of the premium services that the company monetizes on, while the matchmaking function is free to use.

Kang also hopes to use the app as a challenge to the superficiality in online dating apps such as Tinder, which matches users when both parties approve each other's photos by swiping right.

"I think superficiality is always there, but using photos only to swipe left and right on apps like Tinder is becoming widely used," she remarks.

"I think there's a lot more we can do as industry leaders to actually facilitate real, meaningful connections, but not just superficial swipes."

(HK Edition 08/25/2016 page8)