One year on from the launch of its virtual dating coach, Lara, Match.com is doubling down on its AI efforts in a bid to better connect singletons and make online dating a bit more “human”, even mulling adding Amazon’s Alexa into the mix.
While the idea of letting a machine-learning powered chatbot tag team with Amazon’s personal assistant to aid you in your search for a soulmate might feel like something straight out of a Black Mirror episode, Lara has been popular among users according to Match's vice-president of Northern Europe, Abbie Oguntade.
Over the past year the bot, which uses natural language processing to interact with singletons, has driven a 30% increase in visitors to Match’s landing page in Europe, with Oguntade telling The Drum that subscriptions to the site have been “heavily improved” as a direct result.
Having first launched in France and then the UK, Lara ‘lives’ on Facebook Messenger and it (or ‘she’) has been gendered by Match and given a personality to make users feel more at ease. Its original function was to guide people through the registration process and offer up suggestions for potential suitors; an innovative solution to the swipe fatigue and choice paralysis presented by modern dating platforms.
However with a team of around 15 engineers and tech experts working out of Match’s innovation hub on Lara, it is definitely more than a passing fad for the brand which is now investing in the assistant’s AI features.
“She’s so much more than that now, we’re building out Lara’s AI to ensure she understands and can respond to voice and conversation. What we’re also doing is optimising her vocabulary to make it more colloquial, and we're improving her understanding and recommendations to bring that more ‘human’ element to her role,” said Oguntade.
Lara can analyse up to 50 categories of criteria, including astrological signs, imperfections and hobbies means she is able to make romantic suggestions based on hard data. With every consumer interaction she is learning new behaviours, vocabularies and understandings which Oguntade said is optimising the brand experience for consumers.
While the irony of a bot making dating more “human” may not be lost on some, Lara is actually becoming more human-like and Match’s plans to continue to improve its voice and speech recognition capabilities.
Match currently uses Google's and iOS' speech recognition APIs, and users of the Match app can shake their phone to trigger Lara, then instead of typing their response to her questions, can speak directly into the device instead.
"People are able to chat to her and she can respond accordingly, as the AI develops and so will we and we’re constantly focusing on that innovation."
The natural progression of this would perhaps be to integrate Lara with a voice-enabled assistant like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, but while Oguntade said this was “absolutely” a possibility in the future, she remained cautious in her outlook about where Match is best investing its innovation budget.
“That voice element brings with it so many possibilities and innovation is very much at the heart of everything we do,” she said. “Although, I have to stress [our] innovation is really based on enhancing the customer experience rather than just innovation for innovation's sake.
“So with our, engineers and product team we are considering what will make sense and what will add value to consumers; the technology and the channels that we’ll be active in will be dependent on that entirely.”
Match is developing Lara is based on qualitative feedback it has received from members with Oguntade noting that the assistant has “very much become a wingwoman” for daters.
In time, it's likely we can expect more virtual agents to facilitate love matches, with Match's sister over-50s site Our Time having recently launched its own assistant in the form of Julia.