Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Fall of OKCupid (not PG)

For a while, OKCupid looked like it was on its way to becoming a game-changer. So... what happened?

OKCupid is a free dating site that is largely targeted to a younger, more urban and more "alternative" crowd. It uses a multitude of personality questions- on everything from ideology to lifestyle to sexual preferences that until it asked, seemed too private to put on a "legitimate" dating site.

All of the data that these questions collected didn't just go into an algorithm- they went into a blog, called OKTrends. This blog analyzed the data from the millions of answers to questions to provide insights into what users were saying and doing. Some of these were racy- like 10 Charts About Sex- and others more serious and thought-provoking- like How Your Race Affects the Messages You Get.  Still others talked about whether or not you should smile in your profile photo, or the top first messages to send. Overall, the blog didn't just provide information, but it did it cleverly, with infographics and humor. (Rudder, the founder responsible for the blog, insists that infographics alone can't do anything for anyone.) Note: examples of these infographics below.

It wasn't just providing a dating service- but providing clues on how to use it in a fun, shareable way. This shareability aspect is important- it helped normalize OKCupid, making it easier for all users to find others. In many ways, dating sites need a "critical mass" to be successful, and the OKTrends blog perpetuated this for the company, thus contributing to overall strategy. (Hint to those who haven't tried: Pittsburgh's OKCupid scene? Doesn't have that critical mass...)

It wasn't just the infographics that were key, as suggested by many at the time. (Rudder, the founder responsible for the blog, is insistent that infographics can't be a differentiator.) It was a unique presentation of information that consumers wanted, and information that made OKCupid better to use. As founder Yagar described in 2012:

“We don’t really look at it like that—a really sort of big company corporate approach—we want this many Twitter followers, how do we do it? We do it from the bottom up. We want to create content that people are going to fall in love with. And the Twitter followers and the Facebook likes, that will all take care of itself.”
In 2011, OkTrends died. Rudder says it was due to the production of a book that he plans to publish later this year. However, it seemed like the blog itself not only drove traffic but acceptability, as well as continued use. To complicate the picture, some associate the blog's lack of activity with the acquisition of OkCupid by Match.com. Now, in the meantime, while OkCupid is still popular, it has, at least to what I've seen, become more part of the pack- just another site for a niche market. (FarmersOnly anyone?) Sites like Tinder have become popular, and the ocean seems to be running red.

It seemed like, at least in 2010 or 2011, OkCupid had the ability to create its own blue ocean- that its approach to providing content to customers that was valuable and unique - would allow it to carve out its own space for years to come. However, either with the acquisition by Match or the death of the blog, it seems that the strategic ability it once had is now gone.

So what do you think: Was OkCupid ever making its own Blue Ocean? Was it just a fad for a time? And can Rudder bring it back by just starting the blog again?

For reference, here are some of the infographics talked about above:
(Source: http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/10-charts-about-sex/)

A fun example:

Something that users could actually use in their analysis of potential profiles:

Sources not cited above: 

Kim, W. Chan, and Renée Mauborgne.Blue ocean strategy: how to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 2005. Print.

Christensen, Clayton M.. "Why Good Companies Fail to Thrive in Fast-Paced Industries." The innovator's dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 1997. Introduction. Print.

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