Internet dating websites have become the “in” thing of the twenty first century. Millions of people all over the world are meeting their potential partners online. For the lonely, the gay, the bi-sexual, the over-educated, the handicapped, the diseased, the horny, the kinky, the married, the divorced and the whatnots, the internet is their Messiah. Forget traditional dating methods. Any friend of yours who had been set up on a blind date by other friends would tell you what a nightmare it could turn out to be! Think twenty first century and think internet dating. Who needs to be swimming in a fish tank when one can backstroke leisurely in the vast ocean of the internet at the comfort of their home? With relationships having become the focal point in many people’s life, what used to serve as a forte as an information superhighway has now turbo charged to become the most sought after avenue to meet potential partners. While many have dumped traditional dating methods for internet dating websites, there are still those who label dating websites as being “seedy” and for the “geeky” and the “desperate”. Despite the kind of stigma associated with dating websites, one cannot ignore the fact that it is successful. A study conducted by Dr Jeff Gavin, of the University of Bath, proves just that. He said:
This study shows that dating websites can work for many people, leading to a successful meeting for almost everyone we surveyed. Given that the most successful relationships lasted at least seven months, and in some case over a year, it seems that these relationships have a similar level of success as ones formed in more conventional ways. (Gavin, Scott, & Duffield; 2005)
Although Dr Gavin’s research concluded that internet dating websites are successful in building long lasting relationships, it did not elaborate on the attributes behind its success. In another study conducted by the Online Publishers Association and ComScore Networks, it was determined that people in the United States alone spent over 450 million dollars on online dating and personals services in 2006, which ranked online dating as the largest portion of paid content on the internet in that year. (Styles; 2006) Hence, it is very convincing that dating websites are popular among people who want to find their potential partners. However, what are the reasons behind the huge success of these dating websites? Models, such as Cooper’s (1999) Triple-A Engine (Accessibility, Affordability, Anonymity) (Cooper, Scherer, Boies, & Gordon; 1999) have been postulated to explain the lure of online relationships. Based on Cooper’s (1999) model, this paper will explore how the elements of his model are behind the reasons why millions of people around the globe attest to the success of dating websites and are members in at least one at this very point in time.
The most beckoning thing about the internet is its accessibility, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Being so, one can conveniently log in anytime they want from any location. Proximity, hence, is no longer a barrier to communication. All one has to do, is to choose from one of the many dating websites, register his or her profile, and start the selection process. Before the arrival of the internet into people’s lives, they had to make do with their tiny little social circle that would comprise solely of their friends, relatives, and colleagues. Now, people are abruptly faced with social infinity! Anyone can effortlessly establish communication with hundreds of people in a day, from the torridity of South East Asia to the blistering cold of Europe. Certainly, this does not in any way guarantee that they will meet their “dream” partners in just one click. Nevertheless, it sure does bring people closer to their dream partners much faster than before, while exposing them to endless possibilities with others. The large database of people also means more variety. One can get to meet people from all occupations and lifestyles, from highly reputed lawyers to highly successful designers. That is right, dating websites are not seedy! Successful people are hooked on it too because they are so caught up with their career that they barely have enough time to get out there and mingle with the crowd. (Styles; 2006) They are not seedy, they just simply do not have the time, and their only way to find companionship is via the internet when they do get some time off.
