Late one night in 2002, Sam Yagan got a call from a former Harvard buddy with an idea for their next big company. What if they made a website with a button you could press to set up a blind date?
Yagan told him to call back when he was sober, but continued to think about it. To set up people on random dates successfully, you would need an enormous database of users and their preferences. You also would need a system that could pick a place to meet that was close to both people.
Yagan and that friend, Chris Coyne, didn't develop the idea. Later that year, they joined with others to create OKCupid, a free dating site that matches users through mathematical algorithms based on answers to questions about their tastes. As OKCupid expanded its active user base to 3.8 million, becoming one of the most popular dating sites for young singles, Coyne's original idea continued to percolate.
On Tuesday he's finally getting his wish, with the debut of OKCupid's Crazy Blind Date application. The free app for iPhones and Android phones is intended to eliminate the effort it takes to set up a date. If you're free for an hour at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday, you can fill the slot with a date. You select a local bar or coffee shop to meet from the app's recommendations, then choose among four people the company's algorithm has suggested who are also free at that time.
The dates are not totally blind — you can see names, ages and faces — but the photos have been scrambled. You meet, and afterward the app asks how it went. The better it was, the more you pay, from nothing up to $3.
"If it were a perfect world, I would charge by success," said Yagan, 36, who has been married for nine years. "If you could start a dating site where you just got paid for marriage or sex, that'd be pretty cool. This is the closest we can come."