Here’s a reprint of an article that quotes my research into online dating industry in South Africa…
Clean-shaven, straight teeth and a friendly smile … in a word, handsome. After a week of vigorous SMSing and long phone conversations, “handsome” and I decide to meet.
Eager to see each other in real life, we meet in a parking lot — and as I walk towards him, my excitement is replaced with anger almost immediately.
“That’s not you in the picture,” I blurted.
We haven’t spoken since.
Hundreds of thousands of South Africans are looking for love on the internet, which offers a chance to get to know the other person before meeting him or her face to face.
DatingBuzz, South Africa’s biggest dating website — launched in March 2002 — has 140 000 South African users and 260 000 users worldwide, mostly between the ages of 24 and 29.
Ramon Thomas, MD of NETucation, an internet research company, told the Mail & Guardian Online that South Africa has generated “approximately R20-million in revenue in 2004, based on the approximately 10% of all the users who are paying members”. The other 90% are simply window-shopping.
According to a NETucation report, Online Dating in South Africa 2004, almost a quarter of a million South Africans have used online dating services. The research was conducted on nine South African dating websites, including DatingBuzz.
DatingBuzz user Christine says she got married after chatting for seven months in cyberspace and 13 days after meeting her match.
Another user, Edna, says: “After my husband’s death, I never thought that I would have another chance of happiness with a man. He’s helping me deal with my loss and I am happy again.”
Sceptics like Sarah “used to read the success stories and laugh to myself, thinking that the marketing/PR behind the site must be really good at making up matched couples”.
“Well, since then I have [had] to eat humble pie as I met the man with whom I want to spend the rest of my life,” she admits.
One of the United States’s largest dating websites, Match.com, which was launched in 1995, says there are 40-million Americans who use online dating services.
In April 2002, Match.com polled 2006 single people, of which 49% admitting to searching for love online instead of wasting time at bars.
Jupiter Research reported that $473-million (about R3-billion) was raked in from American users of various dating websites last year. It expects revenues to reach $516-million (R3,3-billion) this year.
How it all starts
Anyone can create a profile for free on DatingBuzz. A registered user has a profile and is matched for free, but a subscription is needed if one user wants to contact another.
DatingBuzz CEO David Burstein told the M&G Online that his company’s revenues have “doubled over the last year”.
Demographics show that South African users who have profiles on DatingBuzz are 55% white, 19% black, 4% Indian and 4% coloured. Gauteng has the most registered users to date.
Profiles on dating websites often require users to provide their geographic information, age and physical description, education, cultural characteristics, and drinking and smoking habits, as well as a few words about themselves.
DatingBuzz has an additional option of a more in-depth survey. It details a user’s HIV status, personality traits, physical appearance, leisure activities, work and lifestyle, interests, likes and dislikes, and goals — and it asks whether the user answered the questionnaire honestly.
Burstein says DatingBuzz also has a site specifically for HIV-positive people, called PositiveDatingBuzz. There are about 200 people using the site, which was launched last year.
Matches are calculated specifically by what users choose as their ideal match, Burstein says.
Users on DatingBuzz can choose a partner, for example, who is a “fat cat” or one who is “struggling” with his or her income; a person with a “curvaceous” body type who looks like a “beauty-contest winner”; or someone whose hair colour “changes often”.
In South Africa, only 0,5% of users of DatingBuzz have admitted to being a “fat cat” and 1% are “struggling” with their income.
Users can specify what star sign they want their match to be, where they should live, their age, eye colour, height, religion, profession, drinking and smoking habits and current relationship status — as well as whether they want children.
The criteria for their ideal match can be ranked as anything from “non-negotiable” to “not important at all”.
DatingBuzz has created its own in-house software to match users. The programme calculates a score in percentage format for potential matches, according to what each user has specified.
The programme does a two-way match and users are able to view not only able their own compatibility with their matches, but also their matches’ compatibility with them. For example, if a user specifies a match from Gauteng as non-negotiable, a user in Cape Town will not have a high compatibility rating.
NETucation research shows that 84,8% of South African online daters claim to be honest when providing their details. There’s no real point in lying — it would mean there is less of a chance of a user finding his or her ideal match.
Most online daters (45%) in South Africa are single when they first begin their search for love on the internet. Most (26,8%) meet other users within one or two weeks from first making contact on the internet; 21,5% meet within a month and 20,1% don’t meet at all.
Risks of the game
Online dating could also be risky — there is, after all, no guarantee that the virtual Mr Right won’t be a serial rapist in real life.
However, some online dating services offer security, such as American site True, which does criminal background checks on users and tries to ensure no married person sneaks in a profile.
Match.com is also one of the websites that allows members to block users permanently and no longer receive messages from them.
DatingBuzz deletes scam profiles; for example, a Russian scam that cons South African users into buying airline tickets for Russian users. The money, however, isn’t really for the tickets, and before the South African users realise they’ve been conned, their money is gone.
Other profiles that DatingBuzz deletes are those that promote users’ businesses, or those that are obscene in nature.
If a complaint is made about a user, he or she could receive a written warning. If a rape allegation is made against a user and a criminal charge is laid, DatingBuzz freezes his or her profile and will provide any information about the user to aid the investigation.
Other dating services that are popular in South Africa include MSN Match, Galaxy Singles, LoveFinda, The Positive Connection, Dateline SA, Couples, Gaydar (focused on the gay community), Lovemail and MyDate (one of the longest-running dating websites).
NETucation will release its 2005 online dating statistics before the end of October.
source: M&G Online