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Online Dating 2.0: Thirteen Sites To Find Love

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Online dating is big business, drawing about 4 million U.S. Internet users daily in June 2006 (and 25 million monthly), and they spend a daily average of nearly 17 minutes each on these sites. That adds up to a lot of page views – almost 4.5 billion per month (source: Comscore). And that doesn’t take into account the billion-a-day Myspace page views, which many people argue is basically a very large dating site. All told, at least 15% of U.S. Internet users visit an online dating site each month.

The two largest dating sites are Yahoo Personals and Match.com, respectively, with a combined 9.3 million monthly visitors. Both allow free browsing, but to communicate with other members you must pay a fee. Match.com charges $30/month for the basic plan; Yahoo’s fee is $25/month. Both sites also offer premium plans that attempt to help you find a compatible mate.

An entire batch of next generation dating sites have emerged that are starting to nip at the established players. One, PlentyofFish, launched in 2003 and has over half a million monthly U.S. visitors. Recently, even Google has entered the space through their Google Base product.

One big difference is that these sites are (mostly) free, making revenue from ad sales alone. But many of these sites are also experimenting with new ways to introduce people who may be a good match. More on each below.

Consumating

Consumating launched in the summer of 2005, was acquired by CNET in December 2005 and relaunched last month with a new interface and features. Its tagline is “Find People Who Don’t Suck,” and tagging plays a big part in the service. Consumating is clearly aimed young hipsters, who can make themselves more “popular” by answering questions to fill out their profile. Users search by loose age ranges (20s, 30s, etc.) and tags to find friends and partners. The site also seeks to engage users through a variety of contests and weekly user quizzes. Other Consumating features include a widget that streams member information to a web page based on parameters you set (everyone, zipcode, by tag). The site also has message board features. We’ve included a version of the widget below.

var widget = new ConsumatingWidget();
widget.randomProfile();

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.csm_badge_vertical { background: #FFF; padding: 0px; margin: 0px; }
.csm_badge_horizontal { background: #FFF; padding: 0px; margin: 0px; }
.csm_wrapper { width: 152px; padding: 0px; margin: 0px; position: relative; font-family: “Trebuchet MS”,Trebuchet,”Lucinda Grande”, verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
}
.csm_horizontal_wrapper { width: 502px; padding: 0px; margin: 0px; font-family: “Trebuchet MS”,Trebuchet,”Lucinda Grande”, verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
}
.csm_vertical_wrapper { width: 52px; padding: 0px; margin: 0px; font-family: “Trebuchet MS”,Trebuchet,”Lucinda Grande”, verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
}
.csm_wrapper a { color: #0A6; }
.csm_wrapper .logo { text-align: center; border-top: 1px dashed #666; }
.csm_break { height: 1px; clear: both;}
.csm_row { padding: 0px; text-align: left; margin-bottom: 5px; min-height: 50px; height: 50px;}
.csm_row_txt { position: relative; left: 60px; width: 90px; font-size: 12px; }
.csm_row_pic {position: absolute; left: 0px; width: 55px; }
.csm_txt { padding: 5px; text-align: center; }
.csm_card { border: solid #666 1px; width: 110px; height: 145px; text-align: center; font-size: 11px; padding-top: 5px; background: #FFF; margin: 5px;}
.csm_profile { text-align: center; padding: 10px; }

widget.firstProfile();
for (i = 0; i < widget.profileCount(10); i++) {
document.write(widget.profileLink(widget.photo(1,50)));
widget.nextProfile();
}

Engage

Engage seeks to hook up couples Fiddler-on-the-Roof-style through matchmaking. Users sign up with the usual descriptive profile, but then take on the role of either “dater” or “matchmaker” (or both). The fact that Engage uses its own member to set others up is their key differentiator, and gives the site a viral touch – even non members can be suggested for a match.

Users can browse as either matchmakers, recommending their friends, or as a dater looking for that special someone for a wing(wo)man to introduce them too. Daters can also directly email each other, however. Added features include user voting on potential couple’s compatibility as well as both dater and matchmaker reputations. Engage will charge members but is offering a 6 month free trial currently. Non-dating matchmakers can use the site for free.

Google Personals

Google Base (TechCrunch profiles here) allows users to enter personal profiles highly targeted towards dating (fields include gender, marital status, sexual orientation, etc.). Other features include labels (tags), a short description, location mapping, and an anonymous email to be reached at. So far, the personals section has been primarily used as a personals aggregator for Hot or Not and FindingSingles.com, a consequence of the mass upload feature. Also, for a bit of humor, check out this post by Damien Mulley on how to use Google to get laid.

GreatBoyFriends

GreatBoyFriends, which was acquired by TheKnot in 2005, tries to remove the exaggeration (or lie) factor inherent in online dating. Friends, family and ex’s are asked to leave feedback about them. GBF then verifies the endorsement or removes it. A key selling point is that married or otherwise unavailable people don’t use the site.

