If the online dating world as a whole was a website or an app, we’d now be entering the beta stage. The first round of funding was a success, and now it’s time to take everything to the next level. For the last decade, online dating has been the barren plains across America, and Match.com and eHarmony have been a modern day Lewis and Clark. (Still no luck on figuring out who the Sacajawea was. If someone can send me a worthwhile online dating Sacajawea [Jeremy@fueled.com], I’ll send you the Sacajawea dollar coin that’s been laying on my floor for the last six months since that day when I didn’t have exact change for the train.) The stigma attached to online dating has been a severe one. People haven’t wanted to come off as losers by having an online profile, but over the last few years that’s slowly gone away. Recent reports have noted that 1 in every 5 couples meet online (which Match.com has shoved down our throats in their ads) and that 17% of recently married couples met on a dating site. These increasingly lofty numbers are proving that the bias against meeting people online is going away. Now that we’ve gotten to that point, it’s time to make the whole process better. Let’s look at who the big players are in the online dating game, and how we can all make this whole experience more satisfying.
The Town Pool: eHarmony and Match.com
The two sites that have been the biggest brand names since the start of online dating have been eHarmony and Match.com. They’ve both been matching people for quite some time, and they’re likely the first sites people think of when online dating gets mentioned. Of the two, Match.com is far cheaper, at $24.95 for a single month, $49.95 for 3 and $79.95 for 6. They also offer a rather comical Match.com guarantee: if you don’t find a successful match in the first 6 months, you can get 6 more months for free. Awesome, right? This is like if you got sick from eating a Big Mac, went to McDonald’s to complain, and instead of giving you your money back, they just gave you another Big Mac. Good times! eHarmony is significantly more expensive at $59.95 for a month, $119.85 for 3 and $179.70 for 6. While it’s more expensive, eHarmony gives users an extensive questionnaire to fill out, and tout their abilities to tailor matches specifically to each person. It’s a more rigorous process than that of Match.com, where people make a profile, look around and wait for that awesome guarantee to kick in.
These sites have a nice following, but this isn’t the field where brand loyalty has much value. After a certain point, the longer that someone’s on one of these sites means that the site is doing a progressively worse job in matchmaking. If someone’s on one of these sites for very long periods of time, something’s gone awry. Both of these and most other dating sites are targeting a widespread population, as long as they pay a fee. Once they buy their pass, they’re good to go, regardless of what kind of person they are. That can have drawbacks. We’ll get to that later.
The (Scientific) Ocean: OkCupid and DuoDater
When there’s a free dating site that caters to all people, things get risky. Lots of people just put a profile up for the hell of it if there’s no price to pay. That leads to people that aren’t serious, are already in a relationship, or don’t have the money to pay a fee each month and might be sketchy. OkCupid has created vaguely scientific methods aim to fix that problem. While OkCupid is free to join, they’ve put together a unique way of matching people. They ask users lots of questions, some of which have to do specifically with dating and some that don’t. Sample questions can range from specific relationship questions to “Which is bigger, the Earth or the Sun?” Users answer, and can also choose what they’d hope a match would answer. They then weigh how important the answer is to them. OkCupid believes that this method leads to better matches. When Chris Coyne, President of OkCupid, was asked in a recent New Yorker article about his software, he responded:
“We tried to imagine software that would be like your friend in the real world. If I were your friend and I told you that So-and-So would be the perfect date, your response to me would be to start asking me questions. Does she like dancing? Does she smoke pot? Is she a furry? Is she tall? On the Internet, people will ask—and answer—extremely personal questions.”
Along with the questions, OkCupid offers Quickmatch, a way of matching people that’s been very well received. With this, people can rate others in a 5 star system by looking only at their pictures. If someone gets a 4 or 5 rating, they’re emailed with pictures of 9 other people, one of which is the person that gave the high rating. If they give the original rater a 4 or 5 rating, a match will have been determined and both people will be emailed about it. This is a good idea, but there’s a major flaw here. Think about this logically. If you find someone that you’d give 4 or 5 stars to, you’d click on their profile after giving out the stars, right? That’d only be natural. Well, on OkCupid, users can see what people have clicked on their profile. So if you were sent an email saying that someone had given you 4 or 5 stars, you’d naturally check who’s recently visited your profile, right? Just about every time, the person who’s checked your profile will be the one who gave the high rating. That’s an incredibly easy way to cheat the system, and a major flaw.
Another open, free site is DuoDater, which lets friends tag along on dates. Since there’s always a risk of having a skeevy first date with someone from online, this site turns a date into a theoretical double date, making everything a lot more comfortable. This takes some of the stigma away from online dating, even though most of it’s been removed already.
The Private Pool: JDate and the Other Niches
While the sites we’ve talked about already all target a vast sector of the population, there’s a whole group of sites that are aiming for more specific groups. People looking to meet a certain kind of person may go to them, and a lot of them cost a good amount of money. Some of these sites include:
JDate.com: For Jewish singles.
ChristianMingle: for Christian singles.
SeniorPeopleMeet: for older people. These are getting self explanatory.
Gay.com: Again self-explanatory.
Then there are some more, well, unique ones. A few favorites:
AshleyMadison.com: For married people looking for a fling. They advertise themselves as an option for “When monogamy becomes monotony.” Stay classy, Internet!
EquestrianSingles.com For people who really, really like horses. It’s actually a nice site. I’m sure the people on it are really nice. Maybe I just have a messed up mind.
Meet-an-inmate.com Yep, a dating site for non-criminals to date criminals. Just like the saying goes, don’t do the crime unless you want to have a great time. On a date.
These all have an appeal, because they fit exactly what a person’s looking for. Instead of having to look through the entire population for the perfect fit, these sites narrow it down significantly.
The 2 Great Debates: Free Vs. Paid, and General Vs. Niche
These are the two issues that are the biggest when it comes to online dating, and there’s really no wrong answer for either. For free vs. paid, there’s always an appeal to get something for as cheap as possible. That’s the American way. But paying for something like this can represent being committed to making a relationship work, as opposed to just throwing a profile out there and not expecting anything to happen. Online dating is one of the rare fields where there can be value in paying more for what’s just about the exact same service. There’s validity for both sides of this argument. For general vs. niche, if you know what you’re looking for, it’s a good idea to go to a niche website. It narrows down candidates to a more reasonable amount. It’s like the first two weeks of The Bachelor. But while mathematically it makes more sense to go to a niche site, the romantic in us might want to go to a big site. What if Mr. or Mrs. Right is on a site that isn’t quite as filtered? That enduring optimism keeps some people in the big sites like Match.com.
We’re now at the point in online dating where we can shamelessly plow ahead. It’s legitimate to say to your buddies that you’ve joined a dating site, and most people won’t get laughed at. There’s no more fear. So now we can all find what we really want. There are more than enough viable websites. There are countless people looking for that perfect someone. There’s no more reason to be shy. It’s now on us to make it happen. The construction phase has passed us by; the transcontinental railroad has been built. It’s time for us to capitalize. The dating industrial revolution has only just begun.