Designing for Distinct Populations

Thompson (2003) claims that designers of "social software" focus too much on building generalized systems for communication, exhibiting a "desire for simplification and regimentation instead of seeking to understand complexity." In designing online dating systems, we must consider whether a single design can work for people variously seeking marriage, casual dates, casual sex, and friends. Perhaps a more articulated system for each purpose would better serve each population. It is likely that specific needs vary according to other groupings as well: ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation.

Already, some dating sites have specialized, adding population-specific details to their profiles and search options. The first site for a specific subpopulation was JDate, for Jewish users, which was founded by the rabbi who also created speed dating. In addition to providing a large pool of Jewish singles (who might be a small minority on many sites), JDate targets its population by allowing users to specify their sect of Judaism in profiles and searches. Similarly,, a site for gay men, offers specialized physical build options such as "bear," a body description unique to gay male culture. Additionally, some unspecialized sites also run smaller sub-sites for subpopulations.

Most subpopulation sites limit their specialization to the addition of descriptors specific to their target users. In the future, designers might also tailor interactional tools to specific audiences, should it be established that some tools serve some audiences better, as seems likely.

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