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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.


Interview with Mark Brooks (Online Personals Watch) - Part 2

This is part two of my four part interview with Mark Brooks of To see part 1, click here. Scroll to the end of this interview to access a link to part 3.

Do you foresee niche sites overtaking major dating brands like Match or Yahoo, or do you think that niche sites will always be the minority? And what do you see the relationship in terms of market share being between the two?

Categorically niche sites will always be the minority. If you were to consider what would be the perfect dating site, it would be one site that had all the singles on the planet on it that had incredible search functionality. You could look for people who have a particular thing, you could allow them to find you based on their preferences and the search would be very advanced. But it's not the way the human mind works. Humans want to go onto a website and see that the people are just like them.

Because of that the niche sites have a life and that is good for entrepreneurs because it's now really not possible to start a large generic dating site inside $100 million. It's a very large proposition. It looks easy and it's fairly easy to start a dating site but it's not easy to grow it. It requires a lot of money; it requires very skilled trafficking, people who can drive traffic to know where to put money so you don't lose a lot of money.

In short, there are many niche dating sites. I did a study recently that showed that 34% of dating sites in 2006 were niche dating sites, in 2008 43% of them were niche sites and those numbers are based on over 1000 dating sites. There are more niche dating sites springing up because there are more entrepreneurs entering the business. They're sharing the users between them but the large generics will always have the majority of the traffic. It's Pareto's Rule for sure.

We have a recent development here that seems to be undermining the notion of a niche site. That is the eHarmony case. eHarmony arguably even though it's a large scale brand, very popular you can argue that that is indeed a niche site. It's about long term compatibility; it's about maybe a Judeo/Christian background, more traditional marriage focus. So yet we see eHarmony have a lawsuit against them which they settled and basically now they're becoming more inclusive. So now they're going to have an offshoot site and are in a sense expanding their market to include people outside their niche. Is this going to be an ongoing trend where niche sites are going to be challenged because they're not inclusive?

All large generics are niches as well, it just requires some looking. You can find huge sways of niches within all the large generics just by searching and getting to know the search functionality on those sites. There is massive room for improvement in the search functionality of most large generic sites. However, they're all on there. You can find the very same people that are on all the niches on the large generics as well by and large or a good selection of them.

So eHarmony's hand was forced. I don't think they ever really intended to start a gay site. I think it's good that they have because it's a demographic that needs serving and should be served and certainly shouldn't be excluded these days. I think there are other niches they could serve but they serve anyway under eHarmony and there is no point niching out for eHarmony, it's not the business they're in. They don't need too.

The reason anyone would start a niche dating site is because they can't start a large generic or because ultimately the ideal person who starts a niche site knows that niche inside out and back to front better then a for example. could have done very well with a gay dating site but they haven't because they've not really paid enough heed to it. They have not really wanted to focus on that or bring in the people with skills sets to really attend to the finer nuances of that particular target market. 

I think in short will we see more niche dating sites rise?

Oh heck yes and they'll be in the news because they're far more newsworthy; they'll be talked about because they're far more interesting to talk about. But they're not going to be massive dating sites and challenge the likes of I think in combination if you look at the Friend Finder network for example and you look at People Media they pulled together some of the more popular niches into networks. If you look at all their numbers combined they do very well in comparison with the niche sites. We're not going to see a single niche site come through and challenge a, it's just an impossibility to happen. Can the niches serve the needs of their members better? Yeah I think so. I mean if a member says hey I only want to meet people who are Christian why would they go to a They're going to meet and be contacted by people who are not Christian. So why bother with that?

I was shocked that eHarmony caved into that pressure because I think they had a legitimate argument to say we don't serve that market. We have a right to serve the market that we want and we're very up front about that market. So now to expand their brand to be more politically correct or inclusive, I think undermines their autonomy as a company to do what they want to do from a market standpoint. We don't go to Wal-Mart and say you don't sell automobiles here so I'm going to sue you until you sell automobiles. 

I think the underlying argument behind eHarmony being taken to court is they were a large generic that weren't a large generic. They specifically excluded the gay demographic and that is a very specific, very large, very profitable niche. So it made perfect sense for them to include them. Anybody with a business head were probably tearing their hair out, especially if they were gay and they would look at that and think well there is nobody else serving this demographic, nobody else that has this particular long term focus. Most gay dating sites are extremely adult in nature so people who were inclined to want a long term relationship what are they going to do? So they get frustrated and nobody was serving their needs. Then they find that eHarmony is completely excluding them and kicking them out, no one likes to be kicked out.

I'll tell you one of the reasons eHarmony does well is because they do kick out a few members. They kick out the people who they believe are not ready for long term relationships. If you take a look at some people from the surface they don't want long term relationships based on the sites they reviewed. So I think it makes perfect business sense for them to just start a site and I don't know why they didn't do it a long time ago, except they know in some ways it would undermine the eHarmony brand because there are people who, eHarmony is founded on Christian principles. So it was a real step to the left for them and rather like Face Book opening to the world really. Face Book opened up to everybody from just being students. eHarmony they shouldn't be so prissy to not include the people; they shouldn't exclude people and expect them not to be up in arms. Ultimately that is a pretty large demographic and a powerful demographic to exclude.


Click here for part 3 of this interview.

> - The best approach to find the one. <

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