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Online Dating Services - LavaLife Review
Review by Joe Tracy, Publisher of Online Dating Magazine

Click here for LavaLife Coupon Codes and Discounts

Dating Site: LavaLife
Slogan: "Where Singles Click"
Updated Review Date: July 08, 2008
Online Dating Magazine Rating: 7/10
Browse for Free? Yes

Cost Structure
LavaLife used to operate via a very clever "credit system" whereby you used credits to communicate. We loved this system because members received virtually no spam (since you pay per message) and it made the whole communication process a lot more serious. Unfortunately, a few years ago LavaLife switched to a pay per month system for new users. However, long-time members are allowed, even today, to still use the credit system until they remove their account. Under the credit system, it costs 5 credits to email another person (nothing thereafter to communicate with that person) and 5 credits to start a 20 minute Instant Messaging session. Here is the cost structure for credits:

$14.99 = 50 credits
$24.99 = 100 credits
$39.99 = 200 credits

Under the new monthly system, the cost structure for new members is as follows:

$29.99 - One Month
$56.99 - Three Months

New members do not have the option to use the credit system.

Best Feature:
Prior to LavaLife's change to a monthly system, its best feature was that it was the only large dating service using a very effective credit system. This was listed as the best feature in our original review of LavaLife in 2003. Now the best feature is that members can respond to emails for free! Most dating services force you to pay a monthly fee to respond to an email. But in the case of LavaLife, they allow you to respond to any email you receive for free. Thus it is free to read emails you receive and respond, making that a huge advantage over other services. Being able to use credits to communicate. Most sites have monthly fees and annoy you with automatic monthly charges "for your convenience." Not LavaLife, thank goodness.

Most Annoying Feature:
You can't turn off the Instant Messaging feature. This is highly annoying, particularly to women, who have trouble browsing because they are always being interrupted with someone wanting to Instant Message them.

LavaLife is a fun dating service that has some unique features, but also several annoyances that may interfere with a person (particularly women) looking for a meaningful long-term relationship or quality date.

When you register for LavaLife, you have the option of setting up profiles for any one of three areas: Dating, Relationship, or Intimate Encounters. After you have your profile and pictures loaded, every time you log on, you're presented with a screen as follows:

This screen shows you what is new since your last visit. The top icon is for new instant messages you've received. The second icon is for new email you have. The third icon is for new smiles you've received and the fourth icon is people who have given you access to view their photos. If you don't have a profile set up in a particular category then the option to create one is given.

LavaLife uses "smiles" for people to express an interest in another without dishing out money. Smiles can be accompanied by a short note that the user selects from a list. The use of smiles is a great feature that allows you to innocently flirt with someone to let them know you are interested.

To actually communicate with a person you can either email them or send them an instant message if you are a paying member. If you're not a paying member, you can still respond for free to any emails that you receive from a paying member.

The way photos are handled on LavaLife is that you can display one main profile photo for everyone to see. Then you can have up to 8 "backstage" photos that a person can view only if you give them permission. If you want to request access to someone's backstage, you can request it in an email to them and click a button to grant them access to your backstage. You can also grant backstage access, if desired, to someone who has instant messaged you.

Navigation on the site is easy. There are the three separate areas of the service: Dating, Relationship, and Intimate Encounters. A menu at the top of the screen (see picture directly below) allows you to easily click to view a new section.

While you're online, your profile is visible for everyone else online to see. There is a side menu as shown below:

The person icon represents how many people are currently online using the LavaLife service. The camera icon represents how many of those people online have a photo available for everyone to see. The target icon represents how many people are online from your area. The fire icon represents who is online that you've added to your hotlist. There is also a smile icon that represents who is online that has smiled at you and another smile icon with a checkmark that represents who is online that you have smiled at. You can click on any of these to view the profiles.

The navigation and ease of finding local people, and knowing instantly if someone is online that you've hotlisted or smiled at, adds a lot of value to LavaLife. However, because so much emphasis of the program is put on who is online, it de-emphasizes the search of people's profiles who aren't online. Thus you'll generally see more results if you spend a lot of time on the service (and people do spend hours at a time on the service).

LavaLife's Instant Messaging feature is java based, making it nice to use, but sometimes troublesome to people who have problems accessing java routines online. And since you can't turn the Instant Messaging feature off, you may find yourself (particularly if you are a lady) being bombarded with requests to communicate, thus interfering with your ability to navigate, check out profiles, or even answer an email. The result is that, as a woman, you may be constantly contacted by men who think you are interesting (if they've taken the time to read your profile), but you aren't able to take the time to find men that you find interesting. Read the column How Can I Get Better Matches for some great tips.

My Experience
When I first started online dating, LavaLife was the very first online dating service that I signed up for with a profile in the Dating and Relationship sections. One day, I received an email from a really nice, funny, and creative woman commenting on my profile. We exchanged emails for several days, met in person, and found we had a lot of chemistry together. The experience led to a healthy and rewarding relationship for both of us. I can definitely attribute one of my best online dating success stories to someone I met on LavaLife.

Recommendations to LavaLife
LavaLife can improve its service by doing the following:

1) Allow users to turn off the Instant Messaging feature. It particularly interferes with a lady's ability to use the service. As one frustrated woman directly put it in her profile, "if you're female on this site you end up dodging 40 IMs a minute."

2) Recognize that your promotion of Intimate Encounters as part of your service creates a problem for people looking for legitimate long-term relationships or dating partners. Just having the Intimate Encounters section doesn't keep guys looking for sex boxed in that section as many women in the Dating and Relationships section report being IM'd by someone looking for a one night stand. This is like building a McDonalds in a gang-infested area and asking gang members to stay out. It won't happen.

3) Allow users to better organize the way they view who is currently online in their location. For example, arrange the program so that when a person logs on it shows those who are online locally and within the users age preference range. By doing this, you'll stop the problem of 45 year old men messaging 20 year old women who only want to communicate with people that are under the age of 26.

4) Consider bringing back the Credit system that was such a successful part of your startup. It set you apart from other online dating services in a good way and resulted in no spam to users. The monthly system makes you like any other service.

5) Quit showing annoying ads. When it comes to displaying annoying ads, LavaLife wins the prize. It accepts ads from controversial companies that put annoying flashing banners saying "You've Won!" and listing a fake prize. This alone caused us to knock an entire point off their score.

I really like that LavaLife hasn't fallen into the trap of many other dating services that force both people to be members in order to communicate. Allowing free members to respond to emails for free is a great selling point. LavaLife is pleasant on the eyes and fairly easy to navigate. If they can overcome the problems associated with their Instant Messaging feature and allow users to see and communicate only with people identified in the age range they set, then the service will be much improved.

Pros Cons
nice layout can't turn IM off
free to respond to emails eliminated credit system
free sending of smiles picture approval takes too long
both parties don't have to pay annoying ads

LavaLife is rewarded with a score of 7 out of 10. The score would have been 8 out of 10 if they didn't display annoying ads (to members and non-members alike).


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