This is not a collection of software reviews. It's more of an overview of key players in dating software industry and some insights on the idea of building a dating site with an off-the-shelf platform.
White-label, open-source, downloadable dating software is, in a way, a thing of the past. Online dating space itself has consolidated under 2-3 major players, and niche sites are mostly parts of large shared-database networks. On top of that, popular trend of the day is to use mobile apps for dating (ala Tinder). So, wanna-be dating site operators are a dying breed and there's less and less activity on supply side either. People just don't have that "Oh, I gotta launch my own dating site" idea pop up in their mind as often as in early 2000s.
It's not too late to launch a dating site.
Internet is a vast space of opportunities. Time of the Web is not linear. There are people ahead of time, people behind, and some are on-time. What seems old and tired for one million of potential clients may seem new and exciting for another million.
It's the packaging, stupid!
You see, there was matchmaking software and classified ads software back in late 90s. Then, online dating term gained traction and suddenly dating software become a new thing. Hint: it was not any different from matchmaking/ads scripts that preceded it.
Now social apps are in fashion, but they typically need a supporting site anyway. So, mobile dating software is the new darling term. Providers followed by coupling their CMSs with mobile apps, generally iOS and Android, or by offering mobile-friendly web templates.
And a webmaster, likewise, should just look into presenting their site in a form that sounds chic and trendy. Say, Artificial Intelligence Hookups Service or Instant Coupling App and you'd be on the way to become the next Markus Frind.
Mmmmm... millions, millions.... allright, where are we... Ah, yes, there's definitely still opportunity, money to make and ideas to explore in the world of "virtual dating".
Your own dating site or a dating site that looks like yours.
There are two ways your can go about starting your own dating business. Well... more than two, but we will only talk about these two for now: independent site with your own database or network-partner site with shared database. There are pros and cons of either approach. Mainly, it's about your exit strategy. If you want to build a large database and sell your business - go for independent. If you want a smoother ride and stable ongoing revenue - partner.
This article will focus on independent, open-source dating scripts. I'll talk about partnership options in one of the future posts. Bare in mind that there are ways to combine own site with a network-partnership option, but that's a tricky business... perhaps a theme for a separate discussion, too.
Think! And do it before you choose the software.
Whatever platform you end up using, you would need a catchy domain name and a basic concept outline. I have to repeat this again - you need to have the project concept before you even start looking at online demos, feature lists and sample sites!
Also, stick to it!
Follow this advice and you're already ahead of 99% of dating-website startups. A little cunning act that all those demos and lists do to people - they reshape ideas. We look at them and think "oh, that's nice, I should have that on my site". Inevitably, you end up with a cookie-cutter installation filled with fancy modules that nobody cares about.
You've got to persist in your determination of launching something unique. Something special and meaningful. Something that's focused on one or two use-cases that uphold your idea. Do not get distracted!
Look for the scripts that have fast and stable core features (profiles, user-authentication, messenger, photos) and easily customisable structure. Then think about how YOU could make them work for your idea. No matter what you ask the vendor they are going to convince you that their software is a perfect fit. Don't expect much real help either. Custom services create huge workload for developers and they always skimp on non-generic tech support. Trust me, I know.
Allright... end of preamble. Let's see what dating CMSs are still available and which ones are worth fiddling with.
These Russian guys from Yoshkar-Ola have been around for as long as I can remember. (PG stands for "Pilot Group", not "Parental Guidance"). Good example of starting small and simple and consistently fighting for success.
In 2015 they've won "Best Dating Software" nomination at iDate awards. They did well in previous years, too. It may not necessarily mean much - it's a "club-voting" competition where you can do well if you have enough iDate-friends, but hey - they did win it!
Someone from the Pilots must have decided to play a smart marketer recently, so their prices have come up to $1999 for the full package and $3200 for a package with unidentified "custom work". The old-standard $699 option now buys a limited selection of modules only.
PG offerings are, to put it politely, sophisticated. You'd spend a few days figuring out which package includes what. There is "dating network" option for connecting a shared database, there are various discounts for Marketplace plugins, separate pricing for mobile sites (or is it for apps?), developer licenses, separate site for custom services, etc, etc. It's all complicated and confusing. So, I'd suggest skipping all the mumbo-jumbo and talking to their sales rep directly. Say - "I've got this idea, and this much money. What do I buy?". I'm sure they'd explain you exactly how to part with your savings in much fewer words and shorter time-frame than their byzantine site does. Ask for discount! Russians like to bargain.
