Online dating service
Online dating or Internet dating is a personal introductory system where individuals can find and contact each other over the Internet to arrange a date, usually with the objective of developing a personal, romantic, or sexual relationship. Online dating services usually provide unmoderated matchmaking over the Internet, through the use of personal computers or cell phones. Users of an online dating service would usually provide personal information, to enable them to search the service provider's database for other individuals. Members use criteria other members set, such as age range, gender and location.
Online dating sites use market metaphors to match people. Match metaphors are conceptual frameworks that allow individuals to make sense of new concepts by drawing upon familiar experiences and frame-works. This metaphor of the marketplace – a place where people go to "shop" for potential romantic partners and to "sell" themselves in hopes of creating a successful romantic relationship – is highlighted by the layout and functionality of online dating websites. The marketplace metaphor may also resonate with participants' conceptual orientation towards the process of ﬁnding a romantic partner. Most sites allow members to upload photos or videos of themselves and browse the photos and videos of others. Sites may offer additional services, such as webcasts, online chat, telephone chat (VOIP), and message boards. Some sites provide free registration, but may offer services which require a monthly fee. Other sites depend on advertising for their revenue. Some sites such as OkCupid.com, POF.com and Badoo.com are free and offer additional paid services in a freemium revenue model.
Some sites are broad-based, with members coming from a variety of backgrounds looking for different types of relationships. Other sites are more specific, based on the type of members, interests, location, or relationship desired. A 2005 study of data collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that individuals are more likely to use an online dating service if they use the internet for a greater amount of tasks and less likely to use such a service if they are trusting of others.
At the end of November 2004, there were 844 lifestyle and dating sites, a 38% increase since the start of the year, according to Hitwise Inc. However, market share was increasingly growing by several large commercial services, including Personals.AOL.com, Personals.Yahoo.com, Match.com, and eHarmony.com. By 2007, many prominent studies show that Baby Boomer interest in online dating have soared. In 2005–2012, 34.95% of Americans had met their spouses online.
Some online dating websites provide webcam chats between members. As online dating's population becomes larger, sites with specific demographics are becoming more popular as a way to narrow the pool of potential matches.
Successful niche sites pair people by race, sexual orientation or religion. The 20 most popular dating sites in 2006 as ranked by Hitwise include jDate.com (for Jewish singles), ChristianMingle.com, ChristianCafe.com, ManHunt.net (same sex introductions), LoveFromIndia.ini, BlackChristianPeopleMeet.com, Amigos.com (for Latino singles), AsianPeopleMeet.com, and Shaadi.com (for Indian singles). In March 2008, the top 5 overall sites held 7% less market share than they did one year ago while the top sites from the top five major niche dating categories made considerable gains.
Since 2003, several free dating sites, operating on ad based-revenue rather than monthly subscriptions, have appeared and become increasingly popular. Several newer sites such as OkCupid.com are beginning to offer more full featured dating services for free, and are starting to compete with staples in the free dating site world such as POF.com. Due to the level of competition between free dating sites, as well as the overall drop in traffic to and revenue for dating sites generally, some sites are branching out into self-service advertising. This represents a break from traditional externally sourced ads and is just one of the ways that the revenue models of free dating sites are evolving.
Especially popular in Eastern Europe, some sites offer full access to messaging and profiles, but provide additional services for pay, such as bumping profiles up to the top of the list, removing advertisements, making paying users' profiles appear several times in different places in the search results, and giving paying users a more advanced search engine to work with (in one example, free users may only search for persons of specified age, gender, orientation, and city, while subscribers may search for any and all parameters listed in profiles, such as height, weight, interests, etc.). Also, this model generally allows users to switch between free and paying status at will and without having to do anything, simply providing advanced features for a set period of time whenever the according payment is received. Ease of payment is also generally higher, with such sites accepting a variety of online currencies, letting users charge the payment to their cellular phones, etc. Such sites earn revenue from a mix of advertising and sale of additional options.
