Ramon Thomas joins us on the line, he is MD of NETucation and he is going to be chatting to us about online dating.
P: Hi Ramon
RT: Hi Prim, thanks for having me on the show.
P: Well thanks very much for taking the time, why online dating, why not the traditional way of meeting someone in the flesh at first go?
RT: Well it seems like the major reason people are using online dating is that they can get to know someone before they actually meet them in person. You know if you are in a mall, at a club or wherever you are and you meet somebody, you don’t really know. Okay yes maybe there is some chemistry but you don’t know if you have anything in common, and you don’t know if you will have a lasting, meaningful relationship with that person.
P: Is online dating becoming more popular now?
RT: It is becoming very popular in South Africa, last year I conducted a survey that found that 250 000 South Africans are using online dating, we expect it to grow to over 300000 by the end of this year. So there are a lot of people that are actually actively using the internet to meet and find potential partners.
P: Ramon is the process lengthy, I mean are there screenings, can people know who it is that they are dealing with?
RT: Okay, it’s quite easy, because you just go onto any of the websites and you register and fill out some basic information about yourself, your preferences, what you are looking for and you basically take it from there. Some people choose not to put photos on, I actually recommend that you use photos because it decreases the chances of people actually responding to you tremendously but in terms of it being complicated – it is not complicated, its just a different way of meeting people and it allows you to screen people before you make contact.
P: Does the company or Online service screen people? I mean what if it is a real weirdo?
RT: They don’t, anybody can register on any of these websites. A huge thing that we found is about 7% of the people that did our survey last year admitted to being married, About 45% of people were single, about 22% were divorced, a lesser amount were actually dating – I think about 12%.
P: So obviously there can be no control in that sense, its scary thinking you know that you could go online and sign up, and the person that you could find attractive could be a married person.
RT: One thing that I always stress is, people that lie online are possibly the same people that will lie offline as well, you know it’s the kind of person who goes to a bar and takes his wedding ring off, and it’s the same thing. You have to use common sense, and you got to take your time, don’t rush out and meet the first person who emails you through the website, email them for a week and speak to them on the telephone for two weeks. If you still feel after 2/3 weeks that you want to meet this person, that this person is possibly a match. By that time you should have sussed him/her out. And then yes go ahead and meet them, but I think the big debate is people rushing out for these quick half an hour coffee dates.
P: Now Ramon according to this report – 250 000 South Africans actively using online dating, is this number expected to grow?
RT: Yes as I mentioned we expect it to grow to over 300000 by the end of this year, by 2008 we should have about 500 000 actually using online dating, its growing phenomenally well I think because it is a new way of connecting. People are really finding that it works, and I think the exceptions are definitely in the minority. If you look at as well the number of online dating services available. When we started our research last year in June, we only spoke to about 8 people that were running these dating services, since then we have found another 10. So there are the online dating services that are out there, and then there is the speed dating services, and there are quite a lot of the flirt SMS type services available as well. A very nice example of one of the services is love mail, which is run by the Junk Mail guys. It allows you to connect to people through their website, that is through the matchmaking facility of their website as well as via SMS. You can flirt with someone over SMS and a lot of people like to do that, especially the younger people.
P: Ramon, online dating generated around 20 million rand in 2004, now when does the money exchange actually happen?
RT: Okay as I mentioned it is quite easy to go and register on any one of the websites, it’s free to register, you are free to look at the photos, to look at the profiles and read about the people. Where the money comes in is if you want to contact somebody that you fancy, you actually have to subscribe and the subscription ranges from R30 to R120 for some of the services on a monthly basis. And the money that is paid to the website for subscribing, that is where the 20 million comes in.
P: Now what happens if someone goes online & signs up, meets someone, and something unfortunate happens as a result, do you take responsibility for that?
RT: Well I think the person themselves takes responsibility, they can’t blame the website, I mean if you just think about the thousands and thousands of people registered on these websites, it will be very difficult to delete them, it’s the same with night clubs or with any public service, there is too many people to be controlled. What you can do is on the website there is a function that allows you to block someone, even before you meet if the person starts to get nasty over email or telephone – block them and inform the company/website that you are using, and ask them to take action, and what they would normally do is suspend the account of that user. Just a word of precaution, nothing prevents that person from signing up under a different name, so as a woman especially be careful!
P: Ramon how safe is it?
RT: It is really as safe as you make it; I mean if you rush to meet every single person you are bound to meet weirdoes.
P: Now is there some way for us to know say if you log on to the net and are looking for a dating site, is there some way of knowing which site is legit or isn’t?
RT: Well what people can do is, we have just launched a dating guide which is www.DatingCoach.co.za and we publish reviews of all the online dating services available to South Africans. So you can read about them and you can find out if they suit your needs, I mean there are some websites that focus specifically on the adult market, they cater for like the swingers etc…
P: So does it really take it that far?
RT: Yes they do, but most of the websites that we look at are generally people looking for dating, people looking to meet friends, you know something romantic. So they are in the vast majority. Something else interesting that came from the research is that 55% of people are looking for friendship and companionship, and a much lesser extent is looking for love – about 20% is actually looking for love. So it is interesting to see that I think people are lacking meaningful relationships, not necessarily romantic or sexual in nature, they just don’t seem to connect with people. And I think part of it is you know we are living in the 21st century, it’s quite a fast paced world that we live in, so this online dating allows you the opportunity to get to know people again and you can build on that relationship up to the point where you decide to meet the person.
