http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2013/02/08/clicking-your-way-to-love


Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - February 8, 2013

Clicking your way to love

Reporter explores Internet options in the dating game

by Jessica Lipsky

Hey there, welcome to my page!

I'm a 20-something writer and audiophile who enjoys record hunting, hiking and spicy foods. I would rather go to a show than a party, can't stand Lady Gaga and will cut a rug if Tina Turner comes on. Looking for a driven, emotionally available man between 25 and 35, preferably with a beard.

I was originally ashamed to have an online dating profile -- I'm smart, outgoing and my mom says I'm cute, why would I have to resort to the Internet?

But the answer is pretty simple: My work at the Weekly, San Ramon Express and Danville Express keeps me pretty busy and away from a viable dating pool. In the two years since I started here, I've met but one guy who was in my desired dating age range. Literally one.

Although I was hesitant at first, I took to online dating like a fish to water. It was fun to add photos, answer questions and create witty snippets to highlight my irresistibly funny and cool but definitely not desperate personality with the hopes of snagging the music-obsessed, bordering-on-savant boy of my dreams.

While researchers at the University of Rochester in New York have found that online dating is now the No. 2 form of matchmaking in the U.S., a 2012 Northwestern University study called popular websites such as Match.com and eHarmony "supermarkets" and "real estate brokers" of love.

Associate professor of psychology Eli Finkel said people don't learn much from a profile and often get overloaded by choice. There is also is no compelling evidence that matching algorithms used to identify potential partners actually work.

"Even if the algorithms are cutting 2,000 potential partners down to five, if that process is random, is it really any better than strolling into the neighborhood bar?" Finkel questioned.

But dating service advertisements, word of mouth and several other studies would have you believe otherwise. In a marriage study conducted in 2010 for eHarmony by ORC International, 37.8% of couples met at work or school and 12.2% met online. But for the 50-plus age group, 26.8% of surveyed couples met on the Internet, compared with 23.2% at work or school.

Plenty of Fish

POF was the first website I tried a couple of years ago, and I'm not entirely sure how I came upon it. Looking back, it seems to be the Myspace of dating websites -- grainy photos, not-so-sleek design and a hookup culture that lingered barely beneath the surface. But at the time, it seemed cool and novel.

Founder Markus Frind said his free site is the top dating site in the United States, Canada, the U.K. and even in Brazil, with over 2 million daily users in the U.S. Frind added that POF avoids niche demographics and is "the top in every age bucket."

"The more you use the site the more effective the match algorithm becomes .... We look at people who are similar to you, millions of women who filled out a profile in similar ways, use the site in similar ways, therefore we can predict that they will act like you. We are building neural networks," he said.

Plenty of Fish monitors user activity to compare stated preferences with the people you're actually looking at, improving match quality by a factor of four. The site also asks people leaving the site in a relationship to give feedback.

"We work backwards to see what combinations of traits and characters lead to relationships.

"We're discovering all the things that cause relationships to break up and what causes relationships never to form in the first place," Frind said.

Although I did meet one nice guy on Plenty of Fish, I did not like many of the matches I was shown. They were either unattractive, in a different stage of life, or couldn't write in complete sentences/use proper grammar -- I'm a journalist, gentlemen, I totally judge you on that stuff. No one seemed to fit and I gave up on Plenty of Fish after about two or three months.

Zoosk

I don't know anyone who has used San Francisco-based Zoosk, which launched in 2007 on Facebook. Although Zoosk officials say it is "integrated into the social graph" with smartphone applications and premium subscriptions, it is extremely difficult to navigate. Zoosk doesn't present matches in a clear fashion; the easiest way I found to see matches was to use the carousel feature and click yes/no/maybe to help determine my preferences.

Zoosk asks 40 questions to set compatibility, which seemed vague and not enough to determine what kind of match I'm looking for. Users are given an option to download a messenger in order to talk to people but the site was so poor that I couldn't figure out how to do it. Although I am in Zoosk's target audience of 25- to 35-year-olds, I was so turned off by its interface that I didn't get much from the matching process.

Match

I used Match.com for about three months with little to no success, though the company would have you think that almost all users find a relationship or life partner. Realistically, this might be because of my age and lack of desire to get married in the next five years. The 50-plus age group is Match.com's fastest growing demographic and only 25% of its users are under 30.

Still, this site has a better matching sequence and showed me more men I found attractive and compatible. One widely accepted benefit is that, because Match is a paid site, it weeds out a lot of the cheapos and creepers that lurk on free dating sites. Having been on dates with several men who wouldn't so much as offer to buy me a drink or couldn't afford to take the train to meet in a central location, the notion that a guy is willing to pay for a website appeals. I enjoy going out and would like to do so regularly with a significant other.

Although I only know a handful of people my age who have had success on Match, most every person I spoke to over age 45 knew someone who had met their spouse on the site.

eHarmony

This site is slick and easy to navigate. However, the autonomous and curious date-seeker could be deterred from eHarmony, which refuses to let users browse for their own dates and instead requires them to answer a 258-question personality test and then picks potential partners.

Although the process was engaging, I thought there was an underlying conservatism behind many of the questions about experience and priorities that was very thinly veiled. This observation might have been influenced by eHarmony's discrimination against LGBT users, though the company merged its queer-only Compatible Partner site with eHarmony in 2010.

OK Cupid

OK Cupid is my favorite of the sites I've used and the one I've had the most luck with -- I've had one long-term(ish) relationship and am currently seeing someone I met on OKC who has potential. This free site is popular with the 19 to 35 age group, is user friendly and presents information in multiple ways. What I like most about OK Cupid is that matches are partially determined by answers to a variety of questions and you can choose which you'd like to respond to; I love taking surveys so this is right up my alley.

OK Cupid has been very open about how its algorithm works: The more complete your profile, (both the basic who I am and what I'm looking for, as well as unlimited survey questions) the more accurate the matches that are presented are likely to be. The site collects data on daily activities as well as how important certain questions are -- for example, having strong emotions around art is very important to me while the need to be in contact every day, always, is not -- to calculate match percentages.

Many friends and acquaintances have used OKC and while about half said they'd met crazies on the site -- a self-described King of Sex who assumed he could stay the night; one who couldn't distinguish a "group hang" from a date that she suggested; an "onion lady" who, although she didn't smell or make the guy cry, got crazier with each successive layer he peeled off -- the other half met long-term partners or are in successful relationships.

* * * *

During two years of on-and-off online dating using several sites I experienced my share of doozies and snoozies, rude dudes and even a few seriously groovy guys. I went out with one good looking, successful lawyer who seemed excited to meet me then wouldn't say a word when we met up for drinks. I dated an easy-going teacher for a couple months before leaving his house confused and upset when he asked me to go to a street fair but spent the entire night texting another girl he met online while ignoring me.

Although some of the email conversations, dates and relationships I had were frustrating, confusing or downright ridiculous, I appreciate the experience and time I spent getting to know the men I met. At the most basic level, dating is a numbers game and I figure online dating gives me the opportunity to get to know people I wouldn't otherwise meet while on the job, sitting in suburban city council meetings with people my parent's age. Until another young, enterprising reporter shows up, anyway.

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