Research about social networking reveals that the online dating services driven by subscriptions offer the least amount of social networking opportunities. The dating services modeled on the free-at-the-point-of-use model scored much higher as many of them utilized the Circle of Friends social networking method and a wider number of online community genres. The highest scoring dating service was Facebook, which uses the personal homepage genre, the message board genre, the weblog and directory genre, as well as utilizing the Circle of Friends. The second highest scoring, Second Life utilizes virtual worlds, message boards, chat groups and profile pages to allow people to contact in a three-dimensional environment. More recently, the impact of social networking on online dating has been featured on the Questia online research website peer reviewed article ""I Luv U : )!": A Descriptive Study of the Media Use of Individuals in Romantic Relationships" In comparison to Facebook and Second Life, there are other popular platforms that rank in the top 15 social networks. The most popular platforms are Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Instagram. Apart from the popular social networks, there are social websites meant just for meeting and talking to someone new. 3 popular and effective websites are: Plenty of Fish, OkCupid, and Tastebuds.fm (where you can meet someone that has a similar taste in music as you).
A German documentary analyzed the market and uncovered multiple problems of online dating sites. Amongst them are "romance-scamming" (persons registering on the sites to get money from people falling in virtual love with them), using controllers or animators registered with multiple fake accounts, using unexpected and sometimes unlawful conditions in the terms and conditions leading to longer contracts a client intended to sign. In Germany government financed NGOs like "Verbraucherschutzzentrale" sometimes help to sue online dating sites. This problem is referred to as "catfishing" in pop-culture and has been made famous by a popular MTV program called "Catfish the TV show". Hosts Nev Schulam and Max Joseph Search out potential couples who have only had online correspondence but have never met in person. The show is based on finding these "catfish" and exposing them for fakes or finding out that the mystery person is actually real. This is a relevant issue because as much as 54% of people have lied and/or used fake pictures in their online dating profiles. The web has had a reputation as a place where anonymity is permitted. However, social networking sites tend to encourage greater degrees of transparency. Users are required to create a profile, which helps to establish an online identity. Over time a user's sum total of online activities paint a picture of who that user may be but we don't always question this information. We tend to forget that we see what others want us to see when it comes to crafting an identity.
Self-branding and its effects
Following the introduction of online dating sites such as OkCupid.com and eHarmony.com, a growing trend of self-branding has sparked to compensate for the rise in digital connectivity. This developed from the new networked age of dominant technological behaviors as defined by Yochai Benkler's theory on the networked information economy. Based on Benkler's theory, the new networked information economy "has created new opportunities for how we make and exchange information, knowledge and culture" (Benkler 2). It is from this new ability to be internationally connected by new forms of communication technology that this specific niche of the online dating service community came about and flourished. OkCupid.com is an example of the effect of this international hyper-connectivity in which users all must brand themselves in a specific way to get whatever they are looking for; in this case, a relationship. It requires users to brand themselves as products that other users would potentially want to buy or more accurately get to know better based on how they market themselves differently than every other individual looking for companionship on the site. Adam Arvidsson outlines the methodology in which people must all separate themselves from one another but still be undeniably homogenized in behavior: "You need to stand out and be different while remaining compatible with everybody else"). Marwick argues about the effects of self-branding on the individual to cope with this need to market ourselves: "Self- branding, the strategic creation of an identity to be promoted and sold to others" (Marwick 166). Branding is typically thought of as referring to the selling of a product, when in this case of online dating it refers to the commoditization of an individual for gaining the attention of another for a possible new relationship. This poses ethical questions of how one can accurately portray one's entire personality and life experience into a set word limit. The Huffington Post suggests the importance of self-branding in the modern day "Everyone, whether you recognize it or not, already has a 'personal brand.' Remember, if you don't brand yourself, others will do it for you." Self-branding defines who we are and who we want others to think we are. Linkedin recognizes the social rules of self-branding and its importance on online dating in which one must appear professional yet fun. This has also led to ancillary services like online profile writing and dating advice by a host of providers.
