February 12, 2005 The world of computer-mediated matching services looks set to blossom as wireless technologies become all-pervasive. We've covered two such ingenious matchmaking services in the last twelve months and now a third with enormous potential has emerged. The third new such matchmaking service was introduced this week - the Proxidating locality-based matchmaking service for Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone users, offers an interesting new way for people to get together. Created in France (where else?), the Proxidating service uses Bluetooth connectivity to make the initial contact and with mobile phone usage now universal in many countries, particularly among the young, socially mobile and technology-savvy group, we think it has anormous potential.

To understand the potential of the system, it's probably illustrative to look at the two technolgies in this proximity-matching area that have preceeded it.

American start-up nTAG has produced an interactive name badge for conferences and social events that significantly improves the quality of people-to-people connectivity. Based on years of research at MIT's Media Lab, nTAG brings social technology into the business event arena where both host and attendee derive numerous benefits compared to the paper badges of the past.

PIX is an unconventional product from an unconventional lifestyle company called Xenofreaks Inc. With PIX, Xenofreaks have hit on an idea that may change the way people interact with each other, especially those whom we don't know, but would like to. Communication and interaction is the basis of the new Korean product PIX, an interactive visual display device that has just hit the market. Also coined the "ego visualiser" by its designers, PIX could quite possibly pave the way in how we express ourselves through our clothes and accessories in the 21st century.

The proxidating service is different to both, but has similarities. To use the service you download the Proxidating software, install it on your mobile, activate the Bluetooth connection and fill in your profile and the profile you are seeking, add a photo of yourself and the message you wish to send. Then you go out walking/clubbing/shopping and if a compatible partner comes within Bluetooth distance (about 15 metres), your phone rings and the pic and message of the nearby "match" person pops up on your phone and vice verca (i.e your pic and message pops up on theirs). You can then choose whether to walk up and say hello, text each other or pass on the opportunity.

As Bluetooth works outside the normal carrier networks, there are no charges beyond the initial fee of the downloaded which is just three euros (about US$2.10).

The advantages are that it's locality based, so unlike internet dating services you're unlikely to find someone you want to meet who lives on the other side of the planet, and unlike the pics so often found in dating sites, you get to see what they really look like, as opposed to the most flattering photo ever taken (probably circa 1995). If you're still a bit shy, you can text message your "match."

The disadvantages as far as we can see are that the profiles are very simplistic and don't offer the depth required for any really sophisticated computer-mediated matching as offered by many of the mainstream dating sites. This is likely to lead to some level of disappointment and could lead to embarrassing situations where you're suddenly confronted with an ardent new suitor who you're not so keen on.

Still, you've got to be in it to win it, and it is a novel new way of meeting people who you'd almost certainly never meet any other way. It also works for men seeking men and women seeking women, so it caters for the entire community's sexual preferences.

According to the software developers, the target audience for this service is the "young, urban and connected". "The generation that has the latest mobile phones, all with Bluetooth functionality" confirms Matthieu Palmade of Marseille-based Kangourouge.

The Proxidating software is now available in a dozen languages and is being released in 20 countries, highlighting the lofty ambitions of developer Kangourouge. The proxidating site is multi-language and allows direct download of the software. Kangourouge is also preparing for the launch of a WAP site that will enable mobile phone browsers to navigate the web site more efficiently and download the software direct to the phone.

The Proxidating site currently lists 25 models of mobile phone that are compatible with Proxidating, and Kangourouge expects its software will be compatible with almost all Bluetooth enabled phones within a few months.

Kangourouge is also preparing Proxidating for the next generation of Bluetooth technology, capable of providing 100m coverage, and giving an even greater chance of meeting your dream date. This simple improvement in coverage area will significantly increase the chances of meeting a match (44 times more likely) when it becomes available. Who knows, for office workers in big cities, it may even be possible to set up a Bluetooth-enabled base station in a shopfront outside a subway station or a busy downtown mall and scan the crowd for potential partners.

As the service has only just launched, the biggest problem will be driving the installed base to critical mass. There may well be 1.7 billion mobile phone users in the world, but it's the number of compatible Proxidating users that counts, and right now there aren't many. It's sort of like having the first telephone - very cool, but there's no-one to call.

We figure that unless there's a significant uptake in the singles community in specific locations, the idea might just fizzle out. If you wander around your town for the next six months and don't find a match with anyone who fits the profile you're seeking, you'll probably turn it off, uninstall it, or not bother to install the software next time you upgrade your handset (the "life" of a mobile phone before upgrading to a new model continues to reduce in most countries as new and better handsets with more functionality becomes available).

Looking at the functionality of this system from another perspective, if the software were developed to be better at matching needs (buyers/sellers/, boy/girl and other mating pairings, investors/entrepreneurs/intermediaries) it would be able to offer a significant subset of the capabilities of the nTAG system. By no means would it offer all of the functionality of the ingenious nTAG system, but enough to be much better than paper badges, and at a fraction of the cost of dedicated servers. Whatsmore, with everyone in the close proximity of a networking event, it would ensure that you found the key people you wanted to speak to rather than having to shake a hundred hands and make polite conversation long after you'd decided that your initial contact would never bear fruit.

It's a cute idea though and perhaps gives us a glimpse of the future of new forms of electronic matchmaking that will evolve as technology advances and offers new possibilities. The Internet Dating Industry is now both massive and mainstream

Just for the record, internet dating (computer-mediated matching) sites make up around 1% of all internet sites visited (Hitwise.com data based on monitoring the internet browsing habits of approximately 20 million internet users in America, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom).

That number may seem small, but it comparison to all internet traffic aggregated by genre it is fact VERY LARGE - dating sites get more traffic (in terms of visits and page views), than all automotive-related traffic, or all gambling-related traffic. Both tose industries are gargantuan and measure their global turnover in the US$ billions.

Internet dating is now seriously mainstream as the roughly 30% of the world's adult population who are single attempt to find a compatible partner and have flocked to the safety and anonymity of the internet.

An even more curious phenomena is the percentage of internet visits to dating sites in different countries. Clearly there are some significant cultural and social factors at play here.

The Hitwise data for each of those countries it currently monitors for the month of January make an interesting comparison. These statistics represent the percentage of all internet site visits by the population of the following countries: United States -1.02% of all internet site visits are to dating sites United Kingdom - 0.67% of all internet site visits are to dating sites Australia -1.02% of all internet site visits are to dating sites NZ - 1.48% of all internet site visits are to dating sites Hong Kong - 0.76% of all internet site visits are to dating sites Singapore - 2.07% of all internet site visits are to dating sites

We're a curious bunch us human beings!

Thanks to our mate Red from the Red Ferret Journal, one of our favourite blogs for technologically-interesting Gizmos and ideas.

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