Online Dating Services: The Methods and Functions of Successful Dating Sites

Online dating services essentially spawned from online mail order bride services in the 1990s. Before Internet dating there were mail order brides, which were no more than women who were sold to a man who would then take them to a new country and have the ordered bride marry him. I personally find mail order brides massive ethically irresponsible and abhorrent because it is a woman selling her life and her soul to a man she’s never met; also, the two do not have a relationship before they are married because a mail ordered bride is bought in order to fill a gender role of a wife and nothing else. Nevertheless, the technology was developed into a service that provided a forum and scientific social networking that had the sole purpose of allowing people to find their “match” or “soulmate”.

These sites require the the prospective patron(s) to reveal personal information about themselves such as their likes, dislikes, dreams, goals, hopes, desires, gender, age, location, etc. so that the dating service can then match them up with another person whose qualities mash up well with their own. The sites also provide the capability to upload photos of yourself as well as browse through photos of other prospective dates, they provide a chat feature so you can instant message a prospective date, they also provide webcasts, telephone chatting, message boards, online games, offline events and forums. Some sites are free like Okcupid.com and others like Eharmony.com are paid sites.

These dating services are first and foremost businesses. They use market metaphors in order to match people up together. Managing Director of Olson Zaltman Associates, Lindsay Zaltman asserts that all consumers (those who use dating sites are indeed consumers) are irrational, self-absorbed and 95% of the things that we think and feel is unconscious, thus it is necessary for consumer insight to be a part of the dating sites so the dating services can be as efficient as possible with as much “match” success as possible (Zaltman).

These online dating sites must have abided by Zaltman’s claims because the United States generated $957 million in revenue in 2008 from online dating service (Mitchell, 3). At the end of November 2004, there were 844 lifestyle and dating sites, a 38 percent increase since the start of the year, according to Hitwise Inc. However, market share was increasingly growing by several large commercial services, including AOL Personals, Yahoo! Personals, Match.com, and eHarmony (Mitchell, 6). These sites then advertise on television and the Internet and boast at how  good they are at being able to read their consumers as consumers, and if one is going to pay the fee to find love then it will be well worth the money.

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The History of Dating Through Media: From Degrading to Dashing

 

By 1700 newspapers were widespread throughout Europe, and with the dissemination of print media came the spread of personal ads. In the 18th century it was considered taboo to be 21 years old and unmarried (which thankfully has changed pretty significantly since 1700), so unmarried men in their early twenties would post personal ads in the classified sections of their local newspapers (Whipps). Women would then read the ads and respond if they felt the ad met their standards and generally the two would be married. However, the convenience of “newspaper dating” came with a nasty stigma. According to author and lecturer H.G. Cocks, “Advertising for a husband or wife has always attracted criticism and the people who did it were always thought of as failures in some way. However advertising like this has a long and unbroken history, and was used by many people with some success”. Those who turned to finding mates through newspapers were looked at as social lepers because courtship was such a celebrated facet of that society because around 1700 women were granted more rights than ever before in history. According to professor David Christian, the “empowerment of the individual” took hold of the greater part of the civilized world, this led to the unfettering of women from harsh social restraints (even though many still existed) and this led to the the equality of individuals. Men and women became more equal politically, financially, and socially in many nations (Wilson). These changes had profound impacts on the relationships between men and women because they finally had the autonomy to choose who, why and when they would marry (Wilson). Hence, dating and the act of courting someone was a new and exciting part of society, thus, courting through the newspaper was degrading because it meant that one was incapable of beneficial and progressive social interaction.

Despite the social stigma, matrimonial agencies were big business but those you were patrons of such agencies typically never spoke of it because it was so widely looked upon negatively. The ads were also used as a means for gay men and lesbians to find lovers when homosexuality was still outlawed in Europe, so once these proscribed lovers took over the classifieds the ads lost their allure because people found it detestable. Thus, the personal ads fell out of vogue for a handful of decades until the 1960s when the age of love and openness took hold.

Personal ads were still relatively accepted in the mid to late 90s but fell to the wayside when the Internet took hold. The Internet was a dating tool almost from day one, because people could have instant conversations and flirt with people who they did not have to be in the same room.  However, while the Internet was still nascent there were newsgroups and forums that posted personal ads, which similar to what was going on in newspapers at the time, locals were meeting in city-oriented rooms and people with similar interests were meeting and becoming attached in forums of similar interest (Brainz.org). The manifestation of online dating is logical because the Internet is a place for self-promotion; it’s a media, information, and connection network that covers the globe. Thus, self-promotion, too covers the globe because people use it as a tool to talk about themselves and connect with others who can relate to similar life experiences. Internet service providers perpetuated this digital dating phenomenon almost from the beginning with their advertised chat rooms and message boards for singles.

