THE CONSTRUCTION OF ONLINE DATING SITES
Given the numbers of people seeking others online for love and sex, it is little wonder that companies have tried to formalize this process as well as to make money from people who are prepared to seek out romance on the net. Online dating sites continue to abound online and increase in popularity. Yahoo. com claims almost 380 million visitors per month to their online dating site (Pasha, 2005), and FriendFinder. com say they have over 3.5 million active members (Dating Sites Reviews. com, 2006).
During the early days of the Internet, given the restricted technology capabilities and bandwidth, online dating sites looked more like newspaper personal ads. Individuals would read a profile and contact the person on the site to learn more about them and to gauge whether the other was also interested. Men were much more likely to subscribe to these sites than women and companies allowed women onto these sites for free to ensure men had an adequate selection.
These days, the sites are still typically set up to have their users construct a personal ad for themselves. The amount ofinformation and detail people can add is obviously less restrictive due to increased bandwidth. Clients can, and generally do, show at least one photograph of themselves, and can also add video and voice to their profiles. Online daters can present information about themselves in a number of ways. They can rate themselves or check boxes indicating attributes such as their age, gender, location, job and physique (e. g., a choice ranging from slim to overweight). Some of these questions, such as age and gender are often a compulsory requirement. In addition, clients are usually given an opportunity to add to and expand upon this information. For example, they may elaborate on their hobbies and musical interests, or the type of person they are attempting to attract.
Not all online dating sites expect their clients to do all the matching work themselves. Some sites do the matching for the client. For example, some online dating sites will ask the client to fill out descriptive details and sometimes a personality scale. These sites claim to be able to ‘scientifically’ match individuals. The assumption is that there is a formula to matching appropriate people. This view, however, is somewhat contentious. Houran, Lange, Rentfrow, and Brukner (2004), for instance, have argued that such compatibility tests have provided little psychometric support. Nevertheless, it is argued here that even if these test lack scientific rigor they still assume some of the laborious work from the site users. In contrast, other sites provide a more flexible approach, whereby clients can opt to fill out such tests and be presented with profiles of clients deduced to be suitable matches or instead the client can wade through the sea of possibilities and select for themselves.
In addition to the general online dating sites such as, eHarmony, True. com, Match. com and so forth, there are also more specialized online dating sites which gather like-minded individuals together. For example, there are sites designed specifically for Christians, Jews, vegans, Goths or spiritual people. Such sites are similar to social groups which one might join in the hope of finding others that share the same values or interests. Moreover, it potentially cuts out some of the work associated with the search for the perfect other. These sites are discussed in more detail later in the chapter. For now, this chapter turns to examine how relationship development on an online dating site compares with traditional dating. It does so by firstly examining the traditional off-line courting process.