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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Online Personals Watch Founder Interview

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 Online Personals Watch founder Mark Brooks - Part 4

This is the final installment (part 4 of 4) of my interview with Online Personals Watch founder Mark Brooks of. To see part 1, click here. To see part 2, click here. To see part 3, click here.

I want to explore the honesty and identity issue in online dating. We have now one State that has passed legislation requiring dating sites to disclose whether they conduct background screenings on members and to what degree those background screenings may be effective or what is involved with them. Do you see that trend continuing? If not, how important will identity management services be to the industry in the future?

It sounds pretty horrendous, but I just don't see why people are not willing to provide so much transparency to their identity. I think if you have nothing to hide then why hide? So I think in time we're going to see more improved tools for checking people's reputations and reputation includes things like their credit, their ability and willingness to pay their credit. It also includes things like have they been a felon, have they behaved well, have they broken a law? It also includes things like have they been horrible in relationships? I think human beings as a whole are going to be become less sensitive to the extremes of the reputation because ultimately there are going to be people who had a relationship with someone who hate them with a passion. They're pretty decent people but they're still going to say nasty things about them.

So as a whole if you look at the things that are said about the President and the transparency and the sheer volume of information available on the President, people hate him, people love him, people are in the middle but ultimately if you look and read and research the information on the President you come to a conclusion. The same principles apply in the future for how people are going to view individuals, yours and my reputation online. They're going to see the extremes, they're going to see more volumes of information and they're going to come to their own conclusion.

Your word will be there as well, you will and should have the ability to say well here is what they said but here is why, here is how I would argue about that. This whole online reputation arena is going to become very controversial, very fascinating and quite harmful to some people who do have things to hide. Yes, I can see that.

What about background screenings and this legislation that requires dating sites to disclose whether or not screenings are conducted? Is it good for the industry or bad for the industry?

Well, background checks I think are good for the industry as a differentiator. I think I just hate to see legislation pushed. So as a whole, I would say I just don't want to see any legislation in this industry on those lines. I think it was not necessary. I have to say it's bad for the industry simply because I would hate to see more legislation follow in its footsteps.

You wouldn't think there is too much harm done with that particular legislation but I would hate to see more legislation follow in its footsteps. I don't think it needs to be legislated. I think internet dating sites shouldn't have their hand forced by having to put such a thing on their site. I don't think they need to have their hand forced.

I'm going to ask you to play psychic here for a second and predict whether the New Jersey legislation will be replicated elsewhere?

I think it depends on the legislators. It depends on sorry, this is wonderful legislation to push, politically its wonderful legislation to push because it positions those that are pushing this legislation for the good of the public. It's very popular politically positive legislation to push. So on that basis; I think we'll see more States sign up to it. I don't think we'll ever see the say where all States sign up to it because I just don't think it's necessary. I think dating sites are going to do their darnedest to impress upon those pushing legislation that it really isn't necessary. And I think common sense will prevail. I think we'll see a day when several States have this legislation but I hope not.

As an industry insider myself, I have sensed for a while that some dating sites only seem to care about money rather then what’s best for their customers. And I find this incredibly ironic given that this industry is in the business about building and sustaining relationships. It just seems for whatever reason this industry is not great at building and sustaining relationships. In your professional experience what is your take on this? And what can users do to make the most of their online dating memberships?

Oh definitely, there are rogue internet dating sites that employ dubious and controversial marketing techniques. One thing I would like to see is culling of profiles, more regular culling of profiles. The real battle that needs to be fought in the mind of any executive of an internet dating site is the battle of short term versus long term. Ultimately people talk and the sites that provide the best results are going to be around in ten years time.

Now what is in contrast with that long term focus is the short term gain kind of tactics that sites will employ is they'll show pictures of wonderful women and fellows that have long since gone? And those profiles do indeed convert very well. But I think users are becoming more sophisticated and talking more amongst themselves and the integrity and reputations of dating sites along with the individuals, brand reputations are becoming more and more transparent and there is more volume of information on those brands and internet dating sites in particular available online. And I think ultimately the combination of the transparency reputation online and people talking amongst themselves will crucify those companies and they know who they are, who employ the most dubious marketing tactics. They will eventually decline; they have to decline because users talk.

