Looking for Love (or a Date, Anyway) With Blockchain
10.19.2018

I’m single. I’m often single. This is mostly by choice (at least I tell myself that?) and over the years, I’ve tried every type of dating app: Match, OKCupid, Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, ad infinitum. None of these have led to The One.

But that was then.

Now, finally, I see what I’ve been doing wrong. Never once in my quest for love—not once!—have I unleashed the power of decentralized databases.

Cupid, meet crypto.

Crypto, meet cupid.

There are several projects that are trying to blockchain-ize the game of online dating. None of these are yet live—at least not using blockchain—so who knows when, or if, the world will ever see these projects. When skeptics say, “Hey, you know what, many blockchain projects sound kinda spammy and half-baked, and I’m not even sure if they need the blockchain,” … well, you be the judge.

DateCoin

Based out of Russia, DateCoin will harness blockchain technology to tackle the “core problem of dating industry, user identification and verification.” (I’m not totally positive that “user identification” is the core problem of dating, but okay.) “No more fake accounts and bots,” promises DateCoin.

Now, finally, I see what I’ve been doing wrong. Never once in my quest for love—not once!—have I unleashed the power of decentralized databases.

DateCoin touts its ability to “verify our female audience” with the following protocol, as described in their white paper: “each girl sends a confirmation photo with her profile ID written on a white sheet of paper. After that, our moderators compare the person in two photographs.”

Yet verification is only step one. There’s more: “Our project blends artificial intelligence with neural networks for innovative dating experience.”

So what is meant, exactly, by this buzzword soup?

“Many men dream of girls of a certain type…with whom they for some reasons failed to build a relationship,” the founder explains in a Medium post. Fair enough. And then it gets problematic on at least 37 levels:

“Neural networks give an opportunity to find the only one that completely satisfies the user’s requirements among millions of girls signed up for the service.”
(And here it comes…)
“The criteria may include face images and body parameters (bra size, waist circumference), lips and nose shape, body proportions, and much more (up to the voice timbre). He does not need to set a lot of filters or scroll down through endless profiles. All that is required is to upload a photo of an ideal one, and let artificial intelligence pick up the best matching girl.”
Okay, so we’re taking many of the problems of male privilege, sexism, and frattiness and we’re putting them on steroids. Got it.  

Viola.AI

To meet that special someone, maybe you can take advantage of Viola’s “decentralized relationship registry,” or “REL-registry.” In addition to identity verification (a common theme in these projects), there’s also an “AI Chat” helper, which presumably coaches you on your banter, a la Cyrano de Bergerac.

Or maybe you’re no longer dating, but in a committed relationship? And you’re thinking about getting engaged? Good news. Viola.AI has something for you, too.

“Attached couples could now marry on the Blockchain; and use Smart Contracts for their union.”

You can get married on the blockchain! I take you, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to HODL….

Here’s how the nuptials could work, as described in their white paper:

“Sarah tells Viola.AI that she wants to register a new marriage with James. Viola.AI arranges the date and reminds the couple a day before this important milestone. On the day, Viola.AI acts as a solemnizer and witness and the couple says, “I do.” They are officially married, and their status is hashed onto the blockchain.”

So what’s the advantage of using this smart contract? Viola continues: “They also add some fun conditions to their marriage, such as having a date night once every week and visiting each other’s in-laws once every month. James and Sarah have declared their love and commitment to one another and added structure to their marriage through the smart contract.”

I was wrong. True love is not dead.

Bonus? Viola seems to have a longer-term play, and that involves hoovering up your data. “The information accumulated in the dating and courtship journey of a person’s life would be useful for the later stages of couple-hood and marriage,” they explain. “Throughout a person’s dating and relationship journey, Viola.AI will recommend highly targeted and relevant content, goods and service from the better rated experts/merchants.” 

(Your move, Zuckerberg.)

LegalFling

A blockchain app for sexual consent. As fellow BREAKER writer Julie Vadnal writes in her open letter, “beyond software glitches and typos, there’s a bigger problem: app developers thinking that all the complications of consent can be solved by, well, an app.”

Ponder

Everyone likes to play matchmaker in real life. Ponder’s bet: You will also want to play virtual matchmaker if you are incentivized, via tokens, in the Ponder ecosystem.

“Ponder is a game for playing matchmaker where you can win real money by making successful matches,” the team describes. “The more great matches you make, the more money you win. For singles, Ponder gets you hand-picked matches selected by humans, not algorithms.”

So why does this need the blockchain? It’s not entirely clear. “Singles can also verify aspects of their profiles using the Blockchain’s unique capabilities as a gatekeeper,” says the white paper, and various “sub-communities” could form to encourage better matchmaking, and then the sub-communities could create rules using smart contracts. Or something.

Luna

“Luna will use machine learning to find you the best matches. Algorithms are trained via your behaviour in platform, and refined with opt-in feedback from your experience in person.”

In a nutshell, this is the theory (or at least part of the theory): You know how on Amazon.com, they’re pretty good at saying, “People who bought this book also bought that book?” If you go on enough dates via Luna, the AI will learn the kind of person you like, and then will find you better matches. “When meeting in person, you’re invited to verify the meeting and provide compatibility feedback,” they explain. (Black Mirror anyone?) “This data is processed internally to train our machine learning algorithms on what matters—quality of connection. As Luna grows, so does the fidelity of each connection.”