Pay dating business model
Online dating sites illustrate how the modern world centers around a money economy, as individuals are in essence able to buy love. Although some sites offer free trials and/or profiles, most memberships can cost upwards of $60 per month, and many individuals buy into the promise that these websites advertise: that they will find a user love that cannot be attained out in the real world. Thus, the main premise of online dating sites is to find one's "perfect match"—the person whom one will inevitably fall in love with and thus, spend the rest of your life with. In order to find this person, they use various questions, scales and polls to find someone who they deem to be compatible with you. For many individuals, this precise calculation of determining suitable matches offers an implied higher degree of success and eliminates the need to look for new relationships outside the home, consequently saving time and energy. Online dating sites have taken advantage of the modern individual's desire to save time in their hectic life in order to successfully commercialize their product in our capital-based society.
In an editorial post titled "Why you should never pay for online dating", a founder of free dating site OkCupid.com criticized pay-dating as exploiting users and as "fundamentally broken", and noting that "pay sites have a unique [financial] incentive to profit from their customers' disappointment". The post analyzed the business model used for pay dating and noted that it gave rise to "strange incentives [because] the only way they don't make money is to show subscribers to other subscribers." (emphasis in original)
Abundance of information
Through the abundance of information on online dating profiles, as well as elsewhere on the Internet, people may already possess much superficial information about their potential partner's interests before talking to them, which may lead to a false sense of security when meeting up with a new person. However, it has also been found that online dating has advantages over conventional offline dating in that it offers unprecedented access to potential partners for singles who otherwise would not have such access.
Impression management is a large component of online dating profiles. In a 2008 study, many participants stated that they often found themselves scrutinizing over what to write in their description and private messages, often first composing the piece on a word processing document to ensure proper spelling. Participants reported explicitly considering how they would be perceived by others, deeply analyzing themselves in order to appeal to others. This type of careful manipulation and scrutiny is made possible through modern technology—it is much easier to carefully plan out what you type rather than what you say.
A problematic component of online dating is the ease of lying it allows for, due to the anonymity of the Internet. Many stories have involved someone meeting up with a new online partner, only to find they look nothing like their profile photo. Often, online daters find it difficult to balance "accuracy and desirability in self-presentation". One of the main processes behind social interactions include the packaging and portrayal of one's self to make favourable impressions upon others; online dating is no exception to this impression management. Individuals are concerned about how to present their own identity to attract partners, since they know their profile will be deeply scrutinized by others; thus, they often try to display the best photos of themselves and describe themselves in favourable ways to portray themselves in the best possible light to attract the most number of people. In one study, it was found that nine out of ten participants had lied on at least one attribute; weight was the most lied about attribute, and age was the least lied about. Often the lies are slight, but these still illustrate the difference that new media has created in relationships.
Recently, new online dating services have been created specifically for those living with HIV and other STI in an effort to eliminate the need to lie about one's health in order to find a partner. These website help to protect both parties involved in online dating.
Effects on dating
The increased use of online dating websites and services, thanks to a greater sense of acceptance by the mainstream, reinforces the "hyper-casual approach" to dating through the large number of potential dates that arise, which can cause people to have a sense of "FOMO" (fear of missing out), thus choosing to enlist a speed-dating approach in order to cycle through potential mates quickly. Often, this leads to much more casual dates than would have occurred previously, mirroring "online job applications [allowing] you [to] target many people simultaneously—it's like darts on a dart board, eventually one will stick".
There can be a variety of problems when using online dating sites.
- Some sites offer members to subscribe "blind", meaning that users have little or no ability to search or preview the available profiles before they pay the subscription fee.
- Many sites make confusing or willfully misleading claims to provide "free" advertisements. It might be "free to place an ad" (in which the users contact info is censored) but it's often not free to read and reply to the ad, or it's not free to retrieve those replies. The end result is a collection of abandoned profiles created by users who created the "free" ad before realizing they could do nothing else for free; the user leaves, the ad remains.
- For paying members, it is often unclear whether a potential contact has a full subscription and whether he or she will be able to reply. Some sites prevent a potential contact from even reading a paying member's messages unless the contact has also paid to subscribe. There are, however, a few established dating sites that allow non-paid-up users to reply to messages, especially internally focused sites where there is an expected disparity of income.
- Some sites require that both the sender and recipient of messages be subscribers before any off-site communication or contact can be arranged, and will filter messages to remove email addresses, telephone numbers, web addresses and surnames. Subscribers who attempt to circumvent this restriction may lose their membership and be removed from the site.
