Sex sells – now global online dating sensation targets Britain

Instant hook-up site Badoo is sweeping the nation. But Rhodri Marsden is unimpressed

Birds don't do it. Bees don't do it. Educated fleas aren't that keen, and so far the British haven't shown much interest either. But Badoo, the social network that replaces the supposed romance of online dating with instant hook-ups based on physical attraction, is now gaining some ground in the UK.

Although the service is run from London, its current membership of 113 million consists predominantly of users in Brazil, Spain, France and Italy. But word is spreading; 300,000 people join daily and, unusually for this type of venture, they bring with them a solid revenue stream. Users happily part with cash to promote themselves on the site and hopefully collect a stack of flirtatious messages; not the most virtuous business model – indeed, some deride it for pandering to our basest of instincts – but it's one that works.

Well, it works for some. I'm probably not Badoo's target market, but I felt a certain weariness as I signed up and realised that you can't even attempt to impress potential beaus with well-crafted prose; your appearance is your sole calling card. My completed profile contained a photo of my balding head, a map of where I live and two sentences about me: "Crusading, fearless urban warrior with a tendency to be wracked with self-doubt and anxiety. Enjoy going out, staying in, and using my pancreas to produce insulin." Surely one of the "541,134 people in and around Mitcham who want to meet up right now" would be interested?

The site was founded in 2006 by the enigmatic and now very rich Russian businessman, Andrey Andreev. Back then, it was just another social network; competition in the sector was intense, and the success of what Badoo's director of marketing, Lloyd Price, calls "the 800lb gorilla of Facebook" prompted Andreev to focus specifically on flirtation. Another of his online start-ups, the dating site Mamba, had demonstrated to him how willing the public are to pay for self-promotion, and the Badoo business model was born. "We're trying to replicate a nightclub experience," says Price. "You get introduced to someone, you chat, you might flirt, and yes, some people end up going home together."

As a site, it's refreshingly transparent about the mechanics of attraction, but after a few hours I'd dropped so far down the search results that no one would be able to find me, let alone fancy me. I could have spent £7.49 on 500 Badoo credits, 100 of which would have propelled me up the listings, instead I bought the smartphone app which granted me one week of "superpowers". These don't extend to making nice girls like you, but they do allow you to find out whether they've bothered to read your messages. They didn't.

The killer feature driving Badoo's success, however, is location. "Badoo isn't based on interests," says Price. "Dating sites have those 19-page profiles where you tell everyone that you're vegetarian or like watching Mad Men, but Badoo's just about asking who's around – who is physically within a 1km or 5km radius. In Britain we're suspicious of the idea of strangers wanting to meet us, but the site isn't about casual sex. It's a meeting network."

While it isn't as overtly sexual as the infamous phone app for gay men, Grindr – which can identify smartphone-wielding gay men nearby – Price's claim is a little disingenuous. Badoo is clearly geared towards sex; the default profile strapline on its iPhone app doesn't read "wants to meet..." but rather "wants to talk about sex with..."

Roya Dabir-Alai, founder of dating website, Sitting in a Tree, notes a trend. "There's a similar site called Flirtomatic," she says. "They're both engineered to make you think in a temporary way, to make you wonder who might have joined the site in the past hour. The old-fashioned granny in me thinks it's horrendous – but maybe I'm just out of touch."

Just as I was giving up my phone buzzed. "Hello," the message read. "How are you doing my dear?" I ignored the syntax and looked at the profile; a suspiciously beautiful twenty-something Irish girl. "I have never lied," it continued, "and I am not going to do so in the future." Uh-huh. "What is your name," she typed, showing a degree of persistence – and stupidity, as my name was next to the chat window. "Steve," I replied, mysteriously. "Nice to meet you," she continued. "I am living in West Africa, Ghana." At which point alarm bells started sounding loudly, and I logged out.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: 3D CAD Designer - Exhibition Stands

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Rapid growth has seen a number ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor