Ethnographic Study

Online dating is not an isolated act users integrate these systems into their lives for various purposes and lengths of time. Examining only the online portion of a user's behavior provides an incomplete picture of the total experience. Longitudinal study of people who use online personals will answer questions about the connection between relationships fostered through the Internet and the user's offline social milieu. In this area, no existing work moves beyond anecdote. We do not know how...

Experiential Online Dating

The focus of online dating systems on explicit self-description and deliberate dating-oriented interactions feels forced to some users. New designs for dating systems could facilitate interaction through mutual exploration, play, or creation collaborative story-writing, puzzles, virtual environments to wander together. Users might gain more authentic information about each other in a space in which gaining such information is not the predominant task. People are notoriously bad at describing...

Social Context

In the offline world, we meet friends and lovers in the context of existing social structures. The grocery store, the bar, church, or the neighborhood are common venues for meeting people. More abstractly, one's social network serves as the backdrop for introductions to friends of friends. Interactions which emerge from these contexts remain socially situated or embedded (Edmonds 1998) within them, such that the involved people are accountable not just to each other but to the wider circle of...

The Strategy of Self Presentation

Online dating systems function as economies of attention. Users compete for the time and effort of others to read their profiles and perhaps respond this promotes what we might call strategic communication, in which people tailor their self-presentation to display what they believe will help them achieve their objectives. One could claim that all communication is strategic to some degree, and in dating situations most people want to put their best face forward. However, in online dating, the...

Stages of Online Dating

We can divide the steps that users take as they use online dating systems into three major tasks describing themselves, discovering other people, and communicating with selected others. Because dating systems differ within these tasks, but almost universally have the three tasks in common, I will describe approaches to the tasks separately rather than trying to categorize sites holistically. I will also give examples of sites that employ each approach some sites offer more than one approach for...

In Conclusion

My exploration of behavior in online dating environments raises more questions than it answers. Each statistic begs for comparison with other online dating systems, with different populations and different interactional tools. The numerical results have human stories behind them that will require a complementary qualitative approach to unravel. Of course, the real question is what people are looking for in a partner, whether for a night, a date, or a lifetime. Online dating systems provide a...