- Some profiles may not represent actual daters, but are "bait profiles" that have been placed there by the site owners to attract new paying members. Both Personals.Yahoo.com and Match.com have received several complaints about this tactic. Some users spam sites with "fake" profiles that are in reality advertisements to other services, such as prostitution, multi-level marketing, or other personals websites. BBC and Kiev Post have investigated Cupid PLC for this issue.
- Even when members' profiles are "real", there is still an inherent lack of trust with other members. Married people seeking affairs will often pose as singles. In addition, many members misrepresent themselves by telling flattering 'white lies' about their height, weight and age, or by using old and misleading photos. Members can ask for an up-to-date photograph before arranging a meeting, but disappointments are common. Matrimonials Sites are a variant of online dating sites, and these are geared towards meeting people for the purpose of getting married. Gross misrepresentation is less likely on these sites than on casual dating sites. Casual dating sites are often geared more towards short term (potentially sexual) relationships.
- Online predators find online dating sites especially attractive, because such sites give them an unending supply of new targets of opportunity for Internet fraud. A 2007 study, led by Dr. Paige Padgett from the University of Texas Health Science Center, found that there was a false degree of safety assumed by women looking for love on the Internet, exposing them to stalking, fraud, and sexual violence . Some online dating sites conduct background checks on their members in an attempt to avoid problems of this nature but some don't. For those who had actually used online dating, 43 percent thought that online dating involved risk, although just over 50 percent did not see it as a dangerous activity. Media coverage of crimes related to online dating may also contribute to people's perceptions of the risks of online dating.
- Most members are enticed to join dating websites with free or low-priced "trial" memberships advertised on many other websites. On sites which require credit card information to join at all, these trial memberships may automatically become full memberships at the end of the trial period and charge the full monthly fee, without any additional action from the member, regardless of whether the member has actually used the services or not.
- Some members have expressed complaints about the billing practices of certain dating sites. In some cases, trial memberships that were canceled within the trial period were automatically re-billed even after canceling. To avoid these potential problems, some users have advised using a virtual credit card number which is offered by several credit card companies.
- On any given dating site, the sex ratio is commonly unbalanced. A website may have two women for every man, but they may be in the 35+ range, while the men are generally under 35. Little is known about the sex ratio controlled for age. eHarmony.coms membership is about 57% female and 43% male, whereas the ratio at Match.com is about the reverse of that. When one gets into the specialty niche websites where the primary demographic is male, one typically gets a very unbalanced ratio of male to female or female to male. Niche sites cater to people with special interests, such as sports fans, racing and automotive fans, medical or other professionals, people with political or religious preferences (e.g., Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.), people with medical conditions (e.g., HIV+, obese), or those living in rural farm communities.
- Studies have suggested that men are far more likely to send messages on dating sites than are women. In addition, that men tend to message the most attractive women regardless of their own attractiveness. This leads to the most attractive women on these sites receiving an overwhelming number of messages, which can result in them leaving the site.
- There is some evidence that there may be a difference on how women online rate male attractiveness as opposed to how men rate female attractiveness. The distribution of ratings given by men of female attractiveness appears to look like a standard bell curve (normal distribution), while ratings of men given by women is highly skewed with 80% of the men rated as below average. This shows women are genuinely more picky than men when it comes to online dating. It could also potentially arise from women assessing other profile characteristics besides appearance, like their occupation.
- Online dating makes the assumption that the users know what they're looking for in a potential partner. However, research has suggested that this may not be entirely accurate. As one of the co-founders of OKcupid, Christian Rudder, stated, "People appear to be heavily preselecting online for something that, once they sit down in person, doesn't seem important to them".
- Consolidation within the online dating industry has led to different newspapers and magazines now advertising the same website data base under different names. In the UK, for example, Time Out ("London Dating"), The Times ("Encounters"), and The Daily Telegraph ("Kindred Spirits"), all offer differently named portals to the same service—meaning that a person who subscribes through more than one publication has unwittingly paid more than once for access to just one site.
- In December 2010, a New York State Law called the "Internet Dating Safety Act" (S5180-A) went into effect that requires online dating sites with customers in New York State to warn users not to disclose personal information to people they do not know.
