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New Online Dating Trends Help Seekers Find Love Online
by Michael Jones, President of Userplane


Love may be all around, but right now, online dating is booming like never before.

> Some 44 percent of Americans believe that individuals have a better chance of meeting a partner online than in a singles bar, according to Ipsos-Reid, an international market and social research company.

> The Personals/Dating category surpassed Business/Investing and Entertainment/Lifestyles content to become the leading paid content category in Q3 2002 with $87 million in revenues, a 387 percent gain over the same quarter the previous year, according to the Online Publishers Association.

But, just like with dating itself, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The question is, “Is there anything interesting behind the pretty face?”

Thanks to new trends involving technological advancements along with genuine creativity, there is. In fact, so-called “social networking” Websites – dating sites in particular – are on the rise not only in the area of consumer usage. Of late, the segment has witnessed a significant infusion of capital, as the industry progresses toward providing both real interaction online and the business models to support ongoing online communities.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the online dating scene. The evolution of Internet dating is not unlike that of its offline counterpart. From arranged marriages, to chaperoned courtship, to slightly more freedom to almost anything goes –- traditional offline dating progressed from a system that involved knowing hardly more than name and rank on the wedding day, to the point at which parties now ask for complete financial and medical disclosure and can purchase full-scale background checks over the Internet.

Online dating is following a similar evolutionary process. Many matchmaking sites compile lists of potential mates using photos and only the most basic information – age, gender and location. With this bare-bones “profile,” people are directed to a list of potential mates – almost like looking for love in the phone book. In the end, decisions are made almost exclusively based on a photo.

But over the past few years new trends have emerged, spurring the evolution of online dating and shifting the matchmaking process from the “arranged marriage” end of the spectrum toward informed choices based on relevant information. Recent technological advancements have created an online dating scene in which participants can meet people from the comforts of their own homes, talk face-to-face in real time using audio and video, and access online journals that reveal thoughts and opinions.

Friendster, MySpace, Say Hello to Blogs
One of the more recent evolutionary steps came with Web sites like and, services that connect people through online networks of mutual friends. Members join, then invite their friends to join, creating a coast-to-coast online social network.

This new social-networking trend connects friends-of-friends, helping people find possible mates or simply new friends. It goes beyond the age, gender, location formula to match individuals based on mutual friends and similar interests.

This approach offers a more personal experience than the list-cruising of the past, and allows for more custom searching based on relevant information. The industry is gaining attention of late through a series of announcements about new venture capital funding for Friendster and some of its rivals – LinkedIn, ZeroDegrees, Tribe.Net and others. Even standbys like are rethinking their strategies in favor of joining the broader social networking bandwagon.

At the same time, the burgeoning practice of blogging is pushing online dating even further toward “informed choice.” Blogs, short for weblogs, are a kind of online diary. Through a blogging service, anyone can maintain a running commentary online – accessible to anyone with Internet access.

While dating sites typically restrict the creation of individual personal home pages, blogs offer a forum for sharing anything from deeply held convictions to random musings. Bloggers can create and post content immediately, and often update their blogs daily – even multiple times per day.

Blogs provide a formula of creating online identities – or at least sharing one’s offline identity with anyone who cares to notice – giving potential suitors a much deeper, more relevant personal profile.

Expanding Instant Messaging
Much like the offline dating world’s phone call, instant messaging (IM) capabilities transform static data on a page into actual online, real-time conversations.

But while providing a handy form of communication, text-based messaging systems are limited to the keyboard. There’s no visual or audio, making it difficult to create a true personal connection. Emotions are expressed through a common language of key strokes :), rather than through more meaningful nuances of voice fluctuation and other verbal clues.

Progress has been made: while previous systems only displayed the conversations, today’s IM users may have access to some personal information to help provide an initial spark. But it’s still a one-dimensional conversation.

Growth in online audio and video capabilities – and the proliferation of higher bandwidth to support them – is bumping online communication up a notch into the two-dimensional world.

Integrating audio and video into a live online dating experience gives the entire process more validity and increased security:

> People will not be able to pass themselves off as something they’re not – at least in the obvious ways

> Video profiles offer more depth and expression than do lists of likes and dislikes

> Real-time, online dates that use audio and video provide real interaction while allowing each participant location anonymity and security – there’s no immediate need to give out phone numbers, addresses or to meet in person

Users have the opportunity to date online “virtually” – allowing for a much more personal experience than before – without leaving the comfort and security of home.

According to Tim Sullivan, president of “Online dating is going to evolve with the convergence of various technologies. We believe video and voice are going to be a big part of our business.”

The Future of Online Dating
The future of online dating will include all of these trends: Friendster’s relevant searching method, instant messaging capabilities and the use of audio and video – which all combine to create personal meaningful interactions. And the integration of blogging tools will give users the ability to truly create an online identity, and give the website that houses that profile a lifelong customer.

But beyond the technological advancements that give users better tools for getting to know each other, online dating will explode as new business models take shape:

> Profiles will become commodities that are shared outside the “walls” of the individual dating sites.

> Systems soon will allow profiles to be searched through standard file-sharing mechanisms. Imagine a video profile along with an abbreviated data file that can be placed into Kazaa and searched through a peer-to-peer file-sharing network. After selecting profiles of interest, users register with the particular dating Web site to gain access to the complete file – including contact information. This enables a dating Web site to circulate its dating inventory externally on computers around the world.

> A system to standardize user profiles will take shape, to allow universal access to “networks” of dating Web sites.

> And in perhaps the biggest endorsement yet of the online dating sector, AOL recently unveiled, a personals site that incorporates AOL’s popular Instant Messenger (AIM) service – with audio and video capabilities. Leveraging AOL’s current user base of paid AOL subscribers and free AOL IM subscribers, AOL has essentially invited all AOL users to join

As consumer magazines weekly attest, there’s no shortage of dating pitfalls and mishaps – whether online or off. But as more and more people look for love on the Internet, the evolution of online dating will continue to make it just a little bit easier than before.

Michael Jones is president and co-founder of Userplane in Los Angeles.

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