ActivityPub for Open Web Dating

How do we make on-line dating more open?

Please be aware

Women ✔️


Sexual safety ⚠️


How? on-line dating? it broken?

...can it be fixed?

What is on-line dating?

An on-line software service that is designed to help a person find other people to love, date, have sex with, or be friends with.

1. Create a profile

  • Pseudonym
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Location
  • Self-description
  • Avatar photo
  • Other photos
  • Social media links

Beautiful faces, Thomas Merton, 2011, CC By 2.0

2. Define criteria

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Location
  • Religion?
  • Smoker?
  • Pets?
  • ...

3. Search profiles


Faces, mfrissen, 2003, by-nc-nd 2.0


Nurse, Walt Stoneburner, 2009, by 2.0

Beauty lady, Alan Barrington, 2008, by-nc-nd

4. Mutual attraction

5. In-band Messaging

6a. Out-of-band ("IRL")

6b. Canceled

Monetization points

  • Create a profile
  • Search
  • Match
  • Messaging

Is it popular?

13% of American adults are registered for an on-line dating site at any given time.


For comparison: 50% of American adults are unmarried.

Does it work?

35% of American couples married since 2005 met using on-line dating systems.

Is it important?

Yes. Romance, sexuality and partnership are an essential part of the human experience.

Why is it broken?

Let's compare against the five pillars of Internet health

Digital Inclusion



  • Many sites
  • International
  • Specialized for POC
  • Specialized for LGBTQ+
  • Specialized for interest


  • Ghettoisation
  • "Wholesome" sites disallow same-sex
  • Fixed-value form fields (gender, preference)
  • Racism, ageism, looksism, transphobia...

Privacy and Security

Barely OK!


  • OK pseudonymy
  • OK messaging flow


  • Mostly for monetisation
  • Huge target for hacking (~100M users)
  • Credit-card numbers
  • Jilted daters blame the dating site
  • False sense of security




  • Hundreds of services
  • Many countries


  • One company (IAC) owns Match, Tinder, OKCupid, POF
  • All silos
  • No heterogeneous networks

Open Innovation



  • Anyone can start their own dating site


  • Monetization depends on managing flow
  • No APIs
  • No macros
  • Can't change algorithms
  • Can't change profile fields
  • Can't tinker
  • Can't improve

Web Literacy



  • Concepts like "publish" and "search"
  • Worst case examples about security and privacy
  • Can date people who are Web makers...?


  • No modifications to Web technology
  • Single authoring tool
  • No hacking

How do we fix it?

tl;dr I don't know.

Replace apps with The Web

  • Decentralization
  • Open Innovation
  • Web Literacy
  • Digital Inclusion
  • Security and Privacy...?


Soft requirements

  • Web technologies
  • "Easy" to implement
  • Security and privacy

1. Create a profile.

  • A profile = an ActivityPub account
  • Pseudonymous
  • Possibly linked to your "real" AP account


  • Protected information

  • Gradual disclosure

  • Publication ➡️ Information

2. Define criteria

  • I am looking for...
  • I am definitely not looking for...
  • I would prefer...
  • I would prefer not...

3. Search

Well, crud. This part is harder. We have well-known solutions, but they're mostly re-centralizing.


A crawler can find profiles, index them, and then let people search the available profiles for matches.


Hopefully (?) a diversity of search engines helps with decentralization. Or, p2p search. Ugh.

4. Mutual attraction

A special kind of activity?

"Like" activity?

Request to start a relationship?

Just a directed note to someone's inbox?

5. In-band messaging

One-on-one private messaging!


Can work easily with directed notes in AP


  • Pseudonymous
  • Revocable (so we can cancel)
  • Disposable
  • Difficulty ➡️ Re-centralization

6a. Out-of-band

By definition, this is not our problem.


Get outta here, you crazy kids! Have a great time.


  • ...but?
  • relationship management
  • learning
  • statistics
  • feedback and ratings

6b. Cancelation

If we do step 5 correctly, this should Just Work.


Unless it doesn't.

Other applications

  • Friendship
  • Job search

What next?
Let's try it.
Let's see.

ActivityPub for Open Web Dating

By Evan Prodromou

ActivityPub for Open Web Dating

How do we make on-line dating more open?

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