Guided by the recommendations, users search for themselves or recommend matches for their friends. The site drives referrals by waiving a week of the $20/month subscription fee for referrals and adds users by creating accounts for non-users when they are referred on the site.

MatchActivity

MatchActivity is a new site that sets up a date before the introduction. Users post activities in their area by tags and then chose the respondent they like the most and carry out the plan. Added features allow you to add buddies, rate user reliability, target invitations to a specific person, and be notified when that certain someone you admire posts an activity. For an activity based site, it’s surprising there is no date/time filtering for searches and a lack of standard messaging features makes it hard to use the service to keep in touch with successful dates using the site. See a positive review here. MatchActivity is free, but offers a $8/month premium version to allow one-on-one communication outside of activity planning.

MatchTag

MatchTag has the same core activity tagging feature of MatchActivity.com, but wraps it in a more complete social network. Users post activities to the general population and chose partners from respondents, but also has more complete messaging and commenting features to fill out the user experience outside of activities. This is because MatchTag’s founders view it as a service not only to meet new dates, but also friends in your area. MatchTag’s added calendar feature makes it easy to not only find activities you know you like but also stumble upon new ones.

MingleNow

MingleNow, a new venture from BlueLithium, is pre-launch. You can add your email to the home page for updates, or see their blog here. Early reports from testers say that MingleNow aims to join online and offline social gathering. Users registering on MingleNow will group themselves by what real world locations they hang out at (bars, restaurants, cafe’s, etc.) so groups can mingle online and off. The site will also include a rating system to gauge member’s flakiness along with other metrics. We’re looking forward to reviewing this when it launches – it may be great for non-dating social interaction as well.

PlentyofFish

PlentyOfFish started as a way for Markus Frind to teach himself ASP, but quickly marched itself up to become a very large dating site, with nearly 600,000 unique monthly U.S. visitors (Comscore) and claims of 500 million monthly page views (Comscore says only 118 million, in the U.S.). Its look and feel is rough around the edges, but it gives users what they want: the ability to browse personal profiles free of charge. PlentyOfFish also crafted a simple bulletin board system that allows users to freely chat, vent frustrations, and offer up dating advice. The site is doing very well financially.

Poddater

We wrote about Poddater in December 2005. The basic idea is to allow people to create profile videos and allow others to download them and view them. With a bit of a stretch, they also assume people will download these to their video iPod or other video device and review them there. It is otherwise a fairly standard view profile/contact user type site. Users can browse via location, age, and tags. When you find someone you’re interested in you can message them or just admire from afar by subscribing to their RSS feed. Note: a lot of the profiles don’t have videos, and our view is that Poddater is too niche to succeed.

Prescription4Love

We wrote about this one last week. Prescription4Love is a niche site devoted to people facing the stigma of special conditions, such as deafness, HIV, or obesity. It helps members find a better romantic match by allowing them to be open about their conditions with potential partners while maintaining anonymity until users trust each other. Overall, the site’s search feature does the job for finding people in your area by personal traits and certain conditions, but lacks the visual customization of the profile that could be a useful fill-in for the lack of a photo. Commenters have also suggested that search for multiple condition be allowed.

RateOrDate

RateOrDate is a meta-dating-search site that features couple ratings, singles event listings, and a dating site directory. Users can use the directory to find the dating site that most closely fits their needs. A Google maps mashup lets daters can find singles events in their areas. Finally, users can rate potential couple comparability based on photos and a short blurb. They also have a good blog following dating site trends. Overall we found the site to be a bit confusing and lacking in much actual utility.

VerbDate

VerbDate is a new dating site, launched in March, that adds voice to the usual online dating experience via Skype. Verbdate has the usual user profiles with tags, but incorporates Flickr photo albums and allows users to not only email and IM, but initiate a Skype call by “winking” at each other. All-in-all, VerbDate allows the greatest amount of interaction while remaining physically separated. The site only has 117 profiles, however, and has some negative reviews. It’s very young, though, and needs time to fully bake.

Wikia Personals

Wikia Personals has yet to launch, but aims to create a free global personals page. Discussion so far is geared towards a site that allows users to search through personal profiles based on fields such as language, sex, religion, etc. Stay tuned for some more developments from this community created site. Our previous Wikia posts are here, and our podcast interview with CEO Gil Penchina is here.

Summary

We’ve included a summary chart of features but, frankly, such an objective breakdown of the services may be of little value to users looking to just find a date. Numbers of profiles matter – in that case PlentyofFish, a basic but free service, leads the pack. If you are looking for a more structures approach to dating, try one of the sites offering activity based meetings, or matchmaking. Our anticipated favorite is MingleNow – tying socializing to real-world hangouts is a great idea. Most of the sites above support gay and lesbian searches as well.

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