I started thinking about this a lot after reading this article from cockeyed.com
which tries to come up with a workaround for paid sites that require you to subscribe to contact a user. My first thought was that he wants to get something for nothing - that if you want the services of a dating site, you should be willing to pay for it. But after reading his article, and thinking about my own experiences with several sites, both paid and free, I'm starting to think he has a point. Dating sites do use your profile to get other people to subscribe, but more frustratingly they mix the profiles of unpaid and paying members together in such a way that makes it frustrating, especially for their paying members. Many sites will make profiles available, so interested parties can contact people they are interested in, but the person emailed can't read it unless they are a member. This is annoying, because 1)you waste time reading profiles and sending emails to someone who will never read your email and 2)you never know if you were rejected because someone didn't like you, or just because they weren't a paying member and decided they didn't want to become one.
The other trap of lots of dating sites is old profiles - match, from what I've read, is notorious about not deleting people's profiles even if they haven't logged in in forever. They do post when the last time a person logged in was, so you can avoid emailing women who are now in a relationship, dead, married, or no longer into guys, but you still have to sift through all their profiles, and it makes the site look like it has far more matches than it does.
So pay sites make their money from paying members, and sometimes do things like using unpaid, uncontactable people to get you to pay. So what about free sites?
There are a handful of free dating sites, but they suffer from one of two problems - either everyone uses them, so there are lots of useless profiles to wade through, or not enough people use them to make it likely that you will find someone who matches you.
The other thing is that I get the impression that the people running free sites aren't having much luck getting decent advertisers to support an ad-supported model. Every time I log in, I get ads for sleazy, date-related stuff - sites to meet sugar daddies, dating sites for people with herpes, books on how to score with women. It's kind of surprising in this day and age - where online dating is considerably more acceptable than it used to be, and where many of the people using dating sites are professionals, people who put jobs and education above dating for the earlier part of their life and are now dipping a toe back in the water. It would be nice if mainstream advertisers would realize that there is a market there. Then again, maybe they figure that the people with disposable income are using paid sites.
So is there a business model that works for personal ads - one other than holding you profile ransom for big fees or subjecting you to ads for dating sites for overweight herpes sufferers? One interesting model is Salon Personals, run by FastCupid/Springstreet, which also runs personals for The Onion and some other sites. I haven't tried it yet, but I do know at least one couple that met over it and eventually got married. They do have premium gold and silver subscriptions, but they also offer the ability to email members by buying points (although I can't figure out how much a point costs). It's an interesting idea, and it seems good for the casual (or picky) browser. It also has another advantage - by making it cost money to email a user, it discourages people from just emailing everyone - which mean less competition from suitors and less having to pick through a ton of emails for people on the receiving end.
As I said, I've posted profiles on a number of sites, with no luck so far. But I figured I could also use this as a review of the sites I've tried:match.com
- the biggie. Paid site, lots of profiles, decent interface. As I mentioned before, the fact that it keeps old profiles and mixes paid and non-paid subscribers is annoying. I also haven't been impressed with the women who have profiles on it, most of whom seem to be primarily interested in drinking, bar-hopping, and going to baseball games. Which is probably what everyone except me wants in a girlfriend.eHarmony
- I actually just signed up for a paid subscription for this a couple days ago thanks to a coupon code I found on fatwallet
. I can't really make much judgment on it yet. The fact that it filters your matches by ones it thinks are compatible instead of making you wade through 10,000 profiles is nice. The pre-made questions for "guided communication" is a nice idea to break the ice. It does, however, suffer from the same mixed paid and unpaid profiles and older member issues.OKCupid
- a free site. Has one of the best interfaces, nicer than many of the paid sites. Also has some social-networking type aspects (blogs, quizzes, ect) and an eHarmony- like matching quiz. I love the look and feel of the site - I just wish there were more members who I was interested in. It's the opposite of match - instead of party girls, it's mostly full of uber-artsy types and hipsters. The social networking aspect also means that not all the women with profiles on it are looking for dates.Plenty Of Fish
- the biggest free site. I've heard people swear by it, but I can't stand it. The interface makes my head hurt, and when it shows pics it resizes them so they all look distorted. It sends you emails with "your matches", but it's really just a link to the main page. And because it's free, it seems to attract the dregs the socio-economic ladder and dating pool - all the profiles I look at seem to be either single mothers, women who weigh as much as a Volkswagen, or sound batshit crazy.JustSayHi
- like OKCupid, this would be a great site if it actually had a user base. It's got some neat features - a friends social networking thing like myspace/facebook, a feature called "mutual match" where people can vote on profiles - if both people vote they might be interested, it shows up in a box, and you can contact the person knowing that they are interested. The problem with mutual match is if you vote yes and the person doesn't show up, you don't know if it's because the person isn't interested or if it's because they don't use the feature. Plus, it doesn't have a huge user base.No More Dates
- aimed at over-25's looking for eventual marriage. Makes you fill out a very long, hour-plus survey - and then refuses to give you your results unless you put in valid email addresses of two friends (which really seems dumb considering it's core market is probably people who are realizing that all their friends their age are already married). Then it told me I didn't have any matches. Maybe it's just that it's too new, but the email harvesting plus the lack of matches doesn't make me think too highly of it.