RealTime IT News

Online Dating's New Face

Recent advances in facial recognition promise to soon give popular dating sites more features for would-be daters to play with.

Eyealike, which already offers facial recognition systems for enterprise customers, said it's in negotiations with major online dating and social network sites to incorporate its technology for consumers.

The idea is that users will be able to upload an image, or even choose from a selection of celebrity faces, and click onscreen levers to adjust that image to their personal tastes.

"For example, you might be looking for someone like Jennifer Aniston, but with lighter hair or darker skin tone," Greg Heuss, president of Eyealike, told InternetNews.com.

You would then be able to search for matches among available images in the database. Or, something the younger set might find way cooler, the system lets you upload up to three different images – e.g., Aniston, Jessica Alba and Eva Longoria – and morph them into one. Clearly there's a fun factor here as well. Heuss also notes you could even upload an image of, say, an ex-boyfriend, and search for the best match.

Heuss said his company is primarily talking to major online dating sites and social networks. "We're not going after the relationship sites like eHarmony, but more the Match.coms and Yahoo Personals, the casual dating sites where it's more about looks – which is not to say that can't lead to a more serious relationship."

The facial recognition services could be available on some sites by the end of this summer, said Heuss.

This latest set of features aims to up the ante in the highly competitive online dating market, which Heuss pegs is worth over a billion dollars in the U.S.

Mark Brooks, a consultant to the online dating industry and editor of Online Personals Watch, said facial recognition is the latest in series of technical advances with more to follow. He notes, for example, the advent of online "speed dating" sites like WooMe and ratings sites like Hot or Not. There are also already sites like MyDouble if you want to just see what celebrities you most resemble and perhaps use that info in a dating profile.

"Dating sites need to give users what they want and visuals are very important," Brooks told InternetNews.com. "The industry hasn't done enough to allow people to communicate so I can see this kind of more visual technology taking off because it's also fun and you can use it whenever you want to."

Helping the "casual dater."

Brooks agrees, the facial recognition and editing is better-suited to would be casual daters. "A site like eHarmony is slow to let users share photographs because it's more about getting to know the other person," he said. "A lot of this is about trying to fix the real world which is broken. In the real world, you see pretty girls and hunky men on magazine covers who are largely unattainable."

In the competition to be picked online some tricks are played that even Eyealike's technology can't solve. Heuss admits there's nothing it can do, for example, about a 40-year-old posting a 20-year-old picture of himself. "Ultimately, they'll be found out when they date," he chuckled.

Eyealike's technology has been load tested and, the company said, will scale to support the largest online dating sites of 20 million or more. "The technology works as well as the database behind it," said Heuss. "If there are 500,000 images you can get good matching results, but if you're at 20 million images like Match.com, it can be that much better."

Pricing for online sites is based on an annual license fee and a few other criteria including frequency of use. Heuss said some potential customers are talking about adding Eyealike Faces as part of its paid service, while others plan to make it part of the free public service.

Eyealike's technology is also designed to integrate with a Web site's existing keyword and attribute-based search systems. Eyealike Faces is compatible with Windows and Linux servers and the company said it's optimized to work on Windows PCs and Macs as well as most smart phones.

Heuss said the company is also developing a kind of "Mr. Potato Head" feature for later this year that will let users build a kind of virtual person from different parts (nose, ears, lips, etc) and search for matches from the resulting image.