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Editorial: Online Dating in Danger of Negative Branding
by Joe Tracy, Publisher of Online Dating Magazine

(November 2003) The Online Dating industry is in serious danger of becoming a branded institution for only people wanting sex after a dating service (which will remain unnamed as not to advertise them) released a press release stating that in a poll of its members, "60 percent have had sex on the first date, while over a third of those report doing so on a regular basis."

Why a dating site would want to conduct a survey like this is beyond me. And why they would want to send out a press release touting the figure is mind-boggling. Is the purpose of dating sites to serve as online pimps or is it to help build meaningful relationships?

In the early days of online dating, services were branded as "dangerous" due to widespread media reports of several high-profile crimes resulting from two people meeting online. Interestingly enough, most of these reports had nothing to do with online dating services, yet the branding stuck for several years.

However, in the past few years online dating services have become recognized as an excellent way for people to meet. Talk shows often feature happy couples who met online. When at a gathering, it's not unheard of to hear a couple say they met online. Even singer Paula Abdul paid a dating service $10,000 to help her find a boyfriend (which they did), according to In Touch magazine. These services have been an excellent resource for building successful and meaningful relationships.

But now the industry is beginning to take a few steps backwards by not making attempts to kill a new stigma that is arising - that dating services are the place to go for new sex partners versus finding someone with whom to build a meaningful relationship. It's no wonder that more and more females are telling me that they are disgusted when logging on to certain dating services and being immediately bombarded with instant messages asking if they want sex! Many services are creating a negative experience for sincere people looking for a meaningful relationship. And the result is that they leave the service and warn other women. It's important to remember that for every cause there is an effect and for every effect there is a result.

Cause: Stigma of dating sites being a sex meeting place where men often proposition women.

Effect: Women seeking a meaningful relationship leave the service with a negative experience and tell other women to "watch out".

Result: More and more quality women stop using the services, thus creating a much larger gap between men and women (most sites are now around 70 percent men and 30 percent women).

And here's another cause, effect, and result:

Cause: A site puts out a press release bragging that 60% of its members report having sex on the first date.

Effect: Media report that online services are becoming the new pimping grounds.

Result: The sites draw more people looking only for sex rather than looking for a meaningful relationship or serious dates.

It's no wonder that sites like eHarmony are becoming more popular for their ability to "weed out" people looking only for sex by presenting a site designed only to match people based on "proven" relationship research methods. The downside, though, is that the monthly fee is nearly double that of other sites! It's almost a no-win situation.

I would encourage dating services to take control of this problem before it takes control of them. How? Here's a few ideas:

1) If the dating site has an Instant Messaging feature, give the users the ability to turn that feature off.

2) All dating sites should allow users to block anyone they deem necessary and the process should be easy to use.

3) Create policy rules governing people IMing dozens of people a day only to ask for sex. Enforce the rules when receiving numerous complaints of offenders.

4) Moderate public chat rooms. Currently, dating sites that don't have a chat room moderator are being inundated with people asking for cyber sex.

5) Improve matching techniques based on relationship principles.

6) Keep advertising on a high level that emphasizes the relationship abilities versus the sexual possibilities.

7) Put out press releases touting the success of relationships from meeting online versus the number of people having sex on the first date!

Online dating is one of the greatest revolutions to hit the dating industry in decades. Tens of thousands of people have met and eventually married through this process.

Right now the online dating industry controls its own fate in how it is perceived by the media and the public. By working on continuing to build a better reputation, the industry can continue to dispel bad stigmas being put on it by a few bad apples. As a result, more quality people will join the services and more success stories will be broadcast around the globe.

That's how I see it at least.

Joe Tracy

> - The best approach to find the one. <

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