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‘For better or for worse, the Internet is radically changing the dating scene in America’
  U.S.News & World Report

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U.S. News & World Report Dating Online Article 1
Title: Love.com

Author(s): Anna Mulrine
Citation: September 29, 2003 p 52-58
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Online dating services are a growing trend, with get-acquainted questionnaires, safety measures, and conveniences built in

Stephenie liked what she saw the instant Craig Murphy popped up as a match on her online dating Web site. He was a good-looking 29-year-old golf pro with dark hair and darker eyes. In the year before she met Craig on Matchmaker.com, Stephenie, a 28-year-old teacher in Phoenix, had had both hits and misses courtesy of the dating service, but never a shortage of entertainment.

For his part, Craig didn’t have high hopes for a Web wingman. Truth be told, he was a bit suspicious, particularly since the coworker who had persuaded him to try the service was, he says, precisely one of those unabashed frauds with the outdated photo. What’s more, Craig was still stinging from a recent failed relationship.

So they were both pleasantly surprised when their initial phone conversation ranged widely and easily and spun on into the afternoon. Craig finally decided to take a leap and asked her to dinner–that night. Then came the shocker. When he gave Stephenie his address, she recalls, “My mouth just dropped.” It turned out they lived in the same apartment complex, just across a courtyard from each other–and had for a year and a half. “I know I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” she told him. “But if you stick your head out your front door, I bet you can see me.” Later, they discovered that they went to the same church, too. “How in the world did we never cross paths?” wonders Stephenie, who married Craig last year.

E-change. Craig and Stephenie are not an aberration. Increasingly, busy singles like Craig and Stephenie are turning to the Web to help them in a way that other social institutions don’t anymore. Americans are more mobile than they were a generation ago, and they’re also waiting longer than ever to marry. This union of social and economic trends means that young adults are no longer relying on traditional dating venues like college to introduce them to their sweethearts. For her part, Stephenie did all of the things a woman is urged to do when looking for Mr. Right: She found a place in a sociable sort of apartment complex, complete with a swimming pool. She went to the young adult meet-and-greets at her church. She put the word out to her friends. But no luck.

Enter the Internet. Indeed, online personals are now the most lucrative segment of paid services on the Web, according to comScore Networks–eclipsing digital music sharing services, online investment advice, research services like LexisNexis, and gossip and entertainment sites–including what the industry calls “mainstream adult” sites like Playboy.

Glenn Hutchinson and Mark Thompson are among the new Web-dating entrepreneurs. When they posted an online test on their site, they really didn’t expect much. As researchers, they knew how hard it is to get anyone to volunteer personal information of any kind. So they were stunned by the response. Hutchinson says: “I remember coming in after our test had been up for 18 hours. I was expecting a few dozen responses, and there were 10,000.”

Date crunchers. The two instantly realized they had the means to study millions of online subjects–an unprecedented sample in social science research. “We are able to collect data in a week with a speed faster than any academic could have dreamed about in a lifetime,” says Thompson. What they stumbled upon was “this amazing natural laboratory–people having good and bad experiences, telling us what happened and why they think it happened.”

They decided to employ computer technology to find a few “simple, logical rules” that make up, well, the recipe for love. For help on the technical side, they turned to Michael Georgeff, director of the Australian Artificial Intelligence Institute. During his work on a NASA project at Stanford Research Institute, Georgeff had developed a methodology to teach Space Shuttle Discovery computers how to anticipate unexpected problems. Working with Thompson and Hutchinson, he applied the same principles to the design of dating software, employing many of the statistical methods common to social science research. “Say you score a 3 on the introvert scale, and a 6 on touchy-feely. Will you tend to like somebody who’s practical?” Using Georgeff’s software, Thompson and Hutchinson then developed an online quiz.   Match.com  the highly popular online dating site, began using weAttract.com’s software this year to give users a rough sense of what proportion of the dating population might be attracted to their particular array of personality traits.

Making it last. Other kinds of dating software are in the works as well. Clinical psychologist Neil Clark Warren was interested in the countless relationships he had seen fall apart. “There’s the mystery, the complexity–and the fact that most people get it wrong,” he says. Indeed, 43 percent of married couples are not together within 15 years, and of those who do stay together, 4 in 10 say they’re not happy. Warren estimates that three-quarters of marriages are in trouble the day they get started.

The reason for that dismal track record, Warren believes, is that Americans are just too easy, relying on the intangibles of “chemistry” to carry their relationships. “In this culture, if we like the person’s looks, if they have an ability to chatter at a cocktail party, and a little bit of status, we’re halfway to marriage,” he says. “We’re such suckers.”

To help these suckers, Warren founded eHarmony.com, a Web site built around a 480-item questionnaire covering all sorts of personality traits and “basic subconscious wants.” Singles also complete a checklist of their biggest “can’t-stands”: Liars and people who can’t control their anger tend to top the list. Once they’re matched, couples spend about eight hours online, during six to 10 dates. It’s part of a structured process designed to ease things “during the awkward getting-to-know-you phase,” says Warren.

Dinner? Not everyone visiting a dating site is looking for a life partner, of course. In fact, fully half of Match.com’s members are under 30, and they are often seeking a fun date or simple companionship. Michael Mundy fits that category. He enjoys dating, and he isn’t opposed to some bar hopping, either. He goes out regularly in downtown Chicago where he lives, but even at 25 he often finds the scene exhausting: “You’re there to have a good time, so you don’t really want to focus on, `OK, am I going to meet someone? Are they with someone?’ “

Raised on the Net and instant messaging, Mundy says he can’t imagine not signing up with an online dating site, as he did with Match.com. “We live in an age where it’s possible to meet people this way,” he says. “Why not?”

Perhaps the most interesting recent development in online dating is that it’s more and more resembling old-fashioned dating. For example, there are now Match.com  live events in cities throughout the country, where singles can meet up for hikes, wine tastings, and kayaking events, as well as multiday singles vacations. Ironically, these events often attract singles who just aren’t comfortable with online dating.

But what about the romance of it all? And the serendipity? Are we losing the stories of the chance meetings, locked eyes, loss of breath? Stephenie Murphy shrugs. “We live around the corner from a video store and a little grocery shop–that would have been a cute story, reaching for the same movie or something,” she says. “But this is how you meet today.”



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