The first dating site that was formed was match.com in 1995; however, even though the name is the same as the current dating site, the site was more involved with international dating and mail order brides rather than dating someone. However, match.com sparked an internet dating explosion, by 1996 there were 16 dating Web sites listed in Yahoo! (Brainz.org). In 2007, Americans spent over $500 million on online dating, making it the second highest industry for “paid content” (Whipps) on the Web, behind pornography.

Currently the market has been segmented out to an ever larger number of sites focused on an ever-smaller niche audiences. Currently, there are sites for virtually every city, every sexual orientation, every desired relationship, every religion, every race and almost every hobby. The end result is that, according to Online Dating Magazine, nearly 20 million people visit at least one online dating site every month and 120,000 marriages every year take place, at least in part, due to online dating.

In 2002, Wired Magazine predicted that, “Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love won’t look for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalog to instead wander the stacks because ‘the right books are found only by accident” (Griscom).

 

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Is Digital Dating Negatively Affecting our Basic Social Interactions and Literacy?

Dating is a nerve-wracking experience for most people. When it is in-person one would worry about talking too much or too quickly, if they have food in their teeth (that is of course if they are dining together), or if they are coming off as boring. I’m sure they worry about whether they remembered to put deodorant on, about whether they should kiss them at the end of the date or to leave them with a hug or awkwardly enough maybe even a handshake. However, online dating provides a way to skirt around those uncomfortable worries. I think of online dating sites as separate ponds and each separate pond is a different dating site. It is a large grouping of people looking for relatively the same thing, a romantic relationship, or sometimes just a sexual or nonsexual relationship, regardless they are all looking for relationships whatever kind it may be.

Online dating is centered on self-presentation, which is the act of presenting one’s core beliefs and traits that “convey an impression to others which it is in his best interest to convey” (Ellison, Heino, Gibbs, 2). So self-presentation alludes to two factors, first what is actively given and second what is passively given off. For instance, a person shares that they love to fish and hunt, but their body odor and dirty nails give off the impression that they do not practice proper hygiene. So once a person decides to join a dating pond they have to—in some cases—apply to be a part of that pond, or if there is no application they simply have to fill out a profile in which they discuss the finer intricacies of their personalities, physical attractiveness, fears, hopes, and dreams for the future, which is no simple task. Hence, it takes practice and a certain type of literacy to be successful at dating sites because there needs to be a balance between realistic and ideal self-presentation. Also one need to pay sharp attention to the subtle cues they are “giving off” through their unconscious behaviors.

First and foremost social media, especially the Internet, is about people because people support, fund, and perpetuate the Internet and its mind-blowing omnipresence. In the Journal of Computer-mediated Communication there was a case study that was done, its purpose was to study and note the process of self-presentation on dating sites. This is an extremely important subject to study for a few reasons. Firstly, it is a new area of society that has not been researched and discussed much, thus it is important to gain understanding about a large facet of contemporary society. This is especially true when online dating can (and does) directly affect personal relationships and humans’ abilities to interact with others when in a face-to-face situations. Secondly, dating is obviously an overt facet of society, so when the rules change for dating, rules for society change, thus the cultural world evolves and it is important to note these evolutions in order to fully understand how and why we act. Therefore, the impact of digital dating is significant because it affects the whole of society whether people realize it or not.

Finding a date or a mate online or in personal ads was never a very celebrated action, however, the ubiquitous access to the Internet and the mass communication involved on the Internet has softened the stigma attached to online dating. Now, 1 out of every 5 couples has met on the Internet. But how is it that dating sites, now more than ever, are succeeding? How are they providing their services? The surveys and profiles that each person who joins a dating pond has to fill out are terribly significant because these surveys and profiles are what make or break dates. If a person puts on their profile that they are 6’4’’, 200 lbs and that they do body building, you’re inclined to believe them because if someone lies on their profile, once the face-to-face encounter happens the lies will unravel. Hence, there is a constant battle between a person’s ability to blend the line between realist and ideal self-presentation.

