During my doctoral studies at Waseda University in the International Development / Policy Studies field, I devoted 6 years of research to users’ behavior in virtual environments. Currently, I am a senior product manager for Japan’s top dating platform, “Pairs”. Given my background, I’m primarily in charge of the user experience (UX) of the product. My job is to gain insight into how our users think and act, inside and outside of our platform. Identifying their problems and demands is critical, and my toughest challenge is to effectively help the users better represent themselves and improve their game toward romantic relationship success.
Given my academic and business expertise, I was invited to give a lecture at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies (GSAPS), Waseda University. The lecture “Sustainable Networked Society” discusses Japan’s fertility issue and how ICT can help solving this problem.
Image 1. Explaining the Online Dating Service Funnel
WHAT WE DISCUSSED DURING THE LECTURE
Japan's population shrinkage is due to economic, cultural and social factors. The factor we covered in the lecture was the “fewer marriages” which led to “low fertility rate” (Statistic Japan). Leave aside those who have no intention of getting married and/or having children, many single individuals have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to find the love of their life. Typically in an advanced society like Japan, individuals have limited time and energy to search for someone, and fewer opportunities to meet new (single) people. Therefore, finding the right matches to get married and build a loving family with is harder than ever before. Please bear in mind that “Pairs” is committed to long-term relationships, not short-term or hookups. Therefore, “Pairs” aims to contribute to this social issue by increasing opportunities to meet new people and improving the quality of interaction with potential matches. As a critical part of the user journey, Pairs must help users define their “ideal partner” and improve their communication techniques.
WHAT MAKES A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP?
Initially before building any feature, the product managers (myself included) must commit to researching the problems that individuals who are looking for long-term relationship have. Some of the questions we keep on asking are “What is a good match?” “What makes a healthy relationship?” During the research, we realized that rather than appearance and objective profile (e.g. age, education, income), successful matches tend to connect on an emotional level, build social connections in a similar way, as well as think and process things similarly. These findings, together with my doctoral research findings, led us to conclude that self-reflection is an important factor to a successful online dating as it leads to self-improvement, both online (e.g. profile pictures, detailed information) and offline (e.g. stylishness, personality, lifestyle). That is why we are evolving the UI and UX of app to focus on these factors. However, the user profile in online dating space only presents a small part of someone’s personality. Users must learn to highlight their charming points in that little space.
THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR ONLINE TO OFFLINE BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT
During my PhD, I developed a theoretical framework that explains how behaviors exhibit in an online environment influence offline behaviors in the context of eSports (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The Theoretical Framework for Online to Offline Behavioral Development
This framework can be applied to any digital products. In this specific case, I applied it to Pairs. In order to realize the UX of self-reflection and self-improvement, we focus on two major factors. Firstly, the objective factors such as profile picture, age, height, and education. Secondly the subjective factors, such as hobbies, lifestyle, viewpoint and values. Finally, we plug these factors into the framework (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Implementing Factors Related to Romantic Relationship into the Theoretical Framework for Online to Offline Behavioral Development
Can users learn anything from using Pairs? According to the framework shown in Figure 2, users can learn few things about themselves by going through the social learning cycle (mainly involved trial and error) designed in Pairs:
- How to get his/her profile appealing and attractive based on their true self.
- Users may receive a lot of attention (we call it “sending Likes”) from potential partners, but that doesn’t mean the users will like them back, aka. “not my type”. In this case, users may learn why their profile attracts certain types of people. Users will have the opportunity to accept the attention or to adjust their profile toward a different target.
- What someone initially thought was “their type”, is not really his/her type. Users gradually discover the factors that are truly important to them and realized other factors that are just nice-to-have.
Summarizing the key takeaways from the lecture:
- UX oriented product managing involves intensive research into behaviors of the target users. Understanding their problems and demands is a crucial process.
- A (great) product can influence users’ behaviors and change their lifestyle. Just like how Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat evolve the way we communicate.
- To influence behaviors, the product must provide opportunities to experience trial and error, which leads to self-reflection and self-improvement.
- Most importantly, every product should be scientifically designed to improve users’ quality of life.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
So, can we use ICT to solve social issues such as population shrinkage? Yes, definitely. Today, the online dating industry in Japan contributes to only about 3% of couples (Matching Agent / Digital InFact, 2018), compared to 30% in the United States (USA TODAY, 2013). The industry has high potential to become an effective solution to population shrinkage, but it still has a lot to do.
I was thrilled to discuss the questions from the elite students, who are crucial for us to move forward in solving social issues effectively. For example, about security and privacy (we have 24hr customer support to filter out inappropriate content to ensure the security and safety of our users), government support for the industry, and cultural difference when expanding globally.
To be honest, I did not have all the answers to these difficult questions (yet). But users can be ensured that, at Eureka, we are working very hard to help our users realize their true desires, improve themselves, expand their social circles, and finally match them with a perfect partner, all while solving the worsening social issue.
Read more about my research on how eSports can help improve your leadership behavior here.
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