Modern-day Cupids equipped with precision-guided arrows are springing up on the internet, helping young Indians in their search for romance. Using cutting-edge technologies that involve data mining and self-learning, these matchmakers believe that artificial intelligence can show the way to true love.
Instead of traditional markers such as caste, community, horoscope or skin colour that are still the norm on matrimonial websites, this breed of startups ranks users based on education, professional achievement and career prospects.
In using technology to process such information, these ventures are responding to a rising demand from young, educated professionals for a sophisticated system that is also secure. Among them is TwoMangoes-. com, which employs algorithms programmed to study users’ behaviour and reaction to others on the site.
Over time, the system picks out the right profile to be displayed to an individual user, based on this learning. “These self-learning algorithms use the basic concept of artificial intelligence,” says co-founder Anita Dharamshi, who launched the India portal in February . Algorithms also process user behaviour to understand and separate safe content from spam.
Such a value-added service is in addition to an initial profiling of all users into broad categories of ‘safe’ and ‘spammers’ based on data provided and subsequent behaviour on the site. “You won’t get 100 messages a week from 100 strangers, but maybe four or five messages from users who directly fit your profile and behaviour on the site,” says Dharamshi, who claims 1,000 signups every single day.
Social dating gaining ground
“By using such technology we can ensure quality of users,” adds Dharamshi. Another social dating startup, MyMitra, is mostly frequented by college graduates and professionals, and ranks people who match a search query in order of their achievement and commitment.
Based on these metrics, the higher a person’s achievement , the higher the rank on search results, a model that has already attracted 500 users , including graduates from top universities such as Harvard as well as IITs & IIMs. “We do not mix and match, but use a scientific methodology ,” says Vibin Aravindakshan, an alumnus of Massachusetts Institute of Technologywho launched the portal five months ago.
Ventures such as TwoMangoes and MyMitra are benefitting from the shift among urban professionals towards the concept of social dating. MD Usha Devi, a professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change in Bangalore, is of the opinion that this is linked to the trend of young professionals moving away from home and family for education and new careers.
Twenty-six-year-old designer Deepika was tired of being pushed by her parents to get married; so, earlier this year she listed her profile on a matrimonial website. But the “familiar prejudice” of matches based on caste, age, height, skin colour, astrology and horoscope left her cold. “I met a few people – these were educated people who were asking for creepy details,” says Deepika, who then registered on TwoMangoes.com.
The website filtered out unsuitable matches and helped her fix a meeting with a person she liked. “On a social dating site, you can understand a person in peace before making an immediate commitment, as demanded by many parents on matrimonial sites,” says Rajat , a 28-year-old technology professional in Delhi. Typically, these new dating portals ensure that all profiles undergo a mandatory verification process.
At My-Mitra, which earns revenues using a pay-as-you-go system, there is a reduction in spam that is a typical problem at portals that offer subscription models alone. MyMitra gathers a variety of data like education, degree, profession, and position in industry . It then assigns values to each of these and uses weights to combine these parameters .
The weights themselves are fine-tuned as user preferences change over time. Dharamshi, a 33-year-old Toronto-based marketing professional who used to run wedding shows, first launched TwoMangoes.com in North America. Ever since it opened its India service, it has notched up 50,000 users, almost half of its total of 1.25 lakh users. Earlier this year, TwoMangoes received an undisclosed amount of angel funding from Andy Jasuja, the co-founder and chief executive of Sigma Systems, a Canada-based technology company.
Closed groups that offer the best chance of finding the right match are also another major driver at these technology-enabled portals. IIT-Kharagpur graduates Layak Singh, Kinshuk Bairagi and Nikhil Kaushik set up DateIITians , which has over 10,000 registered users, 40% of whom are IIT and IIM students and graduates.
The startup also uses algorithms to facilitate dating and helps people with gifting options as well. As more than half of India’s population is below 25 years, the demand for dating services is seen as a booming market for overseas startups as well. StepOut.com, a New Yorkbased venture, is helping organise group dates based on algorithmic matching.
“One-onone dates are still not the norm in India and Asia, where young people prefer going out in co-ed groups,” says Adam Sachs, chief executive of StepOut .com, which has 4 million users in India. “Singles clubs local to various markets have also gained popularity in the past year or so,” he says. However, Murugavel Janakiraman , who pioneered the concept of online matrimony 15 years ago through Bharat-Matrimony .com, is skeptical about the effectiveness of this new trend. “India has a diverse culture and unlike the US, community, language and involvement of parents in marriages still play a huge role,” he says.
A senior executive at Simply-Marry .com, an online matrimony site that is part of the Times Group, believes dating services will take a long time to pick up in India. “People may use these services to have a casual conversation, but when it comes to serious relationships where they have to involve their parents and relatives , they feel shy about it and still go for matrimonial websites ,” he said.