April 14, 2021 at 05:04PM

Facebook is aiming to help users make a love connection with a new dating app called Sparked. The experimental app will allow users to enroll with their Facebook profiles. According to reports, Facebook is positioning the free platform as “video dating with kind people.”

The new platform will have no public profiles and no DMs for anyone to slide into. Instead, the app will cycle users through video speed dates about four minutes in length. While it is unknown how many mini-dates a person will go on during a Sparked event, the purpose is to help people match. If the four-minute date works out for both sides, daters will be scheduled for a second 10-minute encounter, after which the participants can decide whether they want to exchange personal information and keep in touch directly.

The app, according to reports, seems premised on screening for kindness, with users being asked to identify what makes them a “kind dater.” According to the app, those responses will be “reviewed by a human at Sparked” before people can go on speed dates.

Sparked is not Facebook’s first attempt at helping users make a love connection — in 2019, it released Facebook Dating, which operated directly from the main Facebook app. Facebook Dating generated a lot of press early on, with unique features like “Secret Crush,” which allowed users to choose up to nine friends they have a crush on and have Facebook alert them. If the user added the same person as a Secret Crush, they would be notified so the two could connect.

Facebook Dating also picked up headline space last fall when it announced that it was bringing its digital dating tool to Europe.  At the time, Facebook said that Dating was live in  20 nations, had made 1.5 billion matches.

Doubling down on digital dating makes sense for a growth-oriented firm like Facebook, particularly as COVID-19 pretty much shut down the places that singles would meet and mingle. Since people still need love, even on lockdown, dating apps have found the pandemic period to be a major tailwind. Match Group, the parent company for 45 dating brands, including Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid and Match, reported an increase in downloads and subscribers from pre-COVID-19 levels in the second quarter of this year,  with a 15 percent boost in new subscribers.

London-based Feeld, a polyamorous dating app for couples and singles, saw its usership increase 50 percent year over year during the first half of 2020, with 120 percent growth in messages sent in March and April as compared to previous months, according to a company spokesperson.

And yet Facebook’s interest and ambition in the digital dating scene appears to be somewhat bigger than just a play to grab up market share in a growing segment. Facebook, as Karen Webster has observed in several commentaries, is on a short list of players looking increasingly serious about building a super app for U.S. consumers.

And it’s a pretty illustrious list: Google, Apple and PayPal are all aspiring to create the everyday app that becomes the front door for how consumers interact with and purchase goods and services as they go about their everyday activities — like WeChat and Alipay in China, or LINE in Japan. Not all of those firms will admit that ambition — Facebook, for example, has never uttered the phrase “super app” in public — but their behavior, Webster observed, speaks for them.

And Facebook isn’t only in the mood for love. The company also recently announced the launch of Hotline, a web-based application that is something of a mashup of Instagram Live and Clubhouse. Hotline lets creators speak to an audience who can then ask questions through either text or audio, much like Clubhouse. But unlike Clubhouse, creators can opt to turn their cameras on for the event, instead of being audio-only. Hosts also have more control, and are able to remove inappropriate questions from the queue or remove people from their Hotline session. For the initial tests, Facebook employees will moderate events and remove anyone who violates Facebook’s Community Standards, or Terms of Service.

Another notable difference between Hotline and Clubhouse is that Hotline events are recorded. After the event, the host will receive two recordings of the session, which can then be uploaded to other networks or used to create podcasts and other media.

It’s clear that Facebook is creating more ways for consumers to come and hang out — and more ways for commerce connections to happen as a result of those hangout sessions. And as Webster wrote, Facebook has a strong start, as it is many consumers’ first digital location of the day — but unfortunately for its super-app ambitions, it is not the last.

“When asked which app consumers first look at when they wake up in the morning, it was either a social media app like Facebook (or Instagram if they are millennials) or text/email to organize and plan their days,” Webster wrote. “Those apps, however, largely compartmentalize access to everyday activities.”

For all its expansion as an advertising platform, Facebook is having a very hard time cracking commerce outside of Instagram — a reality that continues to hold back its super-app ambitions. But as the news demonstrates, it’s going to keep right on building toward that everyday app. Because if they build enough, it seems, they hope to literally have something for everyone — that they can’t get elsewhere.

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