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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

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

Head of Ad Sales - UK Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global mul...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Vendor Services Manager (IT) - Central London

£50000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Vendor Services Manager (...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album