Online dating services driven by subscriptions usually offer the least amount of social networking opportunities, as they often only utilise the personal homepage genre of online community, which only makes them effective for the bonding and encoding stage of the relationship. The dating services modelled on the free-at-the-point-of-use model scored much higher as many of them utilized the Circle of Friends social networking method and a wider number of online community genres.

The most effective dating service, as can be seen from Table 1, is Facebook, which uses the personal homepage genre, the message board genre, the weblog and directory genre, as well as utilising the Circle of Friends. The second highest scoring, Second Life, utilises virtual worlds, message boards, chat groups and profile pages to allow people to contact in a three-dimensional environment. The popularity of Facebook with its widespread use and its high score based on these guidelines suggest that the guidelines may be appropriate for evaluating the appropriateness of a social networking service for dating. Being able to predict outcomes is one of the possible uses of a case study like the one in this chapter, and the above model and guidelines appear to be indicative of what will make a good e-dating service.

Dating Service Score
Facebook 2.00
Second Life 1.83
Badoo 1.67
MySpace 1.67
Friendster 1.67
OkCupid 1.50
Plenty of Fish 1.17
FreeDating.co.uk 1.17
Bebo 1.00
Meetic 0.83
Match.com 0.83
LoopyLove 0.83

Table 1. Scores of Major Dating Services

eDating Services are becoming a mainstream business with vendors keen to protect their reputation. Traditional online dating websites that follow the Directory structure of e-commerce sites like Amazon such as Match.com and Meetic were the lowest scoring in the study, and these sites seem not to follow the model in Figure 2 as they treat participants as products to view rather than individuals to network with as MySpace and Facebook allow.

Recommendation: Utilise various genres of online community

Many authors of guidelines to building online communities have indirectly recommended using multiple models of online communities. A website meeting the definition of an online community based on Amy Jo Kim’s lifecycle could utilize more than one genre. As identified in the study above, a website is more able to assist with social networking and relationship building if it uses a variety of different models of discussion and networking at the different stages of the lifecycle.

Recommendation: Utilize the Circle of Friends social networking tool, or at minimum allow people to keep lists of actual or potential friends.

The ECF clearly places the actor in the environment, and the relationship between actors is clearly important. Many social network service providers have used the Circle of Friends to allow their actors using their service to manage their the relationships with others effectively. The Circle of Friends, which was popularized by Friendster, allows actors to see not only their own friends as they could with instant messaging tools, but also allow them to see who their friend’s friends are. As a social networking technology, the Circle of Friends fits into a long history of using the Internet as an environment for developing relationships and increasing sociability.

The first social networking service on the Web was Classmates.com, which launched in 1995 and used the Old School Tie social networking method, which is defined as a method for building networks of users using the schools and universities they graduated from. This was followed in 1997 with the launch of SixDegrees.com, which utilized the Web of Contacts model, which is defined as a technique for displaying social networks using social networking analysis that the user doesn’t manage it. The advantage of the Circle of Friends, which was developed in 1999 as part of the Virtual Environments for Community and Commerce (VECC) Project is that it allows the user to manage their network and decide who they want to be friends with. The 2001 implementation of the Circle of Friends as part of Llantrisant.com allowed users to classify their friends according to whether they trusted them or not, combining it with the Circle of Trust that was also developed in 1999. The Circle of Friends flourished in 2002 with the launch of Friendster, and is now part of many other communities including the popular MySpace and Facebook services.

Recommendation: Utilise a recommendation or search system that encourages people to interact with others with similar cognitions to them

As the Ecological Cognition Framework clearly suggests, a stimulus, such as a thought to do something or a request from another actor can only be turned into a response after an actor’s cognitions, that is their goals, plans, values, beliefs and interests have been activated and evaluated. Social networking sites can help in this process by removing the obstacles to actors interacting with others. One method for doing this is to use recommender systems, which have been used in e-commerce to reduce the number of products from the whole catalogue to ones that the customer would be interested in (Wang, 2004). Online dating services could utilize such systems to narrow down the number of individuals available to an actor in line with what they are looking for. This could be done using personality-based questionnaires as is done with OkCupid, personal characteristics, as is done with Match.com or keyword searches as Match.com and MySpace use.

Such systems may allow actors to be engaged in a state of ‘flow’ so much so that they experience ‘deference’. A a state of flow is being the state of mind where an actor will act with total involvement narrowing their attention focus and experiencing a loss of self-consciousness. If an online community does not create discomfort in the actor’s mind, or ‘dissonance’, then the actor is more likely to become engaged in a state of flow and act out their desires, thus experiencing deference. Deference in this context is where an actor will receive a request to do something, such as someone asking them how they are and will respond immediately without any discomfort, in the example immediately saying they are ‘fine’ as if it is a reflex.

Whilst engaging an actor in a state of flow might mean that they are more likely to experience deference and act out their desires to be social, there is also the possibility that they will act out their vengeance desires as well. This may be true as some studies have indicated that in virtual environments where actors are likely to experience deference they are more likely to flame others.

More information
More information on this topic can be found in our research paper on social networking in online dating services.