If Sex and the City taught us anything, it’s that New York City is romantically challenging for single women; they have better odds of finding a long-term companion in Silicon Valley than Silicon Alley. So it wasn’t surprising that Wednesday’s audience at Social Media Week New York’s event on digital dating was over three-quarters female.
The lively panel of online dating experts and relationship gurus showed no signs of post-Valentine’s Day advice burnout. Cosmopolitan executive editor Joyce Chang, serving as moderator, noted the vast scope of online dating: 40 million of America’s 54 million singles have tried it, and 20% of current couples met online. People spend more time being single these days, so online dating has evolved to meet their needs.
Now the practice has begun to merge with offline interaction as sites like Match.com host live events. How About We co-founder Brian Schechter said, “It’s about humanizing the experience”. For E Jean Carroll, Elle magazine’s advice columnist and matchmaker, it’s always been about personal interaction (she also co-founded Tawkify.com and Walkify.com, which sets people up via phone or to go on walks together).
Startups and apps have been gaining more traction. IAC’s Match.com bought OK Cupid two years ago. The startup’s co-founder, Sam Yagan, described his site as “offering companionship via first dates”. Its recently launched Crazy Blind Date app generated buzz since it matches users and locations for twenty minute dating encounters. How About We, another popular site, provides a stream of dating activity options to connect users.
The panelists debated the challenges of online vs. offline dating using interesting stats:
• Deceptive online content runs rampant. False online content still represents the biggest obstacle. As Rachel Pasqua, VP mobile at iCrossing, said people hide behind their online personas. “It’s easy to project an image in one’s online dating profile”, Schechter agreed. The average user only exaggerates his or her height by two inches, but most panelists concurred that those on first dates also frequently stretch the truth.
• Online dating wears users out. Sorting through all the online users and profiles requires time and maintenance. “It’s a tiring process if you’re not having fun. That’s why we get to offline as quickly as possible”, Schechter said. Still, Yagan cautioned about the alternative: his stats show that offline daters only average four dates per year.
• Algorithm science vs. personal chemistry. Yagan said they started OK Cupid “as a rejection of eHarmony’s claim to be the best solution”. OK Cupid uses proprietary algorithms based on answers to questions, including “Six things I can’t do without”. They also “factor in randomness, serendipity and occasional experiments along with users’ date reviews.”
Carroll prefers the traditional route of fixing people up based on personality, and says “the human element is vital”. She prefers to forewarn users about their dates’ appearance flaws.
Insider tips for more rewarding dating experiences. “Having relationships that work sometimes takes a near Herculean effort”, Schechter said. In response, a couple panelists offered advice.
Yagan gave practical but counterintuitive tips:
• Write longer, more detailed profiles.
• Use humor as an icebreaker and highlight what makes you an outlier.
• Don’t use flash photography or you’ll look seven years older.
For Carroll, “the secret to romance is mystery. It’s about throwing two people together to see if there’s a spark”. She insists the best place to meet a man is the men’s room at a Knicks game. Given the long odds of hooking up in New York, the newly renovated Madison Square Garden seems like a good bet.