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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Editorials > Judging Books by their Covers

Judging Books By Their Covers

Susan Boyle, Online Dating, & Reputations
by James Houran, Ph.D.

(May 2009) The old saying "Never judge a book by its cover" constantly rings true, doesn’t it?  I don’t know anyone who isn’t guilty of it. Whether the impression is about a person, place or thing, people often make snap judgments without fully showing an open mind.

This point was brought home in a very dramatic way when every major media outlet recently carried the story of Susan Boyle who auditioned for reality-variety show called “Britain's Got Talent.” Even before Susan stepped out onstage, this 47 year-old, single woman -- who had never been married or even kissed as she admitted -- began to receive snickers and disapproving looks from the audience and her fellow competitors. Stepping onstage, the judges' reactions were obviously preconceived as well. They half-heartedly interviewed her, and, as the cameras panned the audience before Boyle began to sing, the laughs and looks continued.

But then the music started and what followed was completely unexpected and downright angelic. Susan’s voice mesmerized the crowd and the judges. What an inspiration this woman was, and more importantly, what a message she has sent across the globe. Susan Boyle sent a wake-up call to everyone who tends to make snap decisions. We can all learn to be more tolerant and judgmental. In the rare case you've not gotten a chance to witness this incredible performance viewed over twenty million times so far, go to YouTube and type “Susan Boyle singer” into the search engine. You’re in for a unforgettable treat.

So, what does all of this have to do with online dating?  Well, it comes down again to the issue of judging books by their covers. Online daters do this all the time -- sometimes in a positive sense and sometimes in a negative one. That’s right -- sometimes we’re overly dismissive of others and sometimes were too easily accepting. People need to apply contemplation and common sense with everyone to ensure that we keep ourselves safe, as well as alert to good opportunities and experiences.  Let me explain.

In the recent April “Law and Regulation” section of the BizReport (, reporter Helen Leggatt noted that Internet crimes continue to steal millions of dollars every year from unsuspecting victims, and new data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) shows that the number of complaints was up last year. The IC3 is made up of the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. This watchdog group reported a rise in the number of complaints of Internet fraud last year, and this was after two years of decline. A new report shows a total of 275,284 complaints were received last year, amounting to losses of $265 million. Non-delivery of goods was the most common complaint (33% of all complaints received), followed by auction fraud (24 % of complaints) and credit/debit card fraud (10%).

Most of the victims suffered financial loss to some degree, but the highest dollar amounts lost were to check fraud ($3,000), confidence fraud ($2,000) and a variant of the Nigerian letter fraud scam ($1,650). Of course variants on some of these scams are not uncommon across dating websites. You may well have one such “offer” or “opportunity” in your online dating inbox right now. So while we should not jump to conclusions and readily dismiss people who could surprise us like Susan Boyle, we must also remember not to jump to conclusions and readily trust people who could also surprise us (in a negative way) like these scam artists.

The industry is arguably beginning to respond to these threats by offering online reputation management services. What this approach boils down to is online daters posting public reviews of the integrity and behavior of other online daters. While such a formal reviewing process is new to online dating, it’s not new to the online world. Powerhouse companies like Amazon and eBay, which rely on customers policing themselves, have used customer reviews like this for years. And, reviews in these contexts have worked amazingly well. There’s another clever reason why these companies incorporate customer reviews into the “sales” process. It builds and enhances customer ownership in the website. In other words, it’s an excellent way to form and foster an online “community.”  Now, customer reviews are hardly original to offline and online businesses. You need only consult with your local Better Business Bureau to see that customers have long taken action when a product or service didn’t live up to its promises. With all of this background, it would seem that an effective and popular service – for both policing online daters and building a sense of community – would be offering online daters the chance to post reviews of other online daters. Well, it’s turned out to be quite a controversial service. The New York Times published a feature story about these services way back in February of 2006 [“(Name Here) Is a Liar and a Cheat” by Lizette Alvarez].

Now there are at least two new services available that are related to the “reputation management” idea. For starters, Evan Diacopolous is behind Yes I am Single (, a service which allows the lovelorn to purchase a “singles identification badge” to let potential partners know they're available and looking for love. The badge says “Hey I’m single.” For a cost of $22.95 singles get the badge plus access to online forums to join hobby groups and organize social events such as wine tasting or walking groups with other members of “”. Second is Markus Frind of Plenty of Fish ( who stunned the industry recently when he introduced the “Serious Member” badge. What was so stunning about this announcement?  It was a paid feature on the popular “free dating site.” With this optional upgrade a member can signal to the POF community that he or she is “serious” about meeting someone.  This upgrade lasts a matter of months, and those wanting it must pass an online screening assessment for sincerity and integrity.

Features like these are probably too new to tell whether they work well for both the dating site and the customers. However, it’s clear that interest in services like these is strong and hopefully people who see others with these badges of public intention do not automatically let their guard down and assume that anyone is exactly who s/he says s/he is. Appearances can be deceiving, and daters are constantly being surprised both pleasantly and unpleasantly. So, please regard Susan Boyle as a wake-up call to be cognizant about everyone and their stated intentions. Remember our motto, “in matters of the heart, it’s best to use your head.”



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