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TechNewsWorld.com

The Many Faces of Online Dating

By Erika Morphy
Aug 2, 2007 4:00 AM PT

Shoshanna Berman, an intern in New York City, is happily dating her ideal future husband: a nice, young -- and tall -- Orthodox Jewish man who is also outgoing and easygoing.

The Many Faces of Online Dating

On date two, they bonded while scalping tickets at a Knicks game. Date ten, she remembers, was an all-night drive to Philadelphia.

"I would have married him if he asked me after the first date," Berman tells TechNewsWorld, "but it took him a few months to realize the truth." Now they are unofficially engaged.

Take away a few details here and there, and this could be anyone's "how we met" story -- including the fact that Berman met her beau at SawYouAtSinai.com, a dating Web site.

"My friend met her husband there, so I thought I would give it a try," Berman says.

These days, anyone who scoffs at online dating is either married or in the priesthood. The U.S. online dating market -- typified by such Web sites as Match.com and Yahoo Personals -- will reach US$932 million in 2011, according to figures from JupiterResearch.

Soul Mate Search

More than 20 million Internet users visited such a site last December, reported comScore. The top destinations were Yahoo Personals, Match.com, True.com, Spark Networks and Singlesnet.com. In short, from 18-year-olds in college (where there should be no dearth of potential suitors) to senior citizens, multitudes are logging on in search of love or companionship.

To be sure, not everyone who goes online finds a happy ending. Horror stories abound from the horrifying -- stalking incidents and worse have befallen many online daters -- to the annoying. (Hint: Using photos more than a year or so old always backfires.)

Sometimes it just takes a little patience to find your soul mate, says Robert Schwartz, author of Courageous Souls: Do We Plan Our Life Challenges Before Birth? Schwartz met his partner at JDate, another popular Jewish dating site. Several years ago, he posted a profile there but nothing came of it. Recently, though, in the most serendipitous manner possible, he connected with a woman, and they're about to move in together.

"I had been living in Oregon but thinking about moving home to Cleveland to look after my father, who was needing assistance," he tells TechNewsWorld. Idly, he perused the profiles in Cleveland and immediately gravitated toward the woman who would become his partner. "What I loved about her profile is that I could tell immediately she is spiritually aware. That is very important to me."

Fast-forward over several months of phone calls and visits. Schwartz is now moving to Cleveland.

Specialized Sites

It may be no accident that both Schwartz and Berman met partners on specialized dating sites. Mainstream dating site memberships are stagnating -- or, in some cases, shrinking. The proportion of paying customers has stayed the same -- 5 percent -- over the last five years, according to Jupiter.

Another Jupiter metric that suggests interest is beginning to decline: Only 10 percent of Internet users visited an online dating site in 2006 -- a decrease from 16 percent in 2005 and 21 percent in 2002.

One way the online dating industry is counteracting these trends is by introducing specialized Web sites that focus on commonalities that would-be daters hope to find. Many focus on religion; some focus on hobbies or professions.

Sparks Network, currently one of the top online destinations, operates over 30 online personals -- all but one of which is targeted toward a specific religious, ethnic or special interest group. JDate, launched in 1997, was its first site.

It makes sense, some say.

"Match.com is not for everybody," Todd Creager, a licensed clinical social worker and coauthor of Finding Life's Passions, tells TechNewsWorld. "There are those that thrive on generalized dating sites, but typically those are people who 'show well' -- whether it is due to looks, an extroverted style of writing, a natural sense of humor, social confidence, or some combination of these qualities."

Singles who do not make great first impressions end up feeling frustrated, he continues. "On a specialized dating site, one attraction may be the similarity of interests, vocation, religion, life challenges and so on."

Next Evolutionary Step

Specialized sites are the way to go for today's daters, says Steve Monas, author of several books about online dating and social networking, including Chemistry and Numbers: The Online Dating Guide.

"When I used JDate, there was already a feeling of comfortability, knowing that there will be some commonality moving forward," he tells TechNewsWorld.

However, the specialized sites may follow the path of the generic dating Web sites, he cautioned -- unless they evolve once again.

"Dating Web sites are now trying to get appealing features that will compete with free social networking sites such as MySpace.com and Plentyoffish.com," Monas notes. These sites, after all, are de facto meeting places and have come to compete with some of the larger, specialized dating sites.

Revenue from major sites will have to come from more personalized services -- such as selecting and contacting potential matches on behalf of members, he suggests.

Indeed, some of the newer specialized sites are focusing on what happens once you get past the third or so date and become a couple. eHarmony, a dating Web site known for its hour-long application -- and, more controversially, for not matching gay people -- has launched a Web site aimed at married couples who want to strengthen their relationship.

On the other end of the spectrum -- the far end -- is HoochyMail, a service that "brings couples closer together by safely and securely allowing them to create and share their mutual fantasies," according to site spokesperson Rob Frankle.

Basically, HoochyMail allows each couple to compose and e-mail fantasies customized with their own details. There are about 35 different occasions -- from Christmas to Thanksgiving to basketball playoffs -- in the system.

Thus far, the site has been very successful, judging by almost every metric, Frankle says, including opt-in numbers and click-through advertising rates. "Plus, we have never received even one hate mail."

In the online dating world, that's as good as it gets.


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