Not meeting 'marriage material'? There's an app for that.
There have been plenty of solutions suggested for Egypt’s soaring divorce rates, but none quite as creative as Okhtub; a mobile phone app that has been conceived and developed on the idea that Egyptian youth crave serious relationships. With Tinder offering the pursuit of casual encounters and Islamic dating forums taking care of those who want to find someone to spend their lives with, this app tries to strike a balance.
In speaking to creator and founder, Mahmoud Khalaf, we put ourselves in the shoes of Okhtub’s target users. How can a dating app guarantee us finding suitable partners? Are these virtual relationships sustainable? Are these ‘partners’ here to stay, or are they just out here to meet new people and move on? What ensures our safety on these platforms? So far, no app has guaranteed any of these things. The brains behind Okhtub, however, have taken the most extreme and precise of measures to go some way in answering these questions.
I read that there is a divorce every 4 minutes, and I felt like I had to do something using science and technology to help us.
“I see plenty of young people around me looking for serious relationships rather than empty social trotting," Khalaf told us. "They take so long to find themselves, suitable partners. Of course, they meet many people in their lives, be it at work or between classes, but the fact remains that these aren’t usually their best suitors. There are many common reasons for that which we found among our users. For example, a lot of them are hindered by their jobs. They don’t easily find themselves in many social situations and make most of their connections through social media. No one constantly meets new people, and this can be very depressing, especially as many of them lead very routine lives. This was our main motivation to start.”
This wasn’t the only reason for Khalaf launching the app. He had another motive that's no less important; the exponentially skyrocketing divorce rates in Egypt. “I read that there is a divorce every 4 minutes, so I felt like I had to do something using science and technology to help us. And, as casual dating is not exactly common or widely accepted or taken seriously here, we decided to try and provide the best environment to formally connect people and ensure their safeness through background checks.”
Okhtub started as an experiment a year ago with a small number of users. As things developed, it passed 30K users and in nine months, had completed 100 engagements without any break-ups. During the following six months, five marriages had already happened, two of which Khalaf was personally invited to. “We check on the couples that met through the app at regular intervals, because it’s very important for us to monitor the success rate of the app,” he adds.
'Seriousness and Safety' is the MO with which Okhtub runs. That’s why, as you sign up to the app, you deal with social workers and psychologists delegated to conduct the matchmaking, the process of which starts with a series of tests. "Compatibility is really important and making informed and convinced choices ensures that our users are all comfortable," Khalaf explains. "The tests are similar to horoscope quizzes, but the difference is that they're based on scientific analysis of the user’s character and habits, and tells them what kind of character would be their best fit. The test is consistent with everyone, but there are various questions that change according to the type of user.”
The Okhtub team has also been meticulous in distancing it from the kind of stigmas and negativity surrounding other dating apps and sites. They present two unique selling points; one, proving the commitment of their users by not allowing them to connect with other people once they’re matched with one, because commitment, to them, is based in monogamy and undivided attention. Two, the app is free, whether for signing up, browsing other profiles, or sending connection requests; but there are other situations where it's not free.
“If a user likes another user through the app and wants to connect with them directly, there are two ways: they either watch ads on the app to collect credit points, a 100 of which is required to start a conversation with the other user, or to pay for a premium account for EGP 85. A user can also buy a monthly package for EGP 200, which allows them to connect with any number of users as long as no two coincide.” Khalaf clarified that they were trying to strike a balance between making accessible enough for users looking for serious relationship and enforcing certain procedures and rules to make it difficult for those that aren't.
The blocking option on any dating app, or even any social media platform like Facebook, bans the blocked person from connecting with those who blocked them, but it still allows them to have their account. One of the benefits of Okhtub is that if someone’s reported by several users, their account is permanently banned from. “If more than one person reports a specific user for bad behavior or not using the app seriously, we lock their account permanently and notify them. But the process must be fair. They can’t just be reported by one person and be banned for it. Those who report must must offer valid reasons and lock the account, even if it is paid.”
Among the specifics that make Okhtub unique is the level of profile customisation; for example, a user can specify the length of the engagement period they want on their personal profile and the other users can see if this works with what they want.
In terms of privacy, women are allowed to have their pictures blurred; other users can request seeing it, which is at the discretion of the woman. A user’s family name can be hidden from others, too, because that makes it easier for people to look each other up on social media. The same goes for telephone numbers. The information always on display is the user’s current job, location, age, weight and height. As for men, they can specify if their home is rented or owned. They can specify their marital status, if they have kids, and what they think of smoking.
“As you go through the feed, if you find someone suitable for someone you know that isn’t necessarily a good fit for you, you’re allowed to pass them on to others,” Khalaf says of the app's aim to connect as many people as possible in a formal and comfortable setting.
The short term goal is for us to contribute to increasing marriage rates in Egypt, and for next year to achieve 10,000 engagements, of which 1,000 end in successful marriages.
On the app, you can find a section containing topics around the issue of relationships, and these topics vary from advice, to instructions from specialised doctors, psychologists and social workers on the app. The section is full of articles and public discussions and all users are allowed to express their opinions, points of view and interact with each other. There's also content that is sent to specific users aimed at educating them on how to deal with others in a relationship. Khalaf emphasises that this is important to achieving compatibility and emotional support.
Khalaf told us that, among the things we would not find on other apps is that whenever an engagement takes place between two users, and they change their marital status on the app, their profiles are instantly deactivated.
“We provide something different, that emphasises safety and compatibility, and we went to great lengths to ensure privacy and authenticity. It is also tailored for our society, which encourages many people who wouldn’t use a dating app to use Okhtub,” Khalaf proclaimed. He also told us that they have running customer service through the app, WhatsApp, and a hotline, and complaints are recorded on the app to ensure them being resolved.
Because breakups aren’t easy, yet still solvable, Okhtub allows coupled users the chance to access a relationship counsellor for consultation whenever they go through an argument. The counsellor will often advise them against breaking up. These counsellors can also be chosen by gender, according to what’s most comfortable for the user.
The app is currently available in four Arab countries, the first of which was Egypt, then Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. And in order to achieve this large number of usership, there had to be a passionate and ambitious team behind the scenes. The Center for Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Cairo’s Smart Village was the first to incubate Okhtub, and it provided them with an office space and gave them financial support, as well as financial and marketing consultation until they registered the company.
The team behind Okhtub still have several goals ahead of them. “The short term goal is for us to contribute in increasing the marriage rate in Egypt, and for next year to achieve 10,000 engagements, of which 1,000 end in successful marriages through the app. The long term goal is to be the main reason divorce rates are regulated, and to raise awareness beyond our users. In three years, we want to have Okhtub in every other Arab country and see much more impactful results than we do now.”
The app is currently available on Android only, and you can get it here, and visit their Facebook page from here. Soon, the app will be developed for iOS, and in three months, they’ll launch their official Website.
This article was originally published on our sister site ElFasla.com.)