Would You Date Online If It Wasn't Anonymous?

One writer says online dating sites are limiting their own growth by letting people pick usernames, rather than tapping into their real-life social networks. But would people really date online if they had to use their real names?

Julie Ruvolo of AdAge calls dating sites "an antisocial network." She explains the trouble with usernames (her example is "nycprince03"):

Instead of connecting with people you know, you set up a username to mask your identity, hope no one you know sees you, and spend the whole time filtering. Age. Location. Income. [...]

Otherwise sensible filtering criteria, like who you know in common, is not possible in a world of usernames, so you're left with "10 miles from 10005" and mysterious matchmaking algorithms.

Usernames are why dating sites can't grow on their own, like social networks. They have to grow in spite of themselves. By advertising!

When you think about it, anonymity in online dating actually is kind of weird. When you meet someone at a party or a bar, one of the first things you tell them is your name. And yet online, daters routinely withhold this information, disclosing seemingly more personal things like their income and desire for children first. There are good reasons for this — your dating site profile is potentially accessible to way more people than you might meet in a bar, and so arguably the risk of stalking and abuse goes up. But some of the reasons online dating remains anonymous likely have to do with stigma. The online space is seen as scarier than the real world, even though, unfortunately, daters face risks from people they meet at bars and parties too. And online dating itself still gets portrayed as slightly suspect, even as more and more people try it. Not everyone is comfortable publicly declaring that they're dating online — and using one's real name on a dating site would be, in a lot of ways, such a declaration.

So will things ever change? If people are willing to share their purchasing history with their online friends, will they soon start hooking their dating accounts up to their Facebook accounts too? Will they message potential dates with their real names, or — an even greater level of transparency — let their friends see who they've messaged? Will you someday be able to "like" your best friend's matches? There's one obvious check on this, according to Ruvolo — "adult dating sites" like Grindr are "the one place you don't want your friends, or your partner, or your family to join you." Presumably that's true for cheating sites like Ashley Madison as well. But for more traditional dating sites, there might be some value in letting users connect the way they do in real life (and on Facebook) — through actual friends of actual friends. And in order to do that, they might have to kiss names like "nycprince03" goodbye.

Why Advertising Won't Save Online Dating Sites [AdAge]

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