E-DATING: Shopping Online for Romance
E-DATING: Shopping Online for Romance

Ryfie Amkraut conducted this study while a student in Prof. Halal's Emerging Technologies course because she was struck by the flurry of online dating services. It will intrigue you.
For years, the challenge of dating has confounded people from every walk of life. Countless books, magazines, and authorities have offered advice on how to find your soul mate. With the wide acceptance of the Internet, dating has reached a new level – “e-dating.”

The history of e-dating follows a straight path. It began when chat rooms emerged on the Internet and often led to intimate relationships.

When first intro-duced, many publications warned of the safety hazards associated with meeting someone online. There was no way to tell if the person you were talking to on the other side of the computer was telling the truth about who he/she really was. But people were so interested in this new type of socialization that e-dating prospered despite fears.

The second step began as news-papers put their “Personals” sections online. Instead of writing a letter to their local newspaper to post a personal ad, people logged onto the Internet and posted their ad online.

Finally, online dating provided a way to search personal profiles and connect with those you liked.

Profiles included photos, a detailed list of personal attributes, and short essays written by the individual. Members of the site could view all profiles freely, but had

to pay a small fee to contact another individual via email or exchange contact information.

There are many benefits of meeting someone online. The process makes a first date less scary because people feel they have already come to know the other individual over email. Further, e-dating serves to introduce people who might otherwise never meet. Today there are thousands of e-dating service sites across the world, appealing to a variety of cultures, races, and lifestyles. Some examples include:

* Aussie Internet Dating Network (Australia) * Matchmaker.com * African American Dating Internet Personal Ads * The Dating Game Online * AIM Match Maker * Date-O-Matic * Computer Dating Agency * PeterLine (Russian) * Jdate (Jewish) * STDFriends.com * Blackplanet.com * Singaporedatingclub * D8meonline (United Kingdom) * FindSomeoneSpecial.com

Many dating experts recommend use of the Internet. According to Eve Hogan, author of the book Virtual Foreplay: Making Your Online Relation-ship a Real-Life Success: “One of the benefits of online dating is that it helps us to recognize that we have a lot of options. We can choose to be passive and wait for people to contact us. Or we can choose to be assertive and send and inquiry to a person that intrigues us. We can choose to delete a message or respond.”

While most of us picture e-dating users to be younger people, Hogan notes the high usage of Internet dating by older people. Another author, David L. Jones, outlines thirteen steps to e-dating in his book The Art of Internet Dating: The Definitive Practical Guide. His main points focus on how people should present themselves online. He touches on the importance of posting a good picture. Since a picture is one of the first things people will look for, this form of dating may be much more superficial than original methods. However, in the same sense, if people do not exchange a picture but continue to converse online, then e-dating is much less superficial than meeting someone in person.

Although the field is well-estab-lished, many social and technological issues remain unanswered. Will e-dating catch on, or is it just a fad? Will it replace meeting people in clubs and restaurants? Does it unnaturally segre-gate people by religion or race? Is that okay? Which types of people use e-dating? Is it fair to judge people based on looks? What about the fear that it is more dangerous then meeting people face-to-face? Is e-dating a last resort, incurring a social stigma of some type?

Research Methodology

To research these issues, I studied sites online and did an extensive case study on one particular Internet dating service, Jdate.com, which has a total of 331,600 members worldwide. Two smaller case studies were conducted on Match.com and BlackPlanet.com. The case studies involved three single females between the ages of 23 and 27, who signed onto these three sites. They monitored the sites for successful versus unsuccessful dates, price of membership, quality of people online, etc. I also surveyed 52 people between the ages of 22 and 48 to gauge their thoughts on e-dating and to help forecast a year when it will gain mainstream acceptance.

Interview Results

Internet dating companies are undoubtedly making money, but people are finding ways around paying for the services. For example, on the Jdate site, people must fill out short essays about their preferences. In the essays, members will often write their full email addresses so that other people will be able to contact them without having to pay the monthly subscription fee.

To test this shortcoming, the Jdate case study participant put her email address inside the text that appeared to all people accessing the site. We watched to see how long it would take Jdate’s management to realize that her email was inside her profile (thus allowing men to contact her without paying for the service). Her email address was removed after a month and a half. In this time, she received seven emails from men who had seen her email address on Jdate and who had not paid to contact her through the system but just emailed her through the posted address. Upon seeing that her email address was written within her profile text, Jdate’s management did not bar her from their site. They merely deleted the email address.

Many matches work out well. I interviewed a woman in her fifties who was divorced and then married a man she met online. “After we exchanged pictures we met up, and got married a few months ago.” She said she had a much easier time meeting this way than in a bar or club setting. Being older and recently divorced, she turned to a religious website to find a match. Another person said, “My friend got married after using Match.com. We never could have found a better person for her.” Barbara Walters asked her to appear on “The View” to tell her story.”

Survey Results

Of the 52 people surveyed, 12% said that e-dating was already mainstream, 31% said it would never happen, and 57% said it would be mainstream about 2008, on average. Other vital statistics derived include:

* 17% tried e-dating in the past * Most users were in big cities (e.g. New Delhi, India; Washington, D.C., New York City) * Users ranked their e-dating experience as a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, five being the best. * 58% think that e-dating encourages segregation, but 96% said that this was acceptable. * 65% think there is a social stigma attached to e-dating * 40% think that e-dating is dangerous

Discussion

The results of my research bode well for e-dating in general. All knew about e-dating, and on average each person surveyed knew three people who had tried it. This emerging technology may not yet be mainstream, but it is well on its way to gaining acceptance. The only factors that could hold it back are social stigmas, risk of danger, and the desire to meet people in person.

The Internet has made profound changes in research, commerce, and communication. One of the biggest innovations it could bring is in the field of love and dating.

References

Hogan, Eve. “Life Lessons Learned on the Internet”, Virtual Foreplay, Website: Jdate.com, October 2002.

Internet Dating Service, Website: Blackplanet.com, December 2002.

Internet Dating Service, Website: Hotornot.com, November 2002.

Internet Dating Service, Website: Match.com, December 2002.

Jewish Internet Dating Service, Website: Jdate.com, December 2002.

Jones, David L. The Art of Internet Dating, Website: Jdate.com, October 2002.

Washington Post Classifieds Online, Website: washingtonpost.com.

Original research, Surveys taken on 52 people between the ages of 22 and 48, October-November 2002.
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