Choosing the right dating software platform. Real conversation example.

Quite frequently I am asked about which dating software is the best for this or that. Every such conversation has its unique story, so generally there is no one universal answer. There are some considerations, however, that would be applicable in many, in not most cases. Here goes a real email exchange, which you may well relate to, if you're hunting for the best open-source dating script for your project...

Hello Andrew,

I hope it is OK if I write you. I found your email in the comments on your personal site. I have spent many hours trying to locate a new dating site script. We've used our current script for many years but it has always been horrible. It is a free site and we are open to some paid features in a new script but want to keep all the basics free.

I read about your new UNA system, but we don't have thousands to invest in a custom project. Our existing site has 330k accounts that we'd like to move into any new system. 99% of them haven't come back because of our poor, slow system. But we're hoping to bring them back with a welcome back message once something is working correctly.

From reading on your site you didn't seem to like anything that is available "off the shelf" right now. We had narrowed our search down to the following and would appreciate any feedback/advise.

PG Dating Pro (app. $299-$999) SkaDate (app, $1699) One month support
Boonex Dolphin (app, free-$599)
Chameleon (app, $247)
DatingScript (no app, $149-249)

So, very typical situation in which an established dating site is stuck with an outdated software. And not looking for a new solution. My first reply was:

Hello, ...!

With 330k accounts, you would have some planning to do. Think about that particular feature or proposition attracted all those people and made them want to register in the first place. You had them wanting to join, but something turned them away... likely disparity in expectation and the actual functionality. What exactly is so special about your offering?

Then, once you pinpoint what you want your site to do, you'd be able to make an informed choice. Simply going for a platform with maximum features and an app isn't going to create that WOW moment for your users. Engagement is driven by a focused fulfilment of one's expectation, not from opportunities overload. For example, having a native app is almost always not effective until your site gets into the scale of millions of active users. People simply don't install native apps from "marginal" sites. Instead, concentrate on offering one or two usage scenarios on a mobile-friendly website, no obligation, easy to "muddle through".

For example, when we tailor UNA platform, we always recommend activating only the core apps and a couple of "headline" apps, which sends a simple message to the users - "this is the site that gets 'X' done very well, and that's what it is all about". It works wonders.

If you were to rely on "stock" combination of modules and your site is very specifically in "dating", I'd say that PGdating and Skadate would be about the same. Dolphin is more about social networking, but can be used as dating platform with some apps from Boonex Market.

Regardless of what you choose, I recommend following our new blog at UNA.io where I've just started a new series of posts - https://una.io/page/view-post?id=13 - it'd be helpful in the process of growing your site.

Hope this helps.

I have asked this person permission to publish this conversation, sans the specific references to their site. So, the talk goes on...

Thank you so much for taking the time and replying. It is certainly fine if you share the discussion and advise. Our chat site (separate domain) and the personals site share a common database. So that's where most of the users come to us to register.

I can't begin to tell you how horrible our current solution is. It was made from one of those freelance websites years ago and we've spent money over the years to keep working, it can't send match emails anymore, can't send forgot login details anymore.

We like the idea of no app, because since we allow nude images we'd have to have all of those hidden from any app store download.

I spoke with Rick from advandate today and he swears the sites featured on their homepage are legit sites. But they all seem to have the same 25 users online (and only have 25-100 total users). I really liked their white label option that we considered to offer for other webmasters to join in with us. But that throws up huge red flags.

Our desire is to have a solid system that is quick and is kept up to avoid security issues. Our current site has been hacked twice.

I don't think our users would partake in social media features. That was the one thing probably making us shy away from Dolphin. Seeing page after page of empty profile pages would probably scare people away.

Would the UNA platform be in anyway in an affordable price range? It looks like we'd be looking at a monthly cost with it instead of a one time fee?

PGdating or Skadate have any higher or lower place in your book in terms of stability, reliability, upgrades, help after the sale?

Thanks again for your time, super kind of you.

Now, prepare for my epic reply!

A few questions there got me thinking, and looking...

Thank you for sharing more details.

So, I've looked at your site, and wow... the long-forgotten past called! I couldn't really tell which script it's running, but it certainly looks like something from early 2000s, possibly webdate, but I'm not sure. I even thought it was aeDating at first, but after signing in I realise that it wasn't.

Your chat is also flash-based, which is a serious problem, making it useless for mobile devices and cumbersome for many desktops (I for one don't have flash installed at all).

So, yes, you desperately need to update it.

Now, as for AdvanDate, frankly I don't know very much about them, but personally, I wouldn't be dealing with anyone offering this:

Offering prepopulated database is absolutely unethical. It puts you as a site owner into a position where you receive real users by selling what you don't really have, creates thousands of duplicate content pages that get you banned by Google for ages, likely facilitates spreading of personal information without consent. In other words, The software vendor is likely unreachable for any legal retribution, but you might well get in trouble, and they know it.

Next, with Advandate or any other "one-time fee" solution, you have to understand that no matter what the vendor is saying, you will not get ongoing support for free. Period point blank. They money you pay will be spent the same very month, and if you want to get any serious assistance, say, a year later, you would be either stonewalled or asked to pay again. And it's only fair, mind you. Developers have bills, and they need a sustainable revenue stream.

We have been offering Dolphin for years through the free-or-license model when a user could pay a one-off fee to remove Boonex branding, but it's not sustainable. We end up with massive client-base and inadequate volume of sales to over costs. Therefore we have to skimp on support. There is no magic here.

