Searching for My LaFawnduh

"Don't be jealous that I've been chatting online with babes all day." - Kip Dynamite

How does the saying go? "I'm single by choice?" Sure, and the Pope doesn't wear a funny hat? At some point your choice will be to seek out a significant other. The problem is that today's environment is filled with such a diverse population that one is challenged on how to find that special someone. Thanks to the technology boom online dating services have sprung up overnight like Internet weeds.

Online dating is a form of social networking that came to the fore as Internet access became prevalent in the middle to late 1990's. Typically reserved for the geek squad, online dating was little more than personal ads posted on cyberspace bulletin boards that lead to romantic encounters in virtual forums such as chat rooms or Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone. Now even the cool kids are doing it thanks to broader social acceptance and easy to use technology like instant messenger, blogs and improvements to staples like email and web page development.

Services like Match.com, Nerve.com, and eHarmony.com are replacing blind dates and random set-ups as the preferred method of semi-anonymous dating. Once thought to be the territory of uberdorks like Kip, an increasingly large number of folks have turned to the web to find their soul mate.

In 1996, one of my grad school compadres mentioned that his fiancée was coming to town for a visit. The usual barrage of questions ensued and was met with the usual types of responses. That is all questions but "How did you meet her?"

"I met her on the Internet," was the reply.

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing in his face. Now, I am the one being laughed at for not having tried online dating.

The demand is so great that many web-based companies have added it to their menu of service offerings. An early example of this was Emode.com. Emode.com entered the Internet market offering Cosmo-type quizzes. You know the ones, "What Breed of Dog Are You?," "What Type of Woman/Man Will You Attract?," "Are You Extreme?," etc., etc. Using personality and aptitude data as a means to find compatible individuals was a logical next step.

At the re-branded Tickle.com site, former Emode users are encouraged to take as many of the myriad tests to facilitate matching. Evite.com, the leading on-line invitation service, has also added matching to its palette of services. Users are now able to create profiles that can be publicized via the invite list associated with an event. Further, upon logging in to the system, users are presented with profiles of other members who have been invited to the same events. Users can exchange anonymous messages through the services should a profile spark interest.

The lynchpin of the online networking world is your profile. Think of it as a resume for picking up. System users are invited to publicize as much about them as they like. Questions range from benign content, like a lists of favorite books and movies, to the absurd, like biographies of genitalia. Believe me the world does not need to know about your mole that looks like Abe Lincoln or the fact that you have seven toes. Though we would like to know if your tooth is real or not.

Sharing too much information and stretching the truth is very common in the online dating world. Henry Dittman, a veteran of online dating from LA, notes, "You can't trust those profiles, but mostly the lies are idealized versions of people, and you can tell a lot about a person based on the kind of person they aspire to be."

I will admit that I bent the truth to paint a better picture of myself. I guess some folks might believe that I actually am an Action Figure - sans Kung Fu grip. Oh well. After some input from experienced online daters, I had profiles up on Friendster.com, Match.com and MySpace.com in just a few hours.

Friendster is the web-based equivalent of meeting someone at a friend's party. You create your own social network by inviting friends to the service. These friends invite their friend's who invite their friends, etc. Searching for your soul mate is pretty easy and the system explains your connection to other users.

For example, Friendster.com told me, How you're connected: You <-> Laura <-> Sara"

Sara, a Bay Area California resident, was the first stranger I contacted via one of these online services. I emailed her through Friendster and asked for her take on online dating.

"I love browsing the 'inner world' of people's thoughts and hobbies and lives on Friendster. It's a fun way to connect with friends, for free, and to read profiles of strangers. As a dating arena, it's much less stressful than something like Match.com. In my sociological studies of both, Friendster definitely attracts some odd balls. But, Friendster is not known in the 'mainstream' and only the cool people are in the know."

Match is the almost the same as meeting someone in a bar without the luxury of small talk since the little things are probably already listed for you in the profile. True to Sara's assessment, Match.com subscribers' profiles seem to be a bit drier than the average Friendster or MySpace listing.

However, I have run across colleagues, acquaintances and exes on Match so discretion is not such a bad idea. The biggest difference between Match and other services is that Match generates income from service subscriptions, which means that you must pay to email the intriguing folks listed on the service. Some enterprising Match users list their email addresses in the body of their profiles.

Match does offer "winking," which is a non-customizable note to another user that you are interested, but according to the site, "Women respond better to email."

Of the three services I tried, MySpace.com is by far the most customizable tool in Cyber Space besides developing your own web page from scratch, hence the moniker. MySpace is a combination of GeoCities web-page communities of yesteryear and trendier online services, like Nerve.com.

MySpace also offers blogging capabilities and many other bells and whistles that will make the AV crowd smile. Beware, it seems that MySpace profiles tend to fail the truth test more often than not. Further, MySpace users seem to be in the friend collection business.

Dittman offers, "What's weird is that MySpace folks will have 2,000 'friends' and just email invites to everyone. I find that creepy."

Many users agree, including me. If I don't know you, you don't get an add, unless you're a band that I dig, like The Donnas or F-Units.

I am not sure that online dating is really my cup of tea and neither is Sara. "It's very easy to have casual, typed "conversation" and difficult to pick that up in person. So, [I keep] my "virtual" relationships, prior to meeting someone, to a minimum. Computers are not reality, period." Looks like I may need to fly out to California.

This was originally posted on TheBackWord.com, a Texas-centric eZine that has gone the way of the jackalope.