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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


This Week:
Free Dating Sites

Are Free Dating Sites Worth My Time or Are They Full of Losers?

 

Just a few years ago there used to be a social stigma about online dating services, namely, that people who went looking for love through the computer was lonely, desperate, and putting themselves at great risk to their personal safety. Fortunately, that stigma has largely been healed through greater public education, as well as the countless success stories with online dating reported in the media. Unfortunately, there now seems to be another stigma. This question highlights it well.

To answer this question really well, I sought the expertise and perspective of Markus Frind, a well-known and highly respected industry insider. He’s also the owner and site operator of arguably the most successful free dating site on the planet: Plentyoffish.com. Let me be clear here – this is no advertisement for his website. While I have a ton of respect for what Markus has achieved, I wanted to get his candid answers to the new social stigma that free dating sites are lesser quality in their service and members. I’m not afraid to admit that he simply knows more about the free dating site genre than me. Here’s his perspective –

Dr. Jim: Why did you start Plentyoffish.com?

Markus: I started Plentyoffish.com because I had to learn a new programming language. I didn't want to buy pointless books I'd never read so I created a dating site to teach myself. At the time all the sites were paid and I figured I could do a far better job given the chance.


Dr. Jim: Does the number of free dating sites outweigh the number of paid sites?

Markus: Nope, most of the free sites go paid. Currently there are really only three or so free sites with more than two thousand visitors per day. Plentyoffish is 12 times bigger then the closest competing free site, and that gap is growing. An online dater’s other options are social networking sites, at least in the United States. A site like MySpace.com it is three times the size of the entire dating industry! Finding someone to date is difficult on MySpace and other social networking sites, because many of their members aren’t there for dating. I should also mention that there are not many search tools on those sites, but if you have patience you’ll find a lot of people there!


Dr. Jim: How do free sites compete with paid sites?

Markus: I compete mainly by offering a better product for free. There’s really no competition, as Plentyoffish.com grows in leaps and bounds due to word of mouth. I just focus on making Plentyoffish.com the best dating site there is.


Dr. Jim: What do you say to the skeptics out there (like the reader who submitted this question) who argue the quality of members on free sites is poorer than on paid sites?

Markus: Well, many major sites allow women to use their service effectively for free, because it doesn’t cost money to reply to messages. So, does that mean all the women are low quality? The second argument critics tend to use is that everyone on free sites are under the age of 18. The truth is that 77.3% of members of Plentyoffish.com are 25 or over.

I can also turn the question around and argue that paid sites have lower quality members. In the offline world, desperate singles will pay $5,000 for a dating service to match them up, and men will pay hundreds for escorts. This behavior is mirrored on paid dating sites as they make the vast majority of their money off the adult sections or “marriage only” services.


Dr. Jim: Give us your best argument why an active online dater should choose a free site over a paid one.

Markus: The largest dating sites at any given point in time only have 1% of the single population as subscribers, and that typically translates into someone active in the last three months. Plentyoffish.com, at least in Provinces like Ontario, Canada, has 1% of ALL singles logging in and USING the service every single day. That’s something that all paid dating services combined cannot match. In another four months in Ontario we’ll have 2% of all singles using the service every day. In the United States we’re effectively the 3rd largest dating service and gaining market share very rapidly. There’s no reason not to try Plentyoffish – it’s free and easy. Most importantly, unlike paid sites, as online dater won’t risk losing $30-$50 each month for no results.


My take away from Markus’ arguments is that questions of “quality members” can be raised against any and all online dating sites. To some degree, every online dating site has the equivalent of “free members” due to promotional offers or site rules. As a result, online daters shouldn’t equate “free” with “undesirable.” Actually, a good case can be made for the opposite. Online daters can effectively augment whatever services they pay for now with services offered by entrepreneurs like Markus Frind. This is because the nature of free online dating sites inherently draws a multitude of eligible singles – and the membership numbers tend to intimidate even the largest of paid sites. Moreover, it seems that most people join free sites and make them successful due to word-of-mouth advertising. That’s an important point to keep in mind. It’s one thing to hear about how wonderful and effective a site is from the PR department or marketing arm of an online dating service; it’s quite another to hear legitimate and uncensored feedback from actual online daters.

It’s our hope at Online Dating Magazine that this visit with Markus and Plentyoffish.com helps relieve some of the stigma about free sites that seems to be out there in some circles. On a professional note, I want to close with one final thought. Free dating sites can be wonderful services, but in my book I particularly respect them as invaluable learning tools. Seasoned online daters can get much out of free sites, but I especially recommend giving them a try if you’re a single just getting into the online dating scene. Here’s a marvelous opportunity to get comfortable with the culture and process of online dating but without committing serious money as you do on most major paid sites. Believe me… buyers’ remorse is not an aphrodisiac.




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