According to the research done for the Journal of Computer-mediated Communication, “information and communication technologies (ICTs) shape and are shaped by social practices” (Ellison, Heino & Gibbs, 2). ICTs have the ability to do two things, enhance or constrain communication and our ability to connect with others. The interesting thing is that Internet dating does both of these. Online dating sites enhance peoples’ capacity for connection because the act of not having to initiate flirting and other such things in-person takes away a large part of the anxiety of dating and interacting away. Also online dating allows for people to introspectively search their personalities and traits in order to better present themselves to others. Thus, the act of online dating is a very personal experience that can have beneficial effects. If a person studies their characteristics and finds some to be disagreeable to their ideal self they could actively work to alter that reality in order to better themselves and make themselves more contented. Thus, their journey of self-discovery was ignited by the necessity to present oneself honestly and optimistically through self-presentation on dating sites. But what is it that keeps people from lying about their traits, physical features, goals etc? It is the impending face-to-face interaction. The shift from online to offline dating is what keeps people honest for the most part because if one lies about what they look like or their hobbies, or goals they will be caught up in their lies because it is much harder to fake your personality in person that it in over the Internet. There is obviously a push to present one’s positive attributes but the idea that there may be a face-to-face interaction also pushes the individual to present themselves as authentic as possible so as to actually acquire and maintain a relationship. After all, it is the reason they joined the dating pond in the first place.

The fact that people are joining dating sites is, indeed, a progressive step forward in the quest for love because either they think they have nothing to lose or they want more control in carefully selecting their partner. This is a positive shift because it asserts the notion that people want to curb the loneliness of the world and they want to have control of their happiness, which is a great thing to happen to people in society. It is great because it shows that people still strive to connect with one another rather than give into the constraints and anxieties of social interaction. Thus, people are being themselves and hoping that someone will find them and connect with them on a deep and loving level. Strong and successful relationships are founded on “Intimacy in relationships [which is] linked to feeling understood by one’s partner” (Ellison, Heino, Gibbs, 4). This notion promotes honesty in self-presentation, because if one wants to find a successful relationship it is a necessity to be honest rather than fake because duplicity contradicts the whole purpose of dating. Therefore, the social impact of digital dating is beneficial.

Naturally, though there is a flip side to the benefits of Internet dating because with every positive there has to be a negative. Small cues in regards to Internet dating are used as a means to glean unspoken characteristic attributes of a person. In the study done for Computer-mediated Communication the researchers noted that the majority of participants explained how they “read” a prospective boyfriend or girlfriend’s profile. Foe instance, if a person has poor spelling and grammar it could be understood that the person is uneducated or simply does not care enough about their self-presentation, thus, it is marked as a “turn-off”. Another example is that if a person has not logged on in over a week it can be assumed (and generally is assumed) that the person is either dating or something is gravely wrong. One of the participants explained, “I’m not going to email somebody who hasn’t been on there for at least a week max. If it’s been two weeks since she’s logged on, forget her, she’s either dating or there’s a problem” (Ellison, Heino & Gibbs, 11). Another example is that people pay attention to how long their responses to replies are because it is said if they seem too long then the person sending it seems “too desperate” so they do not receive replies back. These examples point out the heavy amount of judgment at play on Internet dating. Obviously there is judgment in the dating world regardless, however, this type of judgment is linguistic and strange to me because people are judging others’ subjective opinions and actions and treating them like objective truths. For instance, in the profiles they always ask how attractive one thinks he or she is and if they answer “handsome” or “pretty” and then in the face-to-face interaction the person who was meeting the “handsome” man or “pretty” woman can easily be let down because those are such subjective questions to ask. Also a person cannot separate themselves from themselves and their opinions, thus, if a gorgeous woman thinks she’s ugly, she very well may answer that she is of “average” attractiveness. It all depends, so I find it to be counterintuitive to ask these kinds of questions because then in real life and offline situations a person’s ability to deem what is subjective and what is objective is skewed. Thus, these types of subjective inquiries “constrain” connectivity rather than “enhance” is because these types of ideologies and questions promote an objectivity that is then projected onto offline society.

 

Therefore, people’s literacy is impacted in a way that endorses an objective view of the world rather than an open-ended subjective view, which as previously mentioned inhibits connectivity between people. Internet dating is a horse of a different color because it forces those participating in it to objectively scrutinize themselves because they know that others will analyze their page much like they objectively dissect other peoples’ pages in order to look for and decipher small cues that hint at a quality of the individual. Therefore, Internet dating has it’s beneficial and its not-so-beneficial impacts that alter the way in which we interact with each other both on and offline.

