Smart and safe online dating

6 September 2012

Frank van Viegen is co-founder of Paiq, a smart dating site. With an innovative approach to matching the company rapidly acquired a large share of the market. The online dating world is developing very quickly says Van Viegen. You must have access to the latest knowledge and technology to be able to innovate fast enough. Sentinels provided such an entry point.

‘We clearly distinguish ourselves from the other dating sites in the area of technology. Most of them have a Facebook-like design: there is a large tray of profiles that a person seeking a relationship has to plough through to see if there is a person they are attracted to.’ At Paiq you do not have to do all of that reading. Based on the data you supply a computer makes the selection of people who might suit you. ‘We work with a self-learning system,’ says Van Viegen, ‘which improves itself on the basis of feedback from previously supplied matches.’ If the system has found somebody who suits you then you still do not receive his or her details to view. Instead you come into chat contact. And then during a conversation you can really get to know the other person and discover whether the computer has matched you up well.

Frank van Viegen, Paiq, involved in Kindred Spirits  

‘Our system has several advantages,’ says Van Viegen. ‘It yields better matches, you do not have to advertise yourself in a boastful text and your personal details are not disclosed.’ In a private conversation during a chat session you can reveal as much about yourself as you want, but no profiles whatsoever are online. ‘We only use those profiles to bring similar people together. Then during a conversation with each other you will still have to discover whether you hit it off.’

Guarantees sought

Van Viegen became involved in the Sentinels project Kindred Spirits via his former department at the university. ‘We still have a lot of contacts there and so people are up to date with what we are doing. In terms of content we had a good match with the project Kindred Spirits. We want to be able to guarantee that the personal details which our visitors give to our matching system do indeed remain secret. If it is possible to store and use that information in an encoded form then the responsibility for ensuring the security of the data no longer resides with us.’

Paiq played a modest role within the project, says Van Viegen. ‘We were a member of the user committee. During the project we helped to think in which direction the research should go and which applications we could foresee for the coming years.’ It was a valuable experience according to the Paiq founder. ‘We are really happy with how things went. We had to reserve two days per year for our involvement and that enabled us to both expand our knowledge level and our network.’

Kindred Spirits has delivered fantastic results. However, many unanswered questions still remain, emphasises Van Viegen. ‘Several technical pieces are still missing. But, most of all a lot needs to happen in the area of user experience. For example, imagine that we can indeed store and process the data more safely than other dating sites. How will the user know that his or her details are safe with us? You must be able to see that, for example, in your web browser with a green bar or a lock or something similar. We are looking for a sort of quality mark which shows that we as a service provider also know nothing about you and that we therefore cannot abuse your data.’

‘Dating sites are a specialised area,’ he explains. ‘You cannot compare them to an online bookshop. There it is very clear which service you should provide. We are continuously in development. Which possibilities do you want to offer your clients? Which data will you use in which manner to realise a match? This is a rapidly developing field. We must ensure that we are involved in the front line of research if we are to innovate fast enough.’

Photo: Sjoerd van der Hucht Fotografie
Text: Sonja Knols, IngenieuSe
Translation: NST