Nerve Dating Re-Launches To Put The Humanity (And Humor) Back In Online Dating
Last year, Nick Paumgarten wrote an interesting article for The New Yorker that detailed the rise of online dating and the effects it’s had on web culture. What struck me most were some of the eye-opening statistics he shared about the size and popularity of the industry, beginning with the fact that fee-based dating sites have become, collectively, a billion-dollar industry — that “one in six new marriages is the result of meetings on Internet dating site.” What’s more, online dating is now the third most common way for people to meet.
It’s clear that much of the early blush (read: stigma) around using online platforms to meet new people and pursue relationships has worn off. But anyone who’s spent any time on dating websites knows that plenty of friction still exists, whether it be in the awkwardness of online-to-offline interaction, the inherent dangers of meeting an eStranger, or the problem of having to rely on algorithms and science to find your perfect “match.” As much as dating sites strive to find a scientific method (or a more efficient way) by which to introduce us to the loves of our lives, many of them still feel impersonal and gimmicky, and, as Paumgarten points out in his article, it’s for this reason that online dating remains an isolating pursuit.
Sean Mills, the CEO of Nerve Dating, agrees that online dating today still feels like a search for the best deals on airline tickets. It seems as if, in playing online games, we go to buy more missiles, and in doing so suddenly find out that we’re the proud member of an online dating community.
Dating sites will do anything to attract new customers, promising true love, infinite happiness, and walls filled with fewer cat pictures. And thus, people are itching for a better way to meet their match, and they’re no longer content with an industry where the prevailing methodology for introducing us to other humans is based on these gimmicks, or on pseudoscience, robot matchmakers, and the deployment of virtual fruit, as Mills said in his introductory letter to the Nerve community.
In 1997, Rufus Griscom and Genevieve Field launched a website and eMag dedicated to sex, relationships, and culture called Nerve. After spending eight years as president of everyone’s favorite satirical news source, The Onion, Sean Mills took over as the chief exec at Nerve, looking to bring the same brand loyalty and affinity people had for The Onion to Nerve’s community of sex-addicted readers. Early on, Nerve was defined by some amazing editorial content, boosted by contributions from writers like Jonathan Lethem, Chuck Palahniuk, and Joyce Carol Oates (to name a few), and it evolved into one of the few early success stories of New York’s Silicon Alley.
Created as an online sex magazine that both men and women could enjoy — a less raunchy, more highbrow Penthouse, with broad appeal — Nerve has since become a site dedicated more broadly to love and culture. Having witnessed the success of The Onion’s dating site firsthand, which capitalizes on a more relaxed and humorous approach to online dating, Mills officially re-launched Nerve Dating in New York in December as an extension of the existing site.
Because Nerve already had a loyal readership and fanbase (about 2 million monthly uniques), there was a readymade audience for Nerve Dating, making it easier, Mills says, to reach critical mass. When creating a new dating website (or really any other consumer-facing web business), scale is one of the biggest challenges, and online dating really doesn’t work unless there is a crowd of people on the site ready for love. Nerve Dating already has over 10,000 users, and Mills says that the team is already hearing success stories.
Today, the team is launching Nerve Dating in San Francisco, with plans to continue rolling out across the U.S. The main thrust of Nerve’s bi-costal dating service is to create a platform that “celebrates individual voices,” without the taxonomy inherent to dating websites that tends to lump people into categories so that matching technology can do the heavy lifting.
As Mills tells us, the challenge facing the users of online dating sites is not so much in figuring out whether you like someone (people are already pretty good at doing that on their own), but simply in starting the conversation. Walking across the room to introduce yourself to someone you don’t already know? Gulp. That can be challenging, and it’s something that sites like Commonred identify with, as they attempt to meld the meetup and “new people” discovery space, inhabited by startups like Sonar, Meetup, and LetsLunch, with professional networking sites/apps like Branchout and Hashable.
Just as Shaker launched to bring a fun, interesting way to socialize on Facebook, Nerve is trying to make dating more like an enjoyable cocktail party, something that’s more natural and casual than an awkward blind date.
Thus, on Nerve, users can actively share their thoughts and opinions about restaurants, bars, movies, music, and books, and are instantly introduced to other people who enjoy the same things. Mills equates it to seeing someone at a bar who’s wearing a t-shirt with your favorite band on it — this makes it much easier to approach them and strike up a conversation.