Narrow Purpose and Broad Purpose Communities

Most traditional online dating sites facilitate narrow-purpose community. They offer tools for finding people to date and communicating with them, but they tend not to provide tools for communicating in a broader context or establishing ties outside of a dating context. In addition, their marketing and on-site presentation of communication tools strongly suggest that the purpose of these sites is dating only, even if its tools could be used for other forms of interaction. In particular, the positioning of the private messaging system as a mechanism for contacting potential romantic partners likely discourages same-sex communication on heterosexual systems, even where it might facilitate friendship or prove otherwise beneficial.

By contrast, social network systems like facilitate romantic interaction, but they situate it in a broader context communication — on Friendster, users can message friends of friends for dating purposes, but they can also announce a party to first- and second-degree members of their social network, or locate old friends from high school. Although Friendster has a "suggest a match" function, with which users can introduce two friends who might like each other, it has no dating-specific message features. Because romantic messages travel through the same channels as non-romantic messages, we might consider Friendster a broad-purpose system. Other broad-purpose systems include "portal" sites like Yahoo!.

By providing incentive to interact on the site even when one is not seeking romance, broad-purpose sites may be able to retain their users even while they are off the dating market.

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