To be fair, there’s genuine rigor in Luna’s white paper, with allusions to behavioral economics, cognitive science, and a foreword written by Vinay Gupta, a prominent voice in the blockchain community. “If computers are good at anything, it is search,” writes Gupta. “We aim to establish a market which sets up the right conditions to train them to do something important and something new: to train them to search for love.” (Gupta has said that he’s not actively involved in the project, but is an investor and had the original idea.)

So how does blockchain fit into all of this?

Luna’s FAQ makes it crystal clear. After reading this, you will understand, with certainty, why dating projects belong on the blockchain:

This is a dating tool. And the acronym is DAD. Okay.

“Blockchain allows the alignment of user and platform incentives by capturing the value of the Luna network and sharing it with token holders. It also enables P2P transactions without need of a 3rd party, thus creating a trustless free-market ecosystem.”

Hicky

Hicky (insert your own joke here) touts a former Tinder exec on its advisory board, and yes, we now live in a world where Tinder gives the imprimatur of credibility. This is another project that plans to use the blockchain to verify identities, as well as using tokens to “incentivize good behavior.”

Citing the benefits of decentralization, the Hicky white paper describes their “Decentralised Autonomous Dating Network,” or “DAD.” (This is a dating tool. And the acronym is DAD. Okay.) With a welcome dash of realism, Hicky acknowledges that despite all the hype about machine learning and AI, they “require vast amounts of data which any system in its infancy (by definition) does not have,” so it’s “foolish to use this as the main matching vehicle at the inception of our platform.” (Possible shots fired at Luna, the above project?)  

Instead, Hicky focuses on the merits of user-owned-data—a legit benefit. “Legacy dating apps keep a record all messages the users send. The platform typically takes ownership of this database of information, using it to derive profits through targeted advertising.” With Hicky, in contrast, “messaging is conducted on a peer to peer basis…there is no chance of eavesdropping by the platform owner. In fact there is no owner.”

Okay. So far so good. And in fact, if it’s true that there won’t be a centralized server to hold the messages, that’s sort of a big deal. Now here’s where it gets a little more complicated:

In an example they give, let’s say that Alice and Bob (those ubiquitous crypto characters) met through Hicky (after verifying their identities on the blockchain), and then decide to go on a date. They both then stake tokens for their date (like putting an ante in a poker game) with a “date deposit.”

But what if Bob is a no-show on the date? Alice, “sitting in the cafe, all dressed up, feeling rather foolish” (as Hicky describes in the white paper), can then open a conflict ticket to Hicky, much as you would log a ticket to customer service at your cable company. She could then upload a selfie of herself at the bar—alone—as proof that she was stood up, and presumably costing Bob tokens.  

What could go wrong? On top of the obvious ridiculousness of this, there’s one other problem: No one likes contacting customer service at the cable company. Dating is tough. Do we really want to add the frustration of resolution centers to the mix?

I suppose that none of these projects should be a surprise. There’s real money in the dating industry (one white paper estimates $800 billion in the US alone), and now every industry, of course, needs a blockchain spin.

But I’m open-minded. It’s possible that some of them, in time, could be actual improvements on the current crop of dating apps. The issue of “verification,” in particular, seems well-suited for the blockchain. (And it’s true that the issue has been around for a while, or at least since The Bard wrote, “I pray you, do not fall in love with me, For I am falser than vows made in wine.”)

I can even relate to this “verification” problem.

A few years ago, I matched with a woman on Tinder. She initiated contact with a smiley face.

“Hello…have we spoken before?” she texted, or rather Tinder-messaged.

“I don’t think so?”

“I’m sorry,” she texts, “I get to be forgetful at times! How’re you!”

Now I start to get suspicious, as I feel like I’ve heard that “I get to be forgetful at times!” line before.

“Hey Lynn,” I text. “Who’s the president of the United States?”

“I’m sorry…I get to be forgetful at times! How’re you!”

Sigh. I realized that I was texting with a Tinder spambot. (I texted her a few more times just for fun. “Who gave a pardon to Richard Nixon?” “What’s the fastest land animal?” Each time she responded with “I’m sorry…I get to be forgetful at times! How’re you!” That said, I’ve had worse dates.)

And it’s true that there are many, many spambots, a problem that most of these white papers cite—blockchain to the rescue!  As one project’s white paper cites, according to the FBI, online “romance scams” (15,000 in 2016 alone) are the biggest source of financial loss of all online crimes.

So on the one hand, yes, theoretically, crypto-dating could trim the amount of online dating fraud, and I suppose that would count as a win.

Yet there’s a more subtle dynamic at play.

When people say they’re fed up with dating, or even fed up with online dating, they’re generally not referring to the frustration of spam-bots—that’s just a minor nuisance. The real problems with dating are the daters. Human beings. People who cheat, ghost, lie, bore, or can’t emotionally commit. Or, far more often, the problem is not that someone does anything wrong, it’s that they simply aren’t the right fit.

This will not be solved by the power of distributed ledger technology.

And besides, will any of these projects actually go live, do what they say, and then get adopted and mainstream? For an answer, we can thank the team of Ponder, who say in their white paper: “Please know that we plan to work hard in seeking to achieve in full the vision laid out in this White Paper, but that you cannot rely on any of it coming true.”