P: Ramon, we have got Michelle on the line from Northmead, Hi Michelle –
M: Hi, I just wanted to say that I did meet my partner through a South African matchmaking sight, a friend of mine signed me up for it although I wasn’t very keen on it to begin with, I think I sounded a bit like a battle axe when completing my profile on the site as I wasn’t real keen on finding a man at that stage. But I found out it was a very good way to meet people, and I wasn’t necessarily looking for love, I do believe love is a good friendship basis first but the profiles are so detailed. There are a lot of the important questions that get put out of the way in the beginning like religious preferences, do you want children etc… Things that you wouldn’t normally ask on a first or second or even fifth or tenth date, and by the time that you have actually got to that stage when you are dating somebody you are already in a relationship, yet you might not be basically suited. So I think it saves a lot of trouble as long as everybody is honest about it.
P: Michelle why were you initially afraid to go on?
M: I think because there is a bit of a stigma attached to it first of all, you know you must be desperate or something and the second thing is that I had heard one or two bad stories about what can happen. And lets face it there are quite a lot of strange people out there, whether you meet them via the internet or not. But I think as long as you are discerning and you know what you are after and you watch out for those people who maybe try and pull wool over your eyes.
P: Now Michelle you used www.matchmaker.co.za, a local website. Would you sign any of your friends up?
M: I’ve recommended it to many of my friends
P: Michelle thank you very much for your call it was lovely chatting to you. Ramon is it a perception do you think that will be ongoing that people who sign up for online dating are the people that don’t have the confidence to go out there themselves?
RT: I think that is a perception that is changing very, very fast just in terms of the numbers I think they sort of speak for themselves. If you look deeper into the demographics of the people, most of the have a tertiary qualification, they between 24 and 33, they work in IT and finance and they seem to be very eligible people, with very busy lives, and that is the kind of description that I came up with. I also just want to comment on the friendship element and the whole thing of having something in common. Last year I interviewed Dr Andrew Thatcher from Wits University, a psychologist who does a lot of research on the internet as well and how it impacts on people, and he actually debunked a very common myth which is that opposites attract, yes opposites might attract but you will find that you can’t have a lasting meaningful relationship with someone who is an opposite. It will frustrate you over the long-term, so what the online dating allows you to do is to find people with similar interests to you and it really cuts through a lot of the fluff that you might otherwise experience.
P: Ramon what do women want?
RT: One thing that I found is, just in my personal experience I think a lot of people not just women but men too don’t know what they want. And again one of the benefits of online dating it allows you to be specific about what you want, allows screening and they can actually be pro-active and I encourage them to be and to go and look for the matches on the website, and to contact the men that they want to contact. Don’t just sit back and wait for the men to contact you
P: I think Simon from Woodmead wanted something and he found it. Hi Simon
S: Hi, I just want to bring to the listeners attention one thing that is good about internet dating which I never use, but I met somebody over the net, it was a business transaction (ICQ) and the best thing is you can communicate for hours and hours, and you get to know the person in so much detail. That you would not be able to do it if you were sitting across a table and talking, and I would imagine people can benefit really well and get to know the person before you meet and that is the beauty about the internet, you can really dig deep into the personality.
P: How long did you chat to your wife before you met?
S: We chatted for four months religiously for approximately four hours a day, and it was so nice to have an in detail conversation, with no interruptions! I have been married for five years with two children, very happily!
P: Now Simon, how long after did you guys send your pictures through?
S: It was within a month I think, I think that the benefit is you don’t have to worry about meeting someone and the body language that goes along with it.
P: Simon thank you very much for sharing that with us
S: You are welcome
P: Lee from Rivonia – Hi
L: Hi I just wanted to ask a question, this last caller made a comment that you might not get along with the person because the body language is wrong but isn’t that a sure indication that there will be nothing going between the two of you? Whereas you don’t see that on the internet and that is the one thing that I am concerned about, is that you get so intimately involved with each others lives while you are chatting on the internet, you don’t see each other physically, I know there are pictures but pictures lie, and I really think that would be the only that really concerns me is that you don’t get that chemistry…
R: yes that is something that comes up quite a lot on people that are sceptical about internet dating, and those are probably the people that prefer to do the speed dating. I still think there is a lot of merit in using the internet as a way to meet people because it allows you to screen people first of all, so if physical attraction is really important to you, yes maybe try something else but if you are looking for something maybe more substantial then the internet allows you to find that. And you should move from email onto telephone, and ask the person question and interact with them on that basis and kind of see how do they react to certain things; do they have the sense of humour the claim to have on the website?
P: Can you please give us a round-up of why you think online dating is absolutely fabulous?
RT: I think it is really a great way to meet people that share similar interests and that is why the friendship/companionship element comes through so strongly, you be very specific about what it is that you like, and you can be specific about what it is you are looking for, it helps you to connect with people that are like minded and that to me ensures that you will have a lasting relationship. Whether it is romantic or friendship. One of the things I want to recommend to people is to put more effort into writing their essays, a critical component of your online dating success comes from writing an essay which describes yourself and describes your ideal match. Be specific!
P: Ramon thank you so much for joining us
RT: Thank you very much Prim