Comparative Analysis

The populations of online dating systems are as diverse as the sites themselves. The users of the Site examined in this work consist of only Americans and Canadians. Most of the active users appear to reside in rural, suburban, and secondary urban areas; major urban areas like New York and Los Angeles appear to be under-represented. But the exact nature of the differences is not important — the result is that the users and activity on this Site, or any one site, do not necessarily represent those of users elsewhere. We cannot assume that the specific results in the present study, even though they draw from a large set of users and interactions and thus have great statistical power, will hold for other sites and other populations.

An important part of the research agenda should be the comparison of different online dating sites — their member composition, the tools they provide, and the way users employ those tools. It would be especially valuable to compare the true efficacies of various sites. Of course, standards for efficacy vary with the goal of the site and the users: for some, it might be fostering many successful long-term relationships, but for others, it might be providing a large number of attractive sex partners.

It be particularly useful to compare the communication tools provided by different sites. Most private messaging systems are just light-weight email systems, but some, like eHarmony's, provide other mechanisms for interaction. Researchers could compare these tools with more traditional approaches to determine whether they facilitate the kind of communication users need to make decisions about whom they want to meet in person.

At the same time, it is important to remember that the medium is not the primary determinant of what people will do in computer-mediated communication. To borrow Walther et al.'s (2001) observation about their results: "[Q]ualities of CMC are, in this case as in others, more often the product of interesting and predictable interactions of several mutual influences than main effects of media."

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