Facebook tests video speed dating events with ‘Sparked’ – TechCrunch

by Jeremy

Facebook confirmed it’s testing a video speed-dating app called Sparked after The Verge spotted its website. Unlike dating app giants such as Tinder, Sparked users don’t swipe on people they like or direct message others. Instead, they cycle through short video dates during an event to connect with others. The product is being developed by Facebook’s internal R&D group, the NPE Team, but has not been officially announced.

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“Sparked is an early experiment by New Product Experimentation,” a spokesperson for Facebook’s NPE Team confirmed to TechCrunch. “We’re exploring how video-first speed dating can help people find love online.” They also characterized the app as undergoing a “small, external beta test” designed to generate insights into how video dating could improve people’s experiences with Facebook products. The app is not live on app stores, only on the web. Sparked is, however, preparing to test the knowledge at a Chicago Date Night event on Wednesday, The Verge’s report noted.

During the sign-up process, Sparked tells users to “be kind,” “keep this a safe space,” and “show up.” A walkthrough of how the app also works explains that participants will meet face to face during a series of 4-minute video dates, which they can then follow up with a 10-minute date if all goes well. They can also exchange contact info, like phone numbers, emails, or Instagram handles.

Facebook, of course, already offers a dating app product, Facebook Dating.

That experience takes place inside Facebook itself, first launched in 2018 outside the U.S. and then arrived in the U.S. the following year. In the early days of the pandemic, Facebook announced it would roll out a virtual dating experience that leveraged Messenger for video chats — a move came when many other dating apps in the market also turned to video to serve users under lockdowns. These video experiences could compete with Sparked unless the new product’s goal becomes another option inside Facebook Dating.

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Despite the potential reach, some analysts have warned that Facebook’s success in the dating market is not guaranteed. People don’t think of Facebook as a place to meet partners, and the dating product is still separated from the main Facebook app for privacy purposes. That means it can’t fully leverage Facebook’s network effects to gain traction, as users, in this case, may not want their friends and family to know about their dating plans.

Facebook’s competition in dating is fierce, too. The pandemic didn’t slow down the dating app giants, like Match Group or newly IPO’d Bumble. Tinder’s direct revenues increased 18% year-over-year to $1.4 billion in 2020, Match Group reported, for instance. Direct payments from the company’s non-Tinder brands collectively grew by 16%. And Bumble topped its revenue estimates in its first quarter as a public company, pulling in $165.6 million in the fourth quarter.

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Facebook, on the other hand, has remained relatively quiet about its dating efforts. Though the company cited over 1.5 billion matches in the 20 countries in its life, a “match” doesn’t indicate a successful pairing that result may not be measured. The NPE Team’s experiment in speed dating could help inform Facebook of what sort of new experiences a dating app user may want to use and how. But it’s early days for the product, which only rolled out to European markets this past fall. The company didn’t say if or when Sparked would roll out more broadly.

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