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PostPosted: Fri Feb 12, 2010 5:53 pm 
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NY Times Article

OK Cupid gets huge mentions, but datingservice? Their site is 'undefined'


Reprinted courtesy of the New York Times

In the Calculations of Online Dating, Love Can Be Cruel

By SCOTT JAMES
Published: February 11, 2010


Heidi Funai sat perched at the swank bar at Circa in San Francisco’s Marina district, the city’s mecca for straight singles. As men sidled up, she noted which ones might be there to mingle and which wore wedding bands.

“The real world is a lot of work,” said Ms. Funai, an attractive 30-something with shoulder-length, wavy blond hair freed from her Vespa helmet.

She had scootered into the real world to talk about the virtual realm of online dating. Ms. Funai once found love online, and now that she is back to search again, she has noticed a disheartening trend: it is getting increasingly cruel out there in cyberdating.

“The social contract is broken with online dating” in a way that does not exist in real life, Ms. Funai said. She has used online dating sites for nearly a decade — and she does not like what she sees happening.

Since the current recession began, the popularity of online dating has surged — memberships are up and new matchmaking portals have emerged to take advantage of the demand — industry growth of up to 30 percent is expected in the next year or two, according to the tracking site DatingService.com. This has also led to an increase in behavior that would earn a slap in person, but has become de rigueur on the Internet.

Never-answered messages, explicit requests for sex, fake bios, outdated photos and insults are ubiquitous. Ms. Funai said men in their 50s had contacted her, completely unsolicited, just to say she was too old. “They wouldn’t do that in person,” she said, “but online ...”

It is love in the time of ones and zeros, the rudimentary language of computers. In the digital age, everything must at some point be reduced to this basic construct of choice: One or zero. Yes or no. On or off. Subscribers to online dating sites are forced to come up with a list of their desires. Red hair? Yes or no. Over 30 O.K.? Please check a box.

The result is that millions are now trained to be dismissive based on detailed and sometimes arbitrary criteria. Combine this growth in fantasy checklists with the anonymity of the Web, and it gets ugly.

Laurie Davis, an online dating analyst at eFlirtexpert.com has observed the problem — with men. “They forget about the chivalry factor sometimes when they date online,” Ms. Davis said.

Who comes up with these measures? In most cases, it is the Web site’s owners. At OkCupid.com, however, it is left up to members to suggest dating criteria, and the result is an astonishing example of the need by some to quantify the ideal mate.

Sam Yagan, OkCupid.com’s co-founder and a Stanford M.B.A. alumnus, said the site started with this premise: Can you use math and data analytics to match people up? With the goal of creating a screening process that was “more human than a checkbox,” Mr. Yagan said, the site takes thoughts from its 4.2 million monthly users to build the questions. Users answer as many as they like — the average is 233.

With such a high number of expectations, no wonder some become disgruntled.

And that might explain what is happening in the gay community and its rapid embrace of the iPhone application Grindr. When activated, a grid of dozens of tiny succinct profiles fills the phone screen, using GPS technology to tell users how far away they are from each another.

“17 feet away,” the message said one evening when fired up at a cafe in the Castro district — a disproportionate number of men were then seen holding their phones and looking over their shoulders. Less than a year old and limited to gay men, Grindr already has 500,000 users.

“We keep it PG-13,” said Joel Simkhai, the company’s founder. Although some use the application to facilitate casual hook-ups, no lewd language or photos are allowed.

There is also the reality that users stand a good chance of actually seeing each other in person, not hiding anonymously behind a keyboard, enforcing accountability for one’s conduct.

“It’s more consistent with real life,” Mr. Simkhai said, “a little less in your face.”

A version for heterosexuals is in the works.

But even this emerging slice of the online dating world is not immune from random acts of malice. Almost as soon as Grindr was created, a rogue Web site started called Guys I Blocked On Grindr, dedicated to publicly burning men considered undesirable.

Perhaps there is no way to separate the more public forms of love and the more public forms of cruelty.

Still, Ms. Funai will continue to try to navigate the minefield of online dating, although as a tech marketing manager, she knows that applying ones and zeroes to relationships is problematic.

“What everyone is looking for is chemistry,” she said, “and that’s not quantifiable.”

Scott James is an Emmy-winning television journalist and novelist who lives in San Francisco.


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