 

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Cheater, Cheater, Looks Like You Can have All of the Cake and Eat it Too

There are various dating sites for various cultural subsets such as Jdate.com for Jewish singles, Christianmingle.com, Blacksingles.com, Chemistry.com, Match.com etc. These dating sites are typically for people who are in search for their soul mate. However, there are also “dating” site that aim to break down the sanctity of love such as Ashleymadison.com. This website’s tag line happens to be “Life’s short, have an affair”. They have articles on their website that justify the act of having an affair, which is so abhorrently immoral that it is sickening. They not only promote the act of having an affair if you are in a relationship or married but they make it simple to do so and have privacy settings so as to hide it from your spouse or significant other. It is perfectly fine if a person is in an open relationship where it is understood and encouraged that the people in a relationship go out and have casual sex, however, this is not what the site promotes. Instead they promote lying to and cheating on a person that is supposedly loved. This is a prime example of how twisted and marred the benefits of Internet become. Dating sites make it easy for people with troubled love lives to to find love, but then there are sites that degrade and decompose that love that people look for all for the sake of selfishness and dishonesty.

Another issue with online dating is that it is discriminatory, which is slightly ironic seeing as how many different types of dating sites there are. The LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersexual, and asexual) group is up in arms because despite the fact that there are lesbian, gay, and bisexual dating sites there are no dating sites for transgenders, inter-sexual, or asexual people. This lack of social validity is degrading to the people of those  communities and the lack of Internet support inhibits them from gaining their federal rights, which surprisingly are rampantly dishonored. It is still legal in 38 US states to fire someone for being a transgender and in 29 states it is still legal to fire someone for being lesbian, gay or bisexual. Thus, their lack of Internet recognition further hampers their rights because like we learned from print culture, the more people know and understand the more strength a movement has to succeed in their goals. But what is most disturbing is that dating sites like Ashleymadison.com are not only surviving on the web, they’re thriving, which just goes to speak volumes for what Americans value and do not value. This asserts the idea that Americans don’t value equal rights but they do value dishonesty and cheating, which is not a country I would stand up for and support in times of war because this country is madly corrupt in morals as well as many other things. Thus, I think it is important to advocate for digital dating equality because if there can be sites that allow for people to cheat on their spouse there should certainly be websites that satisfy all different types of sexuality no matter how far they deviate from socially normative behaviors.

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Technologically Ever After

It’s incredible to see how written discourse created the world and shaped the way in which we operate as busy humans spastically trying to grasp onto control. People use these written technologies in order to recall information that would otherwise be forgotten; to connect to others through letters and books and written acknowledgments; to study and learn knowledge about the world that would remain overlooked if it were not for print etc. However, the Internet is an extension on print, yet it is a muscled-up version that works billions–if not trillions–times faster than print. I can video chat with my brother in San Diego from my home in Omaha, and I can email my friend who goes to school in Scotland and I can get an immediate response. I, too, could sign myself up for a dating site profile and fall in love with someone who resides in the upper peninsula of Scandinavia. The digital age is a remarkable era that enables instant connection to anyone, anywhere as long as they have functioning Internet access (which is not so easily acquired in some places), and i can develop relationships with people that I could have never dreamt of meeting otherwise.

Hence, why I find online dating sites such a magnificent but seedy creation. The Internet is a means to love and relationships that could have never and would have never happened without digitization. However, there are finer details to online dating though that speak to the way in which we function. We are leery of people and their ability to tell the truth about themselves and their desires, and this shows through in the way that we fill out the profiles by which we are judged. Our lives are condensed into a one hundred-question personality survey and open-ended questions that would encourage a person to explain their character. Also, if a person’s profile is too long they will mostly likely be skipped over because they would seem “too desperate”. Digital interactions are just as strange as offline interactions in society. However, online there are linguistic cues that stand for much more because actions speak louder than words but when your relationship your actions become how often you talk and what you say. Ashleymadison.com does promote physicality and more offline interaction; regardless it could be argued that it still remains to be progress.

Anyone can fall in love—or have an affair—with whomever they wish as long as they are not transgender, inter, or asexual, which remains one of the biggest grudges that I hold against digital dating. It would not hurt anyone or mar society; it would make love equal and infinite.

Yet, it has brought millions of couples together to join in love and contentedness. Those who have had reeling success are the most literate in a sense, but also they are consumers of a business so they did, indeed, get what they paid for. The digital age has put the saying “money can’t buy you love” to rest in its timely grave of forgotten sayings that generations ago used to say when dating was tangible, awkward and geographically constraining.

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