Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Keeping it Clean...HonestyOnline

Social networking in its earliest form (online dating) has always presented the challenge of true identity. The freedom to create any number of profiles and personas online has unfortunately, created a breeding ground for mistrust, fraud and downright dishonesty.

I had a great discussion with Ric Fleisher, Senior Vice President, Business Development of HonestyOnline. The Bethesda, MD based company offers consumers and media properties the ability to get “verification badges” for a small fee. The badge can then be dropped into any appropriate site to certify the user identity of the consumer.

Applicants provide their name, address and date-of-birth and place their order. HonestyOnline then authenticates the identity and proves that it is not a false one. The service then asks users to complete an “identity quiz” to confirm that the identity is not stolen. If users want to take it a step further, they can get “certified” with background and sex offender searches. Assuming the results are clean, users are sent an electronic credential that is viewable by others online.

The product is well positioned for online dating as lies on dating and social networking sites run rampant. Age advancement or regression has been a major problem in these environments. E-commerce sites that sell products with age restrictions can also benefit from the tool.

The “keep it clean” tool offers sites the ability to maintain trusted communities with credentialed members adding a level of comfort to the user experience.

Ric explained that the service provides a quick way to tier memberships. Members who take the time to vet themselves tend to have better online presences and experiences.

The business model is three-tiered:
  • Individuals
    • get certified directly through HonestyOnline at a cost of $5.00 (for verifications) and $10.00 for certification (crime record check)
  • Partner Sites
    • bake the verification costs into the membership fees OR
    • offer the service as a stand alone option through a revenue share model with HonestyOnline.
For partnering sites, in both cases, they benefit from promoting the use of the service. The adoption rate appears to be picking up.

The service today covers the US and while information abroad is accessible, the company is concerned with quality control and is therefore holding off on international checks for the time being. Ric mentioned that one of HonestyOnline’s differentiators is that it uses a number of sources for the verification process and is continually updating its partners to provide airtight security.

While the focus to date has been on Social Networking and Dating, Ric discussed the application in the context of recruitment. As an extension to its existing offering, HonestyOnline will soon be running educational and employment credential checks to provide job seekers with badges to place in their online job search applications. I personally took that as a hint towards the likes of LinkedIn or ZoomInfo…we’ll see.

The company recently partnered with, a Canadian based dating site with over 18 million users.

I wonder if this tool will expand to the point of decreasing the number of profiles within these sites. Adding this layer of policing will certainly keep sites clean and reduce risks to the other users in a given community but I wonder if it will cause a major dent in memberships with the disappearance of dishonest users.

For good or bad (purely from a media stand point), calling users’ bluffs like this may be the right thing to do but the resulting shake out might have a dramatic impact on these networks.


Larry Cynkin, CTO, Honesty Online said...

Sonia, thanks for the great post. You've captured our value proposition very well.

You conjecture that the success of our service might lead to a significant reduction in participation in online dating and social networking sites. My expectation would be that as the rules of the game change, most users will adapt. While some might disappear, others will be attracted by the reassurance that they are dealing with people whose personas match their real-life identity.

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