Building a Better Beau

Guys whose game fares better with an Xbox than the ladies might want to check out Cloud Girlfriend, the latest approach to digital dating.

A cross between Match.com and Second Life, Cloud Girlfriend lets you flirt with potential mates as your real or fantasy self. Users – male or female - connect to the free service through Facebook, upload the headshot and bio they wished was theirs, and write a description of their perfect date. From there, Cloud Girlfriend software presents candidates who match those preferences. The user can then ask to make contact.

“What we are creating blurs the lines between reality and imagination,” says co-creator David Fuhriman, a San Diego financial analyst. “We allow people to define their ideal self, find their perfect girlfriend or boyfriend and connect and interact as if that person existed. It can help in learning how to manage a real relationship, and then take it into the real world.” (Once that happens, sites abound to rate your style.)

The site uses Facebook Connect for account verification and screening purposes, as a way of checking gender and other identifying information, to make sure users are who they say they are. (It’s an especially timely matter given the recent lawsuit against Match.com by a woman raped by a man she met on that dating site.)

Slated for an April 26 launch, the business model has gone through various incarnations since the site first posted March 26. At first, Fuhriman envisioned a small staff of women responding as fake girlfriends, before revising the model to accommodate the flurry of interest. “We originally thought we’d get 1000 people signing up, but the day we posted it, it exploded,” says Fuhriman, who’s mum on the actual numbers.

Fuhriman sees the site ranging from a game to helping people develop confidence in social skills. He got the idea watching a TED talk by magician Eric Mead, called The Magic of the Placebo about how even when you know something's not real, you can still react as powerfully as if it is. He’d heard of affirmation sites where users could sign up for a daily esteem-boosting phone call. “People know it’s a fake phone call, but they still get all the benefits,” he says. “I thought we could take that online.”

Eventually, Fuhriman hopes to sell virtual goods, like charging to post additional profile pictures or compositing photos to show users in different locations with their cloud companions.

CloudGirlfriend.com isn’t the only cyberdate in town. For $1.95 a week, Austin-based Textboyfriend.com will send three flirty texts to cell phones – less as a boyfriend substitute than to make you and your girlfriends smile.

Co-creator Vale Kelley came up with the idea after a bad breakup, launching it this past Valentine’s Day. “My girlfriends were comparing texts from their boyfriends and some were really great,” she says. “So my partner and I hired a bunch of cute and clever guys, stashed them in a back room, and have them send sweet texts to women across the U.S. and Canada. It’s a little goofy but it beats moping!”

A few gals have even given secret subscriptions to their boyfriends. “Their boyfriend tells them they got a strange text and the girlfriend acts shocked, but then says, `I wouldn’t mind getting a text like that.’ It starts a conversation on the kind of communication they each prefer,” adds Kelley. “Some boyfriends buy Textboyfriend for their girlfriends and say, `Imagine it’s me, because I’m thinking about you all the time and just can’t put it into words.’ ”

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