First, online dating has become pervasive, overshad-owing many of the ways singles used to meet. Second, online dating has fundamentally altered the romantic acquaintance process. For example, millions of singles now first encounter potential partners in the form of profiles rather than in the form of first-person meetings or first-hand accounts. In addition, these singles frequently have immediate access to (the profiles of) hundreds or thousands of potential partners at any hour of the day, and those potential partners have comparable access to users’ own profiles.
Furthermore, the means through which singles initiate contact with potential partners is, in many cases, fundamentally different from how they do so in conventional offline dating, especially regarding the various forms of CMC that typically precede a face-to-face encounter. Third, whereas both matchmakers and algorithm-based matching sites emphasize principles like similarity and com-plementarity when establishing compatibility, matching sites frequently emphasize variables (e.g., serotonin) that match makers have historically ignored, and they seek to use vast amounts of data to build their algorithms.
In addition, certain matching sites’ (e.g., eHarmony’s) decision to omit some people from the dating pool is presumably a more extreme approach than conventional matchmakers would have pursued. In sum, online dating has fundamentally altered the dating landscape, especially vis-à-vis the forms of access, communication, and matching they offer to singles. We now examine whether these changes have generally improved people’s romantic outcomes.
Online Dating Superior To Conventional Offline Dating
The preceding discussions of prevalence, the mechanics of the online dating process, and mathematical matching algorithms converge upon the conclusion that online dating differs funda-mentally from conventional offline dating (the uniqueness question). We now examine whether online dating fosters better romantic outcomes than onventional offline dating does (the superiority question). Toward that end, we critically evaluate dating sites’ claims of superiority before reviewing the scholarly literature relevant to evaluating whether specific implementations of access, communication, and matching offered by online dating are likely to yield superior romantic outcomes.
What claims of superiority do online dating sites make?
Perhaps not surprisingly, online dating sites’ claims of superiority are pervasive. We briefly review the general thrust of
these claims, offering a handful of concrete examples, before discussing the legal context for considering such claims and evaluating whether the evidence underlying them meets conventional standards of scientific validity.
Online dating sites make a broad range of explicit and implicit claims about their access, communication, and matching services. Table 3 presents illustrative explicit claims, using verbatim quotes from a range of online dating sites. By design, the dating sites included in Table 3 represent a broad range of methods and market share; for example, eHarmony has a large market share, whereas Weopia does not.
As illustrated in the table, claims regarding access frequently involve information about how many people use the site and how useful the profiles are for learning about potential partners. Claims regarding communication frequently involve information about what forms of mediated communication the site offers and how these forms of communication are especially effective and efficient at helping users (a) develop a nuanced view of what potential partners are like and (b) discern whether those potential partners are likely to be compatible with them. Claims regarding matching frequently provide a broad-brushstroke analysis of how the site implements the matching process (e.g., personality matching, genetic matching) and why this means of implementation is likely to be effective.