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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Mark Brooks

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.

 


Interview with Mark Brooks (Online Personals Watch)

In keeping with my New Year’s resolution to you – which is to provide end users with exclusive interviews from the best sources in the industry – I am happy to present some insider information from Mark Brooks of www.OnlinePersonalsWatch.com. Mark knows more about business and consumer trends in online dating than anyone else I have met.

Mark Brooks operates a boutique consultancy that exclusively serves internet dating and social networking companies. He has advised the CEO's of Friendster, Friendfinder, Cupid, Webdate and PlentyofFish, among others, and has worked in the online community space since 1998. Mark's expertise in the industry has made him a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world and a highly sought after consultant to internet dating and social networking companies. He also writes for TechCrunch, and manages the speaker agenda and media relations for the Internet Dating & Social Networking Conferences. Mark is currently the President of the Internet Dating Executive Alliance.

What is Online Personals Watch? Why did you start the service and how would you describe it to our general readership?

I was at Friend Finder and my friends were forwarding lots of news pieces to me which was very nice of them but I never found time to read it. It came to my attention that no one else was reading it either. It was great information but just not enough time in the day. So I thought wouldn't it be great if there was a website that summarized the news down. I couldn't find it so I decided to start it. So I figured if I actually summarized the news down then it would force me, if I committed to do that, it would force me to review the news every day. It was really a form of discipline. I figured if I'm reviewing it I might as well share it and that's how OPW came about in June 2004.I just started reviewing the news, summarizing it down and it was useful for me and I just figured I would learn and share.

Online Personals Watch (OPW) is a service to the executives in the press basically. I think the information on OPW is of interest to end users but it tends to be a little bit more business oriented. So we're all about the business of internet dating rather than the softer side. I think it's of interest to end users, but it's targeted at the executives in the internet dating business and also it's targeted as being a press resource. So if a member of the press wants to research a particular company all they need to do is go to the company index and click on a company and they can see all the news on that particular company since 2004. So that is pushing five years now of full coverage.

All this is absolutely free? If anybody wants to look up any sort of information about a company trend and their services, any type of press release that resource of information is entirely free to anybody, including an end user as well as the press. Is that correct?

Absolutely correct -- no cost. Every day we review I would say about fifty different resources for news and then we have Google feeding us. The difference with our service and something I've not really seen anywhere else is that we summarize the news. We don't just cut it or do the first paragraph, we actually review the entire article and try and extract the key intelligence, the key learnings with the executives and press in mind for that particular story. So that's how we're a little different.

So understanding the end user, our typical online dater is probably not your primary audience here; could they gain some value though from periodically checking out your site? And what value would they mainly get?

That’s an interesting question because they would, it's not targeted at them but it’s rather useful information. If they’re considering joining a particular website, then they could go to OPW and click on the company index and look up a particular company and just read up on them and see if they really trust that company based on the news and what the executives have said. Perhaps they can get some deep insight on a particular company that they're not going to necessarily find on that company's website and decide whether they want to join.

So this information can augment if someone wants to look up Better Business Bureau reports or consumer type of reports, this gives them sort of another form of market intelligence to know whether a particular site fits their values, fits their needs and what a company stands for?

Yes, exactly. I think they can get a deeper knowledge of a particular website and the people behind the company on occasion and how much news is there on a particular company. You would expect a company that has a lot of news to have a lot of members and be active. It just helps them in this day and age where reputation is becoming more and more important it allows the end users to actually gauge the reputation of a particular company and the integrity. That is going to be part and parcel with whether they want to join that site or not I think. So I guess it would be a more useful resource for a more advanced user if they want to dig deep and find just the one site that fits their needs perfectly yes.

I want to put your expertise into context. You're not only the moderator and owner of OPW, you're also the industry’s leading insider and consultant to dating sites. That said, do you also provide commentaries on OPW in which you convey or draw upon your expertise to connect the dots among these bits of information you're reporting on?

My consulting company -- Courtland Brooks -- sits in the middle of the industry. We use OPW to gather information and build good will among the press and executives and people who want to do business with the internet dating industry and within the industry. So really it's kind of good will and way to show that we're being good sports and that we're people worth talking to and working with.

Therefore, Courtland Brooks does PR, business development and strategic advisement. So anywhere that people are to be connected within the industry or to the industry that is where we like to sit. Whether it's for press, whether it's for business development or executive to executive, whether it's for people buying companies… that is where we sit. We just act as a resource and from that we build good will that helps us get retainer based business with either internet dating companies or companies that want to work with them.

And at any given time, how many clients do you have on your roster?

We have capacity for 6 to 12 at any time and right now we have eight. After the conferences we typically bump up to 9 or 10 and once we hit 12 we're really maxed out. We've got the capacity to go that far now because we actually have 20 people on the team. We're a little bit different, because all my people are all over the country and they work whenever they want and they all work part time and all doing other things. But I've pulled them in as very significant, knowledgeable resources within the industry. So that is essentially what people get when they buy into Courtland Brooks. We have very low overhead, we have very considerable talent. I buy them on an as needed basis and my margin is based on me finding and managing them.

What are the pros and cons of niche sites compared to general dating sites for daters? How would you recommend daters choose which to use?

I would like to point out that niche dating has made us aware that everybody has a “thing,” although many people up until a couple of years ago didn't know they had a particular thing. So it's been a journey of discovery as they prowled around the net and found that there is a particular thing that they like. It could be on the one hand that they are religious and they only want to date people who are Christian, it could be that they are African American and they only want to meet people who are also African American or maybe they're not African American and they really want to meet people who are African American. It could be that they're in between relationships and only want to have a casual dating relationship, so E-Harmony might not be a fit for them. It could be they have a particular fetish they want to explore. Well there are dating sites that look after them on that account too. Whatever people want, whatever their thing there is a niche dating site that would look after them.

There are a lot of people who have a more generic interest and they're happy to put themselves on a more generic site and say well this is what I am looking for and I don't mind being contacted by people who are not looking for that thing. So I think niche dating sites serve people with more particular needs and wants. I think generic sites serve people who want to have more activity. The large sites are generic so I think what I would recommend end users do is join a generic if they're so inclined and they're prepared to be contacted by people who don't share their particular interest or focus and they can be contacted by regular people…I think they'll see more activity on the larger sites.

However, if they do have a particular thing then they should in addition join a niche site. So they can have the best of both worlds, they can be on a large generic and they can be on a more focused niche site. I guarantee they'll see more activity on the larger site by and large because there is more activity except for causal dating. Casual dating sites are very active and very large that would be the exception.

J-Date of course is the other exception. It's a very large Jewish oriented culturally focused site. And beyond that they tend to tail off. The niche sites are generally the smaller sites in the industry.


 

Click here for part 2 of this interview.


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