Do girls ask guys out on first dates?

We recently decided to start finding out from our Dateclub members how they feel about a variety of dating related questions. Our idea is that each week we will pose a question and let our members vote on it. Here is the first of these new votes:

Girls - would you ask a guy out on a first date?

The results were quite surprising. 189 people participated, and of those 120 voted YES and only 69 voted NO. So there you have it guys, there are girls out there that might just ask you out on a first date.

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Online Dating Expectations

What are your expectations when you use an online dating site? Many dating sites have complex matching algorithms, and while these help to narrow down the selection process, they also create the expectation that the people you match highly with will be the perfect life partners. Some sites in the USA have even been sued when things don’t work out with their “perfect match”, after all the computer said we were perfectly suited so we should have lived happily ever after.

We believe that the best way to use online dating is to consider it an introduction tool. Figuring out whether the person you get introduced to is the perfect one or not is something you will have to do, whether you meet the person online or through a friend. No computer can calculate the chemistry between two people, or at least not yet.

For this reason we believe you should use online dating with this realistic expectation in mind. The online dating site is like a super popular friend who can introduce you to lots of new people, and not an all powerful seer that can figure out who your soulmate is.

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Sometimes starting out with something “fun” can lead to something “serious”

Recently we introduced a new feature called the “Fun Match”. This feature works by matching each new member as they join with one or more existing members who have something in common with them - for example live in the same area or have one or more similar interests.

We called the feature “Fun Match” as apposed to just “Match” or “Perfect Match” because we did not want to create the impression that our computers could match you with your perfect partner. Rather we wanted people to see the fun matches as a simple and fun introduction to someone that they might want to chat to. Yesterday we received the following message from one of our members

“Good mornin,i just want 2 say thanx 2 jamble, ive met my perfect soulmate and it neva wld hav been if u guys didnt fun match us,the lady wil b in uitenhage in 288 hrs time and we ar perfectlly matched and engaged.thank ur awesum.”

So although this feature was created as something fun, that does not mean it won’t lead to something more serious.

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Meeting new people in South Africa just got a whole lot more fun

Dating should be fun. In fact it should be loads of fun. But if you visit most online dating sites, the first words that come to mind are serious, stiff, formal and possibly even boring. Dating sites might have provided the seed for today’s cool social networks like Facebook and MySpace, but when it comes to innovation the dating sites have not changed very much. The algorithms used to match people may have gotten more scientific and sophisticated under the hood, but the general process of registering a profile, viewing your “best” matches, sending the ones you like a message, and then monitoring your inbox for responses has not changed over the years. This experience can best be described as a one dimensional, one to one process. You introduce yourself to one person at a time, and you correspond with people one on one.

CoolTown, a brand new dating website for the South African market, intends to try a different approach. CoolTown aims to provide a fun social playground where new people can meet, mix and chat. You can share your photos with everyone else, see what other people are up to, start public discussions on topics that are important or interesting to you, and join groups that you think might be fun. If you have always wanted to try Kite Surfing, for example, then join the Cape Town Kite Surfing group. If you prefer running then join a group of runners, or if wine tasting is your thing then join or start a group for that.

If all this sounds like a social network then that is because it is. But instead of a social network where the aim is keep up to date or organise activities with your existing friends (Facebook), this is a social network where the aim is to meet new people that share your interests, and to allow you to explore new interests. Doing things you are interested in with others is fun, and so is trying new things you have always wanted to but never gotten around to. The ultimate point of the site is still to help you meet your soul mate, but the way it aims to achieve that is different. The thinking behind the site is that if you have a platform to socialise and do things you are interested in, then you will end up meeting the right people. Instead of using mathematical algorithms based on a limited number of questions to match you to other members, you will naturally be drawn to the best matches over time by being yourself and using the site to socialise, organise activities and participate in discussions. This is a multi-dimensional, many to many process, which allows people to explore many more connections. In the end that means a better chance of finding the right one, as well as having loads of fun along the way.