Subscription plans turn tables around. It is extremely hard to switch to them, because you need high volume to stay afloat during the transition period, but Boonex did it a year ago, and it's in a much healthier state now. If we want to get paid, we have to offer good service. If we want to lessen support load, we have to perfect the platform. We still offer one-off licenses, but they are only good for experienced operators that know how to download/install updates, run their own servers, tested the platform and just need to license it. If, however, you are not a developer, you would be much better off with monthly subscription of some kind. Simply, because you always retain the upper hand (your credit card). :)

As for PGDating and Skadate, I've singled them out because they have been around for a long time and to my knowledge with actual development/support teams, some planning and a reputation to care about. Both had actively participated in iDate conferences and have been changing along with trends.

As for Dolphin, yes, it has distanced from dating quite a bit, like I said but you still can use it as a dating site platform with the right selection of extensions. While it doesn't mean you have to be a developer, you still need to do some research and tinkering to get the right result.

UNA is different from all of the above. It's designed as a "skeleton" platform that adapts to the task at hand. It's not an online dating platform, for example, but it can be used as one and it would be a matter of adjusting settings in UNA Studio or activating UNA Apps that complement functionality. Version updates are automatic! We push them to all UNA sites. UNA Apps update separately from the core, so, for example, you could update your "Albums" app and test it without breaking the rest of the site. It's also fully mobile-friendly, working as web-app.

Perhaps the best way to understand the difference between UNA and Dolphin (and Skadate/PG for that matter), is to think of the target audience. Dolphin would best suit someone with at least some web-admin/development skills and a knack for finding the right people to support the project. UNA is for those who has an idea, and wants something that "just works". UNA Studio is immensely powerful in how much you can customise everything without breaking upgrade compatibility, touching code or fiddling with the server.

UNA costs $50/month to run if you have your own server and just need the platform, tech support, community support and premium apps. If you want us to host, it starts from $100/mo.

Larger costs can apply if you want a higher level of service. For $800/month you get implementation assistance (manual updates, urgent bug-fixing, issue investigation, performance tracking, server optimisation, implementation, integration, migration from supported platforms). For $1600/month you also get customisation (tailored features design and development, modifications, unique migrations, integration design, hosting infrastructure design, high-scale optimisation, attack assistance, compliance, security breaches). You can switch plans every month, so if you need you can use a serviced plan, and then jump back to $50 month when things are settled and rolling as designed.

Another consideration is would be the ability to integrate with external services. UNA is designed to work as an aggregate platform, which integrates with apps like Mailchimp, Datafox, Intercom, etc.. instead of trying to do it all by itself. Over time it's a more sustainable approach that gives access to best tools for any given challenge. A fully vertical platform can be extremely restricting and poorly performing in auxiliary functions, like email handling, spam-control, SSO, etc.

Hope that's not too overwhelming.

Phew! That was a long one. And now, slowing down a bit, but still a few important points...

Yes, our video chat is from flashcoms, they have not decided to update the product. And after many months we've been unable to find a non-flash product that allows one to many or many to many. So, we're talking with a freelancer to make us something. This is our third attempt at that, first one stole our money. Second one tried to steal someone elses video chat and say they made it for us, we got those funds back. It is very surprising that no one has yet made a commercially available non-flash application.

I did not see anyway to demo UNA, this may be by design. Do you have the ability to show any dating site currently using UNA? I did not realize you could move around monthly cost levels, that would be very helpful.

Unfortunately, those "freelancer scammed us" stories are all too common. Please, people, understand that it is NOT POSSIBLE to develop a decent social/dating site and sustainably update it as freelance gig. Don't do it!

I would strongly recommend to not build a chat as a freelance job. Good chat is a massive undertaking, requiring planning, engineering and high-standard coding with QA. It is also a high-maintenance kind of software that needs constant updates due to browser compatibility, evolution of server software, security issues, etc.

We use Rocket.Chat in both Dolphin and UNA I believe they have achieved the best state of the product on the market so far. It's a non-flash chat built on Meteor framework, using webrtc for video/audio. It's modelled off Slack. WebRTC is still a bit sketchy but getting better quickly. In the meantime Rocket.chat integrates Jitsy to take care of group video and it seems to work fairly well.

In other words, a non-Flash chat that works 90% of the time is a group effort of top-class teams. You can't get anything like that from a freelancer.

As for UNA-based dating sites, I don't know if any yet. UNA is still officially in Beta and full release is a few months away, so our custom implementations are limited as we prepare for large scale announcement and migrations from Dolphin. We have done some far more sophisticated implementations, however. Dating is relatively trivial and basic setup would likely take no more than a month on Enterprise plan to implement.

And the last pair...

Would the programmers you work with handle customizing with rocket chat as well? I'm certainly interested in working with an established product, but unsure if they modifications we'd need would make future upgrades impossible.

Is there someone I would contact to discuss moving forward and features we'd need in customizing UNA for our needs?

My reply...

Yes, Rocket.Chat is a supported UNA app, which means that we take care of updates and integration. It is already integrated, but should you need any modifications we do it too. In most cases it just works as is. You can demo it here - https://demo.rocket.chat/. In our integration una and the chat share authentication, profile pics and branding. It can also work as an in-page chat on any of the custom UNA pages.

You are welcome to write to support@una.io so that tech team could assess technical details. I'd be able to monitor and participate in the conversation if need be.

There you have it. We did have a few more email changes with more specifics, but that's not particularly relevant to this post.