Ooh, it's a sensitive one. SkaDate is a Kyrgyz(stan-based) development group, founded by our former partner. There was a bit of bad blood between us back in the day and normally I'd just pretend they don't exist or would write something derogatory. Today, however, is a particularly lovely day and the mood is high. So, I'll just admit it - they're doing a good job. Persisting with regular version updates, adding new dating templates, optimising for mobiles, offering native apps and experimenting with different packaging and price-points.
SkaDate pricing sits at a more digestible $499 for the platform itself, but mobile apps add a hefty extra $800. Extras are clear and reasonable.
Until you start looking for their plugins store...
Turns out that SkaDate is actually a repackaged OxWall, which is presumably free. Hm... here's the picture they give:
So, you are supposedly paying for a free software with installation service and 1 month of support. It's $499, remember? Then, branding removal, templates and "setup assitance" are paid extras. Sounds like you could just download OxWall, buy a template, use hosting auto-installer, pay $99 for branding removal and save yourself about $300, no?
Again, perhaps it's best to chat with sales rep, ask for the most cost effective "package" and make an offer.
SkaDate bets a lot on their dating templates. Eye-candy marketing. Works for attracting webmasters, but doesn't make much difference for site success. End-users aren't impressed with fancy design (not after the first 4 seconds, anyway). Your success depends on engagement, which is combination of efficient IU and actual results. Design can be a distraction. So, look for minimalistic templates that are recent, well-supported and load fast. Case in point - PlentyOfFish.com site (the one that's sold for millllionzzz) looked as ugly as it possibly gets, but nobody cared. It just worked.
In general, I would expect SkaDate to perform reasonably well. Just be bold with your requirements and careful with your experimentations.
Here we go. Some guys work hard, iterate for years, endure anger of dissatisfied clients, employ real developers, feel guilty for emails backlog... real work. And then there're slap-on hacks that publish a month-worth of mediocre coding as a real product, on some oh-so-SE0-friendly domain, without any real credentials, documentation or support. Hey, so what, it's just $50!
Save yourself $50 and your precious time. Nothing to look for here. It's a Freelancer order that wasn't accepted by client and was repackaged for a quick buck grab, obviously.
The "vld" bit means Vlad. Yet another Russian guy, although the site says Canada. Well, maybe Canadian Russian :P. Besides Vlad it's hard to track anyone else doing anything on those sites. So, it may well be a one-man-show. There's no Market of extensions or active community support.
Still, the script works and has been around for years. Updates are recent. Top package is only $250. I can see how this product can be useful if you're creating a "pretend" site. For example, if you want to sell a useless domain on Flippa for a grand, you could just buy this script, install and sell the domain as a REAL DATING SITE.
For a really real thing? Hm, maybe if you're on tight budget and existing functionality is all you need, and you have some fix-it-yourself skills, and it's a dating for geeks with mid-age crisis niche, well... Vlad's your man.
It's AbleDating rebadged. In mid 2000 someone got really pissed off with AbleDating guys (also Russian, by the way) and littered entire Internet with bad "reviews". Not even reviews - just deranged shrieking wherever possible - forums, blog posts, review sites, etc. That's normal. When you build a CMS and charge money for it, you inevitably deal with an odd loser that can't get over their own mistakes. That one was persistent and tarred their reputation quite a bit. So, AbleDating changed colors and called itself a Chameleon.
And that's a good move. All those "DomethingDating" or "ThisDate" are bland and forgettable. "Chameleon" makes a nicely memorable association. And the software supports the name by pushing a lot of bright colors.
Chameleon wants you to believe that rainbow templates and 3d-chat plugin would make your site awesome, all for under $300. Look closer and you'd see that base functionality is dated and rigid. 10 year-old news.
Anyway, the guys are real (they even have a real office with real cubicles). Software works. Price is humble. You may have a lot of fun playing with it.
ProTip: Scripts like this tend to be resource hogs. Don't plan to run a large site.
**UPDATE:** [AdvanDate is under new management and back in action](http://www.andrewboon.com/advandate-is-completely-revamped-says-rick-jacobson/).
***This is it for now. If you're one of those vendors and feel like chiming in, suit yourself - comments below. And if you know of some hidden gem - let me know, I might add it to the list.***