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The power of social networks

There was an interesting article in The Times today written by Jacquie Myburgh (in the interests of full disclosure I must unashamedly admit that I was reading the paper version of the newspaper). Marks and Spencer in the UK have until now apparently priced their larger sized bras at a premium to regular sized bras. For example a double D cost something like GBP2 more than a smaller size. There is undoubtedly a good reason for this in that it costs more to produce the bigger size, not just in the fabric used but more importantly in the required materials to support the heavier size.

The interesting part is that two women who were unhappy with paying more took their grievances online by creating a “Busts 4 Justice” campaign on Facebook. Soon they were joined by thousands of other voices calling for Marks and Spencer to revise their policy. To avoid the bad publicity and to keep their customers happy Marks and Spencer eventually gave in and announced last week that they would start charging the same price for all bra sizes.

The above is just one example of a growing number of cases where a small number of people can quickly gather massive support for a cause and force large companies to their knees. Social Networks are the platform that makes this possible, and they are clearly shifting the balance of power away from companies and into the hands of consumers.

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Online dating in a recession

The world is currently experiencing one of the worst recessions in the history of modern times. For most businesses, a recession means less customers and less spending by existing customers, which means reduced turnover and diminished profits. However there are some businesses that actually perform better in these hard times. Companies that provide a product or service in the value category. People looking to reduce the amount of money they spend each month switch their purchases from more expensive alternatives to these cheaper options. For example, people start buying clothing from a clothing discount store instead of their favourite boutique.

Many of the large online dating companies in the USA and Europe have been reporting strong growth recently. While this may seem strange at first, it actually makes perfect sense. Online dating is relatively cheap when compared to the alternative of leaving the house and going out to meet people. So for anyone looking to save money, online dating becomes a much more attractive proposition.

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Device Reputation as a way to eliminate community trouble makers

Trouble makers are people who join communities for the all the wrong reasons. It could be someone pretending to be someone else, or someone that uses the community in order to perpetrate a scam, or that uses the community as a platform to defame or discredit someone else they have had a personal disagreement with, or that uses the community to send spam messages to other members.

In cases like these the only sensible thing to do is to remove that person from the community and try to prevent them from ever joining again. Depending on what happened details could also be sent to the authorities. However, banning someone is not always as easy as it sounds. These people will often try and register again using a different email address or cell number. With the widespread and cheap availability of prepaid cell numbers in South Africa (R1 per SIM card, no ID required) someone can get a new cell number for very little cost and effort. Getting a new email address is even easier. You can sign up for a web based email address from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others for no charge. Something that we have used in the past with some success to identify people is to require members to produce a valid ID number. However even this can be ineffective if the trouble maker has access to a bunch of valid ID numbers that belong to other people.

One method that would work very effectively, and that we believe will become more and more important in the future, is the ability to identify the actual device that was used to register on the community. This device would typically be a PC, or a laptop computer, or a cellphone for mobile communities. In the case of a cellphone the IMEI number would be an ideal form of identity. Unfortunately, at this point in time it is not possible for us to detect the IMEI number remotely. The ability to identify the actual device would allow community operators to store a reputation for the device and to ban that device from joining the community again. Although this would still not be fool proof, it would make it much harder and more expensive to register again after being banned. Instead of just buying a new SIM card (for R1) or getting a new email address (for free), the trouble maker would now need to purchase a new phone or PC or laptop. In most cases this would not be worth their while.

As a next step the various community operators could agree to share device reputation information so that if a device is banned from one community, other operators could elect to ban it from their community as well (possibly also taking into account the reason for the ban elsewhere or the severity of the offence). The easiest way to do this would be to set up an independent 3rd party that is responsible for collating and sharing the device reputation information. As more and more communities and other internet based services start to rely on these 3rd party reputation providers, it will become more and more important to ensure that you maintain a good reputation for your devices. Devices with a poor reputation will be prevented from using more and more services which will greatly diminish the value of owning the device. Just like you need to take care to maintain your own personal reputation in the real world, so you will need to maintain your reputation in the virtual world through the devices that you use to connect and participate.

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More and more people are meeting their partners online

There was a time when online dating was considered something only creeps or desperate people did when they had no other options. This has changed over the last few years, and online dating is now generally considered a good way to meet new people or even to find your soul mate.

