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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Editorials > January 2009

Editorial:
What's in Store for Online Dating in 2009?

by James Houran, Ph.D.

(January 2009) This past year was a whirlwind for the online dating industry in many ways. Identity management companies were on the rise, silly and potentially unsafe legislation was passed in New Jersey concerning notification of background checks on online dating sites, niche sites in certain sectors continued to pull ahead – especially free sites like OKCupid and PlentyofFish and well established sites like Christiancafe.com, love coaches became more vocal and visible and they along with traditional matchmakers started to receive more press, new compatibility matching systems attempted to make waves and the year was capped by social politics entering the fray with one major dating site changing its core business model so as to pacify people who felt the company was not inclusive enough. This article isn’t going to be an in-depth review of these developments. Rather, I want to look ahead and speculate about what 2009 might bring to you, the actual online dater.

 

Here’s the big forecast….not much will dramatically change from the perspective of the end user. The big sites like Match, Yahoo and eHarmony will continue to dominate the US market. Also leading the pack will be PlentyofFish – this is a totally free service that seems to work well for many and it has impressive volume and tools and features that typically a user would have to pay a good amount of money for. EHarmony’s brand awareness will keep many people interested in the topic of compatibility matching, and we’ll no doubt continue to see many dating sites either add compatibility matching to their core features as well as new compatibility methods attempt to make a mark on the industry with bold press releases touting what amounts to be junk science or pseudoscientific methods (for example, can you say “DNA dating”?)

I foresee the big companies really trying to deliver the ultimate in a personalized user experience, at least in their marketing materials. A personalized experience involves website content, product and service offerings and matching that changes according to the needs or background of an individual customer. Of course, this is the holy grail of user experience that everyone wants, yet no one seems to achieve. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that companies aren’t willing or able to invest in the level of resources needed to reach this goal. After all, the movie rental business Netflix is still offering one million dollars to anyone who can improve their movie recommendation system.  One industry insider has proclaimed that online dating sites should operate more like Netflix in order to build the most effective compatibility matching system on the market. That’s a naïve perspective to my way of thinking; I mean, who’s to say such a method doesn’t already exist?  Such suggestions are like putting the cart before the horse. First, we need a serious scientific or market study of current outcomes and customer perceptions with online dating, and then we’ll know where we stand and where we need to go next. Don’t hold your breath on that outcome study – no dating site wants to show the media, let alone an independent researcher, what’s “under the hood” for fear of being exposed or learning the competition truly is better and having that broadcast for all to hear. Mention such a project and the heads of dating sites executives suddenly look to the floor.

On the other hand, some executives have their heads raised high. Businesses that cater to the “adult” or casual dating (“hooking up”) market currently flourish and will continue to thrive as usual. Those sites are clear and direct in what they offer, and they apparently deliver what their customers want. It might be politically incorrect to say this, but mainstream sites might well try to learn better marketing tactics from these adult sites. I don’t mean relying on skin, provocative poses and fake profiles to lure in customers; I’m talking about being upfront with what a service really offers and then delivering well on customer service. Too often it seems that some online dating sites feel the need to position themselves as one thing to gain customers and then turn out to be something completely different once a customer is in the store. Online daters horribly resent it when people they meet end up being different than what they expected, so why do some online dating companies disappoint customers like this?  My answer is that we’re seeing short-sightedness driven by greed or a lack of a company identity and mission.

Perhaps the most innovative advances will occur on the mega dating sites that we know as Facebook and MySpace. These are prima facie social networking sites that present the ultimate in flexibility to users based on volume and social acceptance. That is, users can use the sites for innocuous contact and then evolve conversations and interactions into more romantic fodder. In my view, these are the largest and most successful dating sites in existence. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Youtube.com started an official, full-fledged “dating videos” section and introduced compatibility matching in 2009!  I’m only half joking, folks.

By now this article might be perceived as wholly critical or pessimistic about the industry. It some ways, I’m pessimistic about certain sectors and policies and developments in the industry. But, on the other hand, I’m very optimistic about online daters in 2009. From my perspective they’re becoming increasingly savvier about how to use sites and how to interact with others online and off. They also seem to be more diversified.  I know some industry bloggers don’t believe this, but the large numbers of online daters to whom I speak use more than one dating site (usually one paid, one free), have at least one social networking profile and actively try to meet people offline as well. These are more educated consumers and daters who use a variety of tools, methods and opportunities to find what’s missing from their love lives. For my part, I want to help to continue to educate and enlighten those daters by posting an unprecedented series of revealing interviews with industry insiders, dating experts and actual daters. Pay close attention to the content on OnlineDatingMagazine.com in 2009. We’re here to help you stay ahead of the game… in the game of love.

 


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