Gay rights groups have complained that certain websites that restrict their dating services to heterosexual couples are discriminating against homosexuals. Homosexual customers of the popular eHarmony.com dating website have made many attempts to litigate discriminatory practices.eHarmony.com was sued in 2007 by a lesbian claiming that, "Such outright discrimination is hurtful and disappointing for a business open to the public in this day and age". In light of discrimination by sexual orientation by dating websites, some services such as GayDar.net and Chemistry.com cater more to homosexual dating.
In addition, many sites require members to specify what sex they are looking for without having the option "both", which complicates things for bisexuals. Many sites also require members to specify themselves as "male" or "female", complicating matters for transgender people as well as some persons with intersex conditions.
Less than half of Internet daters are open to dating people of all races. Consistent with social exchange and group position theories, Asians, Latinos and blacks are more open to dating whites than whites are to dating them. Of those who state a racial preference, 97% of white men exclude black women, 48% exclude Latinas, and 53% exclude Asian women. In contrast, white men are excluded by 76% of black women, 33% Latinas, and only 11% Asian women. Similarly, 92% of white women exclude black men, 77% exclude Latinos, and 93% exclude Asian men. 71% of black men, 31% of Latinos, and 36% of Asian men excluded white women.
A 2011 class action lawsuit alleged Match.com failed to remove inactive profiles, did not accurately disclose the number of active members, and does not police its site for fake profiles; the inclusion of expired and spam profiles as valid served to both artificially inflate the total number of profiles and camouflage a skewed gender ratio in which active users were disproportionately single males. The suit claimed up to 60 percent were inactive profiles, fake or fraudulent users. Some of the spam profiles were alleged to be using images of porn actresses, models, or people from other dating sites. Former employees alleged Match routinely and intentionally over-represented the number of active members on the website and a huge percentage were not real members but 'filler profiles'.
A 2012 class action against SuccessfulMatch.com ended with a November 2014 California jury award of $1.4 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages.SuccessfulMatch.com operated a dating site for people with STDs, PositiveSingles.com, which it advertised as offering a "fully anonymous profile" which is "100% confidential". The company failed to disclose that it was placing those same profiles on a long list of affiliate site domains such as GayPozDating.com, AIDSDate.com, HerpesInMouth.com, ChristianSafeHaven.com, MeetBlackPOZ.com, HIVGayMen.com, STDHookup.com, BlackPoz.com and PositivelyKinky.com. This falsely inferred the same users as black, Christian, gay, HIV-positive or members of other groups with which the registered members did not identify. The jury found PositiveSingles.com guilty of fraud, malice, and oppression as the plaintiffs' race, sexual orientation, HIV status, and religion were misrepresented by exporting each dating profile to niche sites associated with each trait.
In 2013, a former employee sued adultery website AshleyMadison.com claiming repetitive strain injuries as creating 1000 fake profiles in one three week span "required an enormous amount of keyboarding" which caused the worker to develop severe pain in her wrists and forearms. AshleyMadison.com parent company, Avid Life Media countersued in 2014, alleging the worker kept confidential documents, including copies of her "work product and training materials." The firm claimed the fake profiles were for "quality assurance testing" to test a new Brazilian version of the site for "consistency and reliability."
In January 2014, an already-married Facebook user attempting to close a pop-up advertisement for Zoosk.com found that one click instead copied personal info from her Facebook profile to create an unwanted online profile seeking a mate, leading to a flood of unexpected responses from amorous single males.
In 2014, It's Just Lunch International was the target of a New York class action alleging unjust enrichment as IJL staff relied on a uniform, misleading script which informed prospective customers during initial interviews that IJL already had at least two matches in mind for those customers' first dates regardless of whether or not that was true.
In 2014, the US Federal Trade Commission fined UK-based JDI Dating (a group of 18 websites, including Cupidswand.com and FlirtCrowd.com) over $600000, finding that "the defendants offered a free plan that allowed users to set up a profile with personal information and photos. As soon as a new user set up a free profile, he or she began to receive messages that appeared to be from other members living nearby, expressing romantic interest or a desire to meet. However, users were unable to respond to these messages without upgrading to a paid membership. Membership plans cost from $10 to $30 per month, with subscriptions generally ranging from one to 12 months. The messages were almost always from fake, computer-generated profiles — 'Virtual Cupids' — created by the defendants, with photos and information designed to closely mimic the profiles of real people." The FTC also found that paid memberships were being renewed without client authorisation.
