In the "Seven Years in Online Dating" panel ("Since 2003, online dating has evolved in how web sites, profiles and photos are constructed to attract potential mates. Expectations and resultant relationships have changed as well. In this talk we illustrate how web site design and user savvy have created an alternate universe of intimate social protocols.", Twitter: #7yearsonlinedating), the audience participated in the discussion, setting the room abuzz with sex differences. Men and women have different expectations for dating-related online interaction. Women said they are most likely to respond to well-written emails, especially if the guy mentions, or responds to, to something interesting he saw in her profile. Guys, on the other hand, prefer to send short messages or "winks", and forego writing altogether. Being used to low rates of women's responses, they don't see a point in investing too much time in elaborate emails. (This looks like a vicious circle to me. If they wrote better messages, maybe women would respond more often?) It is also more common among guys to treat back-and-forth messaging as a chat, rather than exchange of letters. In that context, a short "hi, how are you" type of message is not "lazy", but merely an invitation to chat. But women more commonly expect every message to be a complete email.
The panelists and audience briefly touched on new kinds of online dating sites that have sprung up in the last few years. The most notable among them, Gelato, lets members integrate their social media feed -- Twitter, Facebook statuses, Netflix queue, favorite Youtube videos -- into their dating profile. The idea is that this gives other members a clearer idea of what kind of personality you truly are. If you say you love art movies, better make sure your Netflix queue reflects that. :-) (Gelato dating was one of the featured startups at Innotech 2009. I wrote about it in this blog post.)
Erhardt Graeff and Jonathan Beilin in the Seven Years in Online Dating panel. More pictures from SXSW 2010 are in my photo gallery.
Both the panelists and the audience were a bit skeptical how useful social media was in dating. Once people start uploading their entire life on the web, you may start feeling like you are dating a resume, not a person, said a guy in the audience. When you finally meet him or her, you may discover you liked their electronic version better. Erhardt Graeff, the panelist, admitted he broke up with a girl because she wasn't as interesting in real life as online.
Still, online dating isn't going to go away, and new iterations on the concept are always waiting in the wings. Somebody in the audience suggested that BuddyPress (web application from Wordpress that lets you build your own social network) will let everyone to create their own online dating site. I personally am not certain how much good it will do, because any online dating site is only successful once it reaches a critical mass of members. So your homespun dating site would only stand a chance if it could transparently interoperate with the giants, such as match.com or okcupid.com, making their member profiles available to your members. But the giants wouldn't want another site to siphon off their revenues, would they? Off the top of my head I can't think what business model would make such make such interoperation possible.