Dating sites may have lost the stigma they used to have, but they’re still no substitute for a chance meeting with a stranger that turns into something special. MeetCute is an interesting service that is looking to encourage serendipitous meetings between people who don’t know each other, and are likely to be attracted to one another.

Here’s how it works: after signing up, you’re asked to indicate the faces you find attractive from a list of people you’d most likely never meet as they’re far removed from your own location and social network. This isn’t used for direct matching; at this stage, you’re just teaching the MeetCute algorithm the kind of people you’re attracted to.

Then, when you fancy putting the service to the test, you send a text message to a dedicated phone number, specifying a location and time that you’d like a chance at an ‘encounter’. The service then uses this data and an algorithm to find someone nearby who is likely to be a good match, prompting them that a potential encounter is available nearby.

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The key thing is that MeetCute never tells you who the other person is – you simply turn up at the specified location at the right time and know that there’s likely to be someone else there that you’re attracted to.

Interestingly, MeetCute’s Daniel Marienthal says that around 30% of the time users end up meeting someone else entirely, someone who has never even heard of MeetCute, which he puts down to the openness and confidence the service instills in people.

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Of course, when fate’s involved, you can’t guarantee a 100% success rate. Marienthal admits that “About half the time our users don’t break the ice. Sometimes it’s because they don’t see someone they think is cute and so decide to finish their coffee and take off, and other times it’s because they were nervous and didn’t feel like they found the proper moment to say hello.” A short questionnaire is sent to users after an encounter to gauge their satisfaction and to see if they’d like another chance.

As the service uses Facebook authentication, it knows if you’re in a relationship and will block off most of the site’s features to stop it being used as a tool for dirty deeds behind your partner’s back. However, you can still use it to ‘matchmake’ for your friends. MeetCute will then factor any matches you make into its algorithm if any of those friends use the service in the future.

MeetCute counts Avid Technology founder Bill Warner amongst its investors and is free to use. The company monetizes by charging local businesses to meet at their venues. While that may seem like a risky business model, there’s no denying that there’s a certain magic to this idea that deserves support.

Marienthal says that the service is currently most popular in San Francisco, New York and Boston, and if you’re elsewhere you may find it hard to get a match at the moment, but the service is definitely an interesting take on matching people up.

➤ MeetCute

Image credit: Pond5