Now people that are very internet savvy they probably know where to connect with other users and where they can get honest candid reviews about sites and the experiences. But for newcomers, people that are new to online dating sites or just online dating where should they look for that level of information? Where can they find that?

One of the problems for the brand new perspective user is they'll go through the internet and look up things like internet dating review and come across a myriad of review sites which are appalling. They don't provide very much in the way of review. There are a few fantastic sites out there, Online Dating Magazine for example provides, you're making money off of dating but you also have high integrity. You've got great information, you've got in-depth reviews and that is great for people who want just to see or find a particular site that fits their needs. They don't need all the sales hoo-hah and they don't want misrepresentation.

I like to see a site and actually Online Personals Watch does not distinguish between sites that offer affiliate programs, so we list everything under the sun. So there are some sites that don't have affiliate programs and information about them is very difficult to find. You can find the information on the full industry and all the players in Online Personals Watch and that's how we're distinguished. Of course that information is possible a bit boring to the average end user because it's more business centric, but at least it's on there.

I would sing the praises of the likes of Online Dating Magazine and Sage Hearts is another one that helps the end users get more accurate in-depth information then all the other myriad of affiliates out there. 

Now the other thing to do is the perspective user should look at the Alexa ranking. If they're in the USA especially they should look at the Alexa rank of a dating site. Go to www.Alexa.com and type in the domain name and have a look at what the rank is. If that rank is less than 50,000 there are very few people on the website.

And that means what? What should they conclude from that? If this is a website that has been around for a while and they're not just trying to build up their membership, then the typical end user should conclude that it's not a quality site?

There are a lot of sites that did very well 3 or 4 years ago and had a lot of activity and have very little activity now because the site owners have ratcheted down their ad buys for example. They're not sending very much traffic, they're not sending very many users, they're not paying and they're not active in building those businesses. So you can find examples all over the place of sites that look like they should look great and got users on them but they just have dead registrations, people aren't going to respond.
So the trick is to find sites that have real activity last month. So you look for ways to gauge that traffic. Who are the people? You can't believe that we have 20 million people online today, you can't you take that with a grain of salt. But if you go on Alexa.com then you can see the true ranking. You can get an idea from these 3rd party companies exactly what kind of traffic, what kind of activity, how many people were online last month. So I like to use Alexa because it's not very accurate but it gives you a decent idea of whether you should join a site or not.

If you have a niche site that has a ranking of 150K well you're going to have to travel. There aren't going to be too many people in that niche site and you might have to go out of State to find that person. 


All of these different rankings, do you list them on OPW?

I don't but I should, shouldn't I? You see that's where we're different. All the people in the industry know about these tools but the end users don't. We're not geared so much towards the end users. We probably should list those and I think you should definitely list them in Online Dating Magazine. 

Yes I think it's a good idea because there is obviously some bits of information that industry insiders know about and they're taken for granted. That could be very valuable pieces of competitive intelligence or marketing intelligence for the end user to help them discern what site is best for them, where their money or time is best invested. That is the kind of inside information I really want the readers to know about, these hidden tools that are out there that if someone would just educate them on where to find them and how to use them.

Did we miss a topic that you feel very passionate about that you would like to give an opinion on?

There is one area that is kind of interesting. I've yet to find a site that has very successfully intertwined social networking with internet dating. It's very interesting ground. I remember Friend Finder actually tried to launch, they split Friend Finder up into a social networking and internet dating site. And you have this area with internet dating is closed and with social networking everything is completely open. I think the younger generation is more open to going to a dating site and being open about who they are. But certainly the people in their 30's and 40's want anonymity. I've yet to see a site that has really combined the best of social networking and the best of internet dating. I hope 2009 is the year we see that. Of course, there are some great applications on Face Book for dating applications, but I've yet to see a stand-alone dating site that combines the best of internet dating with social networking. I think that is a challenge to the industry.


 

Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.


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