Meeting people online is not just restricted to dating sites though. More and more websites have some sort of community element, and as soon as you have people gathering in a community online you will also have new friendships forming and new romances springing to life. And this is a good thing. Sites that cater to a specific interest bring together people that have something in common, and that means there is a good chance you will meet someone you have a strong connection with, even if you are not actively looking. Social networks are also an effective way to meet new people for business or romance through the people you already know.

We operate a mobile social network called Jamble and we recently received the following message from one of our members. Even though stories like this are becoming more and more common, it still makes us leap in delight every time we read one of them.

IM BECOMING A DAD. SOMEONE I MET ON JAMBLE. SO JUST WANA SAY THANK U ALL. ONE MORE SUCCES STORY 4 JAMBLE. GOD BLESS U ALL. WE’VE MET ON JAMBLE AND STARTED DATING. WE R BUSY PLANING A WEDDING BE4 THE END OF THE YEAR. STIL USING JAMBLE 2 COMMUNICATE WHEN WE CANT B 2GETHER. JAMBLE MADE IT HAPPEN 4 US. AND THAT’S WHY I SAY THANK U 2 JAMBLE. - T-REX

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The importance of ‘reputation’ in online communities

Reputation is an extremely important part of any community, and online communities are no exception. In fact in the case of online communities reputation is arguably more important since it is that much easer to hide your identity online. A good example of an online community with an explicit reputation management system is ebay. After each transaction on ebay the participants can rate the other party, and over time this creates a reputation for each buyer and seller. Having a good reputation becomes an important asset, and creates a strong incentive for buyers and sellers to treat each other fairly. Here is an extract from the site:

Whether you are new to eBay or an established member, your reputation is arguably the most valuable asset you have. Your “reputation” is based in part on how long you have been a member (this mostly applies to members who have had their accounts or user IDs for less than 30 days), but more importantly, your feedback score. The feedback you receive and leave for others can speak volumes for or against you, and understanding exactly what those numbers and percentages mean can save you a lot of time and trouble.

Of course, there will always be people that try and game the system, and ebay probably spends a large amount of time and effort trying to prevent this. Overall, however, there is no doubt that ebay would be far worse off without a reputation management system. And you could argue that without a good reputation management system ebay would not be sustainable.

There are many different aspects of reputation management that can be applied to online communities, and in this article I want to touch on just one of these that we will be implementing shortly. For many of our products we allow members to upload pictures, and we then moderate these to make sure that all public pictures are family safe before they can be viewed by other members. The most fail safe way to do this is still very manual, with a real human being scanning the photos and then approving or rejecting each one. What we found, however, was that most of the time moderation was not necessary, but that we still had to do it just in case. As the volume of pictures increased, so the time taken to review them increased as well which means our service to loyal members was getting worse because of a small number of cases where someone would break the rules. So we came up with a system where we could score each members conduct when it came to adding pictures in the past, and then use this score to determine whether a new picture needed to be reviewed before it would be made live. Members with a good reputation would have their pictures go live immediately (thereby providing them with a benefit for their good behaviour). Members with insufficient history would have their pictures reviewed until such time as their reputation score reached a particular level. And members with a very poor reputation score would have their pictures made private until such time as they could be reviewed, or could even be deleted until such time as their reputation improved. This feature only goes live in the next few days, but we expect that it will help reduce the moderation load significantly, and at the same time will help us to give a better service to those members that deserve it.

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Google Analytics

The first thing I decided to do once the new site was ready is install Google Analytics. For those who don’t know, this allows you to track who is visiting your site, where they are coming from, and what they do while they are there. All very useful and interesting information. For anyone running an ecommerce site, or any site where results are important, this type of information is critical in order to asses how your site is doing and how it can be improved.

Installing Google Analytics is actually much easier than it sounds. You sign up for an account with Google, then install a snippet of code that Google gives you on every page you want to track. There is a plug for WordPress aptly called Google Analytics For Wordpress which needs to be installed for this purpose. The entire process (including some research to find it) took around 10 minutes.

Like many other products from Google, the Google Analytics service is free to use. Anything that helps the web in general is good for Google since the more people use the web the more money Google makes from their search marketing business.

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