I sat down with Brian Barcaro to get the back story on the new homepage CatholicMatch unveiled early May.
What inspired the new homepage?
We wanted to make CatholicMatch more social. There's a tremendous amount of activity - both directly and indirectly related to dating - that many members aren't aware of. Lively forum discussions, interesting polls, great blog posts, new photos being uploaded, personal interviews, weekly trivia, new members, birthday wishes, prayer requests, CM Events...
We wanted to highlight all this activity for two reasons.
One, it increases your chances of passively finding a person you become interested in. While many members find someone by being proactive - searching or reviewing their match lis - not unlike real life, the more social circles you are plugged into the more likely you are to "bump" into someone who would be a great match.
CatholicMatch is dedicated to giving single Catholics as good of an opportunity we possibly
can to find their spouse. We think the new homepage provides more opportunities than ever for that too happen.
Second, members who have not found the right match yet really hunger for community and support from fellow single Catholics, and the new homepage helps them tap into that. The community on our site is invaluable to our members and is one of the bigger things that sets us apart from other dating sites.
What kind of feedback have you received?
Of the feedback we have received, I'd say 98 percent has been very positive. The most common response was, "Wow! I didn't realize there was all this stuff on CatholicMatch!" That's great to hear because it's exactly what we were trying to accomplish: to unlock all the activity that happens on our site.
Did you receive any constructive criticism?
When we did the first beta version of the new homepage about five months ago, we received a lot of negative feedback. We focused on the constructive criticism, put away our own biases and said, "What's going on here? How can we make this better?"
At the end of the day, we're not trying to impose our will on our customers; we're trying to provide a better experience. And after reviewing the beta feedback, we realized, "Yeah, there are some issues here. Our members made some great points." So we went back to the drawing board, heeding our core goals but adjusting our approach.
When we released our second beta, the reaction was dramatically different - very muted and most of the comments were positive. At that point, we knew what our members were looking for and how to deliver it. We have our members to thank for getting us to this point. Their feedback played an important role in creating our new homepage.
Can you give me an example of a change they suggested that you implemented?
In the first beta we focused too much on an individual's activity, identifying profiles of interest and then tracking them closely. I think it was perceived in a way we didn't intend. There were some privacy concerns and questions about the relevance of the information we were showing. In theory that approach made sense, but in practice it just didn't hit the mark.
On the second go-around, we focused on activity and information rather than individuals. The activity stream is made of various content feeds. We're highlighting the many people engaged in the content and activities, not calling out individuals. It functions much betters, helping us capture the CatholicMatch community at large.
What's your response to those who say the new homepage mimics Facebook?
People are going to think any site that has a feed presentation replicates Facebook. But in reality, it's just a method of distributing content on the web. Facebook may have made it famous, but they're not really unique. Reddit, Digg, Twitter - all those sites use a "stream" or "feed" presentation. While there are certainly some similarities between our homepage's stream and others', I think ours is still pretty unique to CatholicMatch compared with how some other sites are more similar to each other.
Has there been any evidence that the new homepage has increased traffic?
We're still collecting the data. It's a little too early to tell. But there are some encouraging indications. It looks like the events pages have kicked up a little and trivia is seeing a bit of a bump most important we are seeing more profiles being viewed. We also hope our members will be encouraged to become active in the forum rooms.
So is this the culmination of the homepage project? Or is there more on the to-do list?
There's always more. We feel great about the activity stream - it's just a matter of improving it over time and inserting more content and activity into it that members will benefit from.
The great thing is we now have a very easy way to add or change things on CatholicMatch because the delivery system to our users is so much more flexible. We don't have to design placement for content or features as much and can simply insert it into the stream.
Structurally, we are where we wanted to be for quite a while. Now we can go back and look at member-to-member communication, improve our matching system - hopefully it will be launched in the fall - and search tools.
Is there anything else you want to point out to members?
For those who are still getting accustomed to the activity stream on the home page, try to view it as a daily habit, a way to quickly get caught up and plugged into the community, like scanning news headlines in the morning. Log on, scan through the stream, see if something catches your eye. Then come back tomorrow and there'll be more stuff.
Singles are busy too and although some days you might have time to spend an hour or so on CatholicMatch, many days you might have just five or 10 minutes. When you are short on time, you can now easily check out what has been happening in the CatholicMatch community; that means you're less likely to miss seeing someone who could be your match.