Love, Digital Style

Everything else gets a feedback rating, so why not last night's date?

Photo: Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

"I went on a date and I thought it went pretty well. But then after a few days, my date wasn’t taking my phone calls. I started to wonder, ’Was it my hair—or lack of it? Maybe I just talked too much?’ Or maybe she just didn’t feel a spark. The point is, I didn’t know...I wish I had DateRate!"

So began Web developer Gabe Hallombe’s pitch for DateRate.com.au during the Australian start-up competition Sydney Startup Camp IV last October. The program, which won an honorable mention, lets you request anonymous criticism on such areas as grooming, sense of humor, and conversation from dates you’ve had through the site. "Sometimes the things we need to hear the most are the hardest things for people to say," says Hallombe. "DateRate makes sharing feedback easy." It’s the latest in a growing and addictive niche of feedback and information sites dedicated to dating.

Florida-based computer programmer Kim Moser began DateRate—an unrelated U.S.-based site—in early 2004 as a goof, after using "traditional" dating sites Match.com and eHarmony. "I was curious to know what people thought of me," says Moser, who estimates that his site logs a few thousand visitors a month by word of mouth. That need for feedback is the basis of other sites as well, such as Hot or Not, which rates people on how they look on a scale of 1 to 10. "It’s hugely popular with a very base appeal to it," Moser says. "It’s like potato chips. You cannot stop doing this."

Moser surmises that the popularity of sites like his has picked up as a reaction to other sites, such as DontDateHimGirl.com where women share information about dating, relationships, finances, and self-esteem.

Because Moser’s users also list the dating site they got their date from, he says he was able to compile a rating system about the dating sites themselves, such as which had the most accurate pictures or produced the most successful dates. And at least one site gives out a lot of information about itself: OKCupid has a blog that analyzes dating trends based on information gleaned from its users.

Technology is making other appearances in online dating as well. Skout and HG App Store’s Date Radar, can connect you with nearby singles via GPS technology. Cheek’d and FlipMe use cheeky business cards with a code. If you meet someone in person who appeals to you, hand him or her the card, which has a link to the dating site. The idea is that it’s safer to learn about someone online than in person.

That might be true. Consider WomanSavers.com, which serves as an early warning system for women before they date. Stephany Alexander started the site in 2002 after a bad relationship. "I thought, ’There should be a network for women to share information,’ " she says. Through Alexander’s site, a group of older women in seven states found out they were married to or involved with the same man, while a single mother learned her boyfriend was a pedophile. Alexander says, "Ninety percent of the men entered do not have positive reviews—alleged pedophiles, men spreading STDs, abusive men, and serial bigamists." Despite hackers and legal threats and being banned in China, parts of Russia, and the Middle East, the site has grown to include more than 40 000 men’s names.

While the U.S. company DateRate is not a moneymaker, DateRate.com.au sees financial potential in selling targeted advertising, charging users to access their feedback and customize their questionnaires, and licensing its software to traditional dating sites. DontDateHimGirl.com and WomenSavers.com, which run ads, e-commerce, or charge some fees, have helped brand their creators as relationship experts.

This article appeared in print as “Love, Digital Style.”

About the Author

Susan Karlin is a regular contributor to IEEE Spectrum. In the past year, she’s written about sex robots, comedic engineers, and dead bodies ( twice).

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