Online dating used to carry with it the Scarlet Letter of loserdom; it was an under-the-breath admittance of social failure; a desperate retreat into the digital world. Now dating site membership numbers are in the millions, and the billion-dollar industry is set to become bigger than porn.
The lay of the land has shifted as well—mostly for the better. Earlier this year, the religion-backed eHarmony finally ditched homophobia and began including same-sex profiles. The adult section of Craigslist was shuttered after loads of legal pressure (and a series of murders); driving erotic massage-seekers back to ads in local alternative weekly newspapers.
But what’s most exciting about modern online dating is how it has tapped into the nerd culture. And why not? Nerds, after all, invented the series of tubes; why shouldn’t they have a deservedly bigger Web presence?
The biggest nerds of them all—Apple fanboys (and girls)—set up their own dating site called Cupidtino (a play off Apple’s Cupertino headquarters) back in June. Cupidtino’s raison d’etre:
“Diehard Mac & Apple fans often have a lot in common—personalities, creative professions, a similar sense of style and aesthetics, and of course a love for technology. We believe these are enough reasons for two people to meet and fall in love, and so we created the first Mac-inspired dating site to help you find other Machearts around you.”
Sounds … um … niche, to say the least. Though Apple fans have a lot to talk about—like new iPods and, um, new iPads, and, uh…—I can’t imagine flirtatious conversations about MacBooks abandoning Firewire connectivity lasting that long.
The other new nerd-centric dating site is GameCrush, which allows male gamers to connect with gaming buddies of the opposite sex for a fee of 60 cents per minute—a number that sounds suspiciously akin to phone sex hotlines. Gamers search through “PlayDate” profiles, engage in the site’s small Flash-based library of games, and perhaps even video chat to compare Xbox gamer scores or, you know, other measurements. The 60-cent revenue is shared with both the PlayDates and the developer of the game being played. GameCrush—which has already captured investor attention—sounds like a mix of an honest-to-goodness social networking site and, depending on where these liaisons go, a veiled offspring of Craigslist’s adult services.
If online dating gives you the pack-your-MP3 Taser creeps, you don’t have to go it alone. Ignighter just launched the first and only group-dating site. On Ignighter, you search for groups of people with similar interests, pluck the finest buds, and then arrange a mass hang-out. While Ignighter won’t prevent a Warriors-style beat-down, it should placate the paranoid and maybe even enlighten a few of the holdouts who haven’t accepted that online dating, like social networking, is the new handshake.
That’s not to say other online dating sites haven’t turned into plasticine playgrounds for narcissists.
Back in June, I received an e-mail from the free online dating site OkCupid. They called me “good looking” and said that from now on, they’d only match me with similarly attractive people.
The data was culled from a click-through algorithm on users’ photos and reactions in the Quiver and QuickMatch features. So the more people who fancied the photo of me celebrating the 4th by brown-bagging it on the Esplanade, or who gave my profile a meaningless 5-star rating upon viewing only my pictures and not my amazingly well-written self-description, the more “attractive” I became, thus entering me into elite status.
Absurd and shallow, to say the least, but another sign of the times: the more space we have to promote our online identities—fabricated or not—the closer we get to replacing barroom “Do you wash your pants in Windex?” interactions, and maybe taking The Game entirely online.