Mobile dating gets better (maybe)

After posting about mobile dating last week, I was pleasantly surprised to get an e-mail from Andrew Weinreich, the founder of MeetMoi. With all the recent publicity surrounding the company — it closed a $1.5 million round of financing earlier this month and was one of the subjects of a Wall Street Journal story on the mobile dating phenomenon — Weinreich has been getting an earful about his concept.

And he wrote to tell me that’s just what he wants. “If you were releasing software 20 years ago, you had to do quality assurance testing, focus group it to death, that sort of thing,” Weinreich told me once we got on the phone. “For a successful entry today, you can have a hunch, put something out there, and figure out a way to get a collective consciousness about it, with blogs and other media. That’s fascinating to me.”

Now that he’s built that collective consciousness, he says, the company’s started using it to make improvements, with the hope that we’ll give them feedback on these, too. The first, announced today on Weinreich’s blog, is to create a premium membership class of “referenced” members. Instead of just registering and uploading a picture, as unreferenced members can, these people would also have to provide e-mail addresses of people willing to write them a reference.

Potential references would have to be of the gender they were looking to date. And to prevent the old bait-and-switch—as in, register with a same-sex preference, have your buddy vouch for you, and then change your prefs—referenced members wouldn’t be able to change their preference until 30 days later, and they’d never be able to change their own gender, which is linked to their phone number forever.

As for the references, not only do they confirm your profile, they have to answer the question, “So what’s so great about <your friend>?” At the end, your referenced profile gets a stamp of approval, a link to the reference, and preference over unreferenced profiles when it’s sent to potential matches.

It does seem to begin to address some of the creepiness some of us felt upon hearing about MeetMoi-esque services, though, clearly, it couldn’t possibly stymie every attempt at deception. For instance, what’s to stop a guy from finding a friend with no interest in the service to register as a girl and vouch for him.

And though it probably won’t do much to protect folks from themselves (drunk-texting, anyone?), Weinreich is most interested in their safety: “We don’t want to tell people what to do,” he says. “But we do want to preserve a certain quality so that whatever they’re doing, there’s a sense of security.”

While I agree that safety’s a main concern, I have a feeling that — stalker-enabling capabilities aside — many of us were reacting to the broader question of what needing this kind of service says about us. Are we so shackled to our desks that we can’t meet someone new without some text-based help? Maybe, but that’s hardly MeetMoi’s fault. We just need to remember that, wonder of wonders, there were relationships before e-mail, IM, and texting…

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