I rolled my eyes when I first heard about Luna, described as “ blockchain for dating”. In Silicon Valley, “blockchain for x” is the new “Uber for y” as start-ups embrace the idea of digital ledgers. On Wall Street, the Securities and Exchange Commission has warned companies to stop “pivoting to blockchain” to boost their stock.
So Luna sounded like a gimmick. But when Facebook announced its plan to enter the online dating market, I took a closer look.
More and more people now meet online, but singles on dating apps are increasingly frustrated by a system that encourages a “swipe culture”. Many swipe through photographs, almost like sport. The process can be dispiriting, with people failing to reply to messages from matches and frequently failing to show up “in real life”.
New dating apps are trying different tactics to create more lasting connections. Facebook will ask people to choose events they want to go to before selecting dates from among a group of other participants. Waving has scrapped the photo altogether, replacing it with voice messages, in an effort to avoid fake profiles and inspire a more imaginative approach. Sweatt encourages the fitness-obsessed to make dates for workouts, with a profile that includes how often you work out and when.
Luna turns out to be the most intriguing, despite the fact it hasn’t even launched yet. It does, however, have a “white paper”. This starts with a discussion of the development of rituals around exogamy (the custom of marrying outside your tribe). It argues that humans used to devote huge time and energy to finding the right partner. Now, we want it to be as easy as possible — yet this convenience does not seem to be making people happy.
Ultimately, Luna wants to “remake dating culture”. Using our online interactions, it would like to dive deep into the data to understand what makes a successful match. “Luna is not a service or a place, like Tinder or a bar. Luna is a method, and a method which can be continually improved using techniques like A/B testing, until it is genuinely producing better lives for people,” the white paper says. By using blockchain technology, it hopes to make anonymised data open to researchers, who will be able to design algorithms to match couples.
Andre Ornish, Luna’s founder, says he is already speaking to social psychologists about how they could use the data to spot patterns that could lead to “higher-fidelity matches”. Maybe the “time of omnipresent big data” can help us know ourselves better, he suggests. “Dating requires a great amount of introspective ability, to know who you are, what you want and how to communicate that to someone.”
Men significantly outnumber women on most dating sites and attractive women receive far more messages than anyone else. According to Luna’s white paper, if Tinder were an economy, with the proportion of right swipes (indicating you like someone) instead of money, it would have a higher Gini coefficient, the economists’ favoured measure of inequality, than 95 per cent of countries in the world.
To try to solve the imbalance in dating-app messaging, Luna has created the Star, a token that users will be able to purchase on cryptocurrency exchanges or earn by actions taken within the app, such as replying to messages within 36 hours. A user can limit the number of messages he or she receives a day, but a wooer who is really keen on reaching them can add more stars to a message to bump him or herself to the top of the recipient’s queue. The stars can either be pocketed as cash or donated to charity within the app. If Luna’s algorithm thinks a pair are a great match, they get a discount to encourage them to message each other. Stars should discourage people from spamming each other with “copy and paste” messages.
It’s certainly a lot more complicated than Tinder. But by using data and algorithms to better understand lifelong compatibility, Luna’s heart seems to be in the right place.
Hannah Kuchler is the FT’s San Francisco correspondent