Comparisons in marriage health: traditional versus online first encounters
According to a study commissioned by eHarmony.com and conducted by a paid scientific adviser to the company, more than a third of marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online, and these marriages tend to be happier and longer than marriages of offline couples. The study did not determine why this was the case. The study was conducted by social neuroscientist John Cacioppo. Cacioppo examined the results of a 19,131 person survey about their marriages and satisfaction. Respondents of the survey who met online tended to be somewhat older (30-39), employed, and with a relatively higher income. The results were published in the paper "Marital Satisfaction and Breakups Differ Across Online and Offline Meeting Venues", in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The results of the study suggest that the Internet and social networks may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriage.
The emergence of dating sites who promote adultery, such as AshleyMadison.com, stirred some controversy. Marriage breakups happened in about 6% of online couples, compared to 7.6% of offline ones. Mean marital satisfaction scores were 5.64 and 5.48 for the online and offline couples, respectively.
U.S. government regulation of dating services began with the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) which took effect in March 2007 after a federal judge in Georgia upheld a challenge from the dating site European Connections. The law requires dating services meeting specific criteria—including having as their primary business to connect U.S. citizens/residents with foreign nationals—to conduct, among other procedures, sex offender checks on U.S. customers before contact details can be provided to the non-U.S. citizen.
In the People's Republic of China, transnational matchmaking is illegal. The Philippines prohibits the business of organizing or facilitating marriages between Filipinas and foreign men under the Republic Act 6955 (the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law) of June 13, 1990; this law is routinely circumvented by basing mail-order bride websites outside the country.
Singapore's government has actively acted as a matchmaker for singles for the past few decades, and thus only 4% of Singaporeans have ever used an online dating service, despite the country's high rate of internet penetration. Singapore's Social Development Network is the governmental organization facilitating dating activities in the country. There are, however, private, faith-based online dating services developed by Singaporeans.
Online introduction services
In 2008 a variation of the online dating model emerged in the form of introduction sites, attracting a large number of users and significant investor interest. Introduction sites differ from the traditional online dating model, where members have to search and contact other members, by introducing members to other members whom they deem compatible, thus claiming to eliminate much of the mayhem of traditional online dating. Although the two introduction services operate differently and offer different features, both claim to be more effective than traditional online personals.
Most free dating websites depend on advertising revenue, using tools such as Google AdSense, affiliate marketing. Since advertising revenues are modest compared to membership fees, free dating sites require a large number of page views to achieve profitability. However, Sam Yagan (founder of OkCupid.com and current CEO of Match.com) describes dating sites as ideal advertising platforms because of the wealth of demographic data made available by users. "You give us data, we give you dates", says Yagan.
Other partially free online dating services offer only limited privileges for free members, or only a brief free period; generally, advanced features such as virtual gifts are available to paying users only.
In popular culture
- You've Got Mail, a 1998 film in which the two protagonists conduct a relationship entirely over e-mail before meeting each other
- Napoleon Dynamite, a 2004 film in a which one subplot involves a central character's online (and later in-person) relationship
- Euro Trip, a 2004 film in which the central character has a relationship wholly via email with a girl from Berlin
- Must Love Dogs, a 2005 film about two people trying to find love through online dating
- Because I Said So, a 2007 film in which a mother creates an online dating profile for her daughter
- Sex Drive, a 2008 film about a young man who goes on a cross-country roadtrip with friends to meet his internet crush, and woo her with his brother's stolen GTO.
- Jewtopia, a play which revolves around Jewish dating service jDate.com
- Love Translated, a 2010 documentary film in which a group of men travel to Ukraine on a romance tour arranged by online dating service AnastasiaDate.
- Comparison of online dating websites
- Timeline of online dating services
- List of social networking websites
- Matrimonial website
- Online identity
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