Apart from the large database of people one can get to communicate with, these internet dating sites also specialize in various categories of people’s preferences-Ethnic groups (“Shaadi.com” and “Jdate.com”), religion, region, sexual orientation (“Outpersonals.com” and “Curiouslove.com”), and other criteria such as black woman and white man, hefty-sized dates, sports partners, birth dates, star signs, country singles, occupation, advanced degrees and vegetarian. (Dvorak, Pirillo, & Taylor; 2004) You name it and they specialize in it. With the myriads of functions that internet dating sites satisfy, it becomes only natural to wonder, “What else will internet dating sites cater to next?” Now who would have ever thought of this? “Internet dating websites for the HIV positive and AIDS infected.” Well, some brilliant person decided that the diseased should not be spared from the benefits of internet dating too and somehow managed to popularize this radical idea. Some internet dating sites such as “Pozmatch.com” and “Hivdate.com” have seen an overwhelming response to their service and many of these websites are currently running pro bono. Now, you may start thinking that these websites only serve to connect these diseased people to one another for mere support and companionship and that its purpose just stops there. You are not very correct. In a Singaporean magazine, “Herworld”, an article was published about dating services for HIV or AIDS infected people and how it actually helps these people enhance their chance of survival through such companionships. Dr Suniti Soloman, a physician and microbiologist from India, prescribes marriage to “People Living with HIV/AIDS” (PLWHAs) with others just like them, apart from their normal medication. “If they get married, they have a reason to live. They have a companion and a person with whom they have nothing to hide,” says the doctor. (Roy; 2004) She believes that when they get a companion, they are more likely to continue taking their medication regularly and that their CD4 count is good. CD4 is a way of measuring the robustness of the immune system of a person infected with HIV (Roy; 2004). Hence, dating websites have also certainly become a medium to raise social awareness as in the case of HIV positive or AIDS infected people. Of course, the factors that contribute to the success of dating websites do not just stop here.
In Cooper’s Triple A-Engine Model, the next factor works hand in hand with the internet’s accessibility feature to make it a big hit. Anonymity, a very simple but powerful feature of dating websites, is sufficient to lure anyone to use it. In fact, this feature of dating websites, actually encourages its customers to be honest about one’s self, because with anonymity, comes a strong feeling of privacy and security. Contrary to popular belief that people tend to lie about themselves by abusing anonymity, instead, people tend to fearlessly reveal more intimate and personal details about them because they know they will not be identified. (Solomon; 2005) To their credit, many internet dating sites do everything in their hands to protect their customers’ identity, as they too respect the value of anonymity. Most dating websites usually discourage their customers from using their real name and prefer them to use a “handle” or an acronym to protect their privacy. Once people are registered and are done creating an online profile, they have the option of putting up their picture for all members to view or choose to only reveal their picture to their selected members. By choosing a “handle” for their name and choosing whom to give their picture out to, people are able to have control over who gets to know their real identity so that others may not abuse it. In addition, many dating web services provide their customers with an anonymous re-mailer to allow them to correspond with other members without giving out their contact information.
The anonymity feature of dating websites also helps shy or socially anxious people to overcome relationship initiation barriers. In general, the most common barriers to relationship initiation include shyness and lack of confidence in one's appearance. (Roberts; 2001) In dating websites, these obstacles are mostly eliminated as self-representation now becomes completely within one's own control. Those who are shy can now communicate with other members without any fear of rejection and those who lack confidence in their appearance may now also communicate without putting up their pictures, hence bringing focus to their personality rather than their looks. (Roberts; 2001)
The final attribute of Cooper’s Triple A-Engine Model is its affordability feature. Simply put, many people love internet dating because it is affordable! With the existence of millions of dating websites, the supply seems endless and the free-market competitive forces push the prices to stay low. Most dating sites will allow their customers to place a personal ad pro bono and there are many that will also enable people to receive correspondence from other members without having to pay a single cent! On most internet sites, customers only pay when they want to answer advertisements of other members. In case they decide to buy a subscription, the price they will pay is lower than what they would pay for a movie ticket and popcorn. (Solomon; 2005)
Having seen why and how internet dating services have become such a huge success using Cooper’s Triple A-Engine Model, with the strong collaboration of the Triple As-Accessibility, Anonymity, and Affordability, the possibilities of dating websites are endless! Dating websites were created to make people’s lives easier by enabling them to find their suitable companions online. The Cooper’s Triple A-Engine Model, has demonstrated how the trio of Accessibility, Anonymity, and Affordability has significantly caused drastic changes in the way people find their suitable partners via internet dating sites while making it a successful and entertaining pursuit as well. Dating websites have indeed created a revolution in the lives of many people.