What is OmniDate?
OmniDate is a simulated dating environment where two people go on a virtual date, in a bar or café, from the comfort of their own home. Imagine a cross between a 3D avatar chat and a highly-realistic virtual environment. It’s a fun way to facilitate a conversation after reading someone’s profile, but before you are ready to meet someone in person.
We’re introducing OmniDate as an application that can be easily integrated into a typical dating site. It keeps users engaged longer (typically 30 minutes or more per date on our test site) and thus, increases conversions and retention. OmniDate also offers dating sites several revenue opportunities: premium pricing, product placement advertising fees, and gift fees from users who want to buy their dates a virtual gift.
What is your founding story?
I’m an Industrial Psychologist by training and in my previous business we built simulation-based assessments for business applications. When I sold the business in 2006, I saw an opportunity to apply similar innovative concepts to the online dating world. I was aware of a Jupiter Research survey that said only 1 in 4 users was satisfied with online personals sites, and I felt “virtual dating” could help online sites engage their users better and provide a more satisfying experience. My goal is to help dating sites achieve these objectives.
When did you launch and how is it going so far?
We opened our beta site to the public a couple of months ago and we are receiving a lot of positive feedback from our beta users. They really like the “virtual component” and how it helps them get to know each other before meeting face-to-face. It creates a level of comfort when they meet other singles and it facilitates a fun interaction. We are already getting thank you notes from people telling us about great relationships they found through our application. I am particularly pleased to see that our application appeals to both genders and all age groups. Fifty-one percent of our users are women and one-third of our users are 35 or older.
How does OmniDate help online dating services make money?
Two ways actually – it provides sites with a terrific differentiator and a completely new revenue model.
First, OmniDate helps our partners capitalize on huge growing trends – such as virtual reality, animated entertainment and online games – with minimal work. OmniDate improves traffic and conversion rates because daters get excited about “virtual dating”. Among our users, virtual dates last 20-40 minutes each, with many going over an hour. We are also finding that a “virtual dating” experience is a great conversation piece and increases word-of-mouth referrals.
Second, dating sites can make money with OmniDate in both the traditional way, as a premium service, but also using with product placement advertising and virtual gifts. Think about being on a virtual date when the sailboat that goes by has a McDonald’s logo (paid product placement), or I “buy” my date a drink (which costs me a $1) and the waiter serves a Corona (more paid product placement).
What makes OmniDate interesting to consumers?
Going on a virtual date is less time consuming and emotionally straining than meeting every person who seems “perfect” in a profile. You can get a really good sense for a person by going on a virtual date. If he is funny, he’ll make you laugh; if he is interesting, he’ll capture your attention; if he is boring … well, you don’t have to sit through the date.
Also, it reduces stress and awkwardness associated with dating in general. It allows you to ease into a conversation and get to know each other better before you actually meet. And, OmniDate has a tremendous “cool” factor! Like the iPhone, it has a “gotta-have-it” appeal.
Tell me about some of the interesting product features.
There are many, but let me mention a couple. First, OmniDate’s “virtual dating” component has a very intuitive user design. It doesn’t require learning or “figuring out” on the part of the user. Actually, it doesn’t even require installation – it’s a web app. Second, our users love how the avatars respond to typed text. For example, as you type “lol” your avatar actually laughs out loud. Or you can reach over and touch the other person’s hand. Our users have a lot of fun with that.
How do you see the online dating business changing over the next 5 years?
You’re probably not surprised to hear that I see a trend toward more entertaining, richer communication online environments. I think online daters want more from their dating site than “search profiles” and “email a member.” They want to have more engaging ways to interact with other singles than “send a wink.” I can see how over the next 5 years, the industry will evolve from a “database” toward the “entertainment” end of the spectrum. I think we will see a proliferation of game-like experiences that will allow singles to get to know others in an entertaining way.
Do you see any applications for this product outside the dating business?
Right now we are focused on the dating market and the design of our current product reflects that. However, the technology itself can be used in any industry where people communicate with each other over the Internet and could benefit from a more natural interaction.