People Are Experience Goods: Improving Online Dating

We suggest that online dating frequently fails to meet user expectations because people,unlike many commodities available for purchase online,are experience goods: Daters wish to screen potential romantic partners by experiential attributes (such as sense of humor or rapport),but online dating Web sites force them to screen by search able attributes (such as income or religion).

We demonstrate that people spend too much time searching for options online for too little payoff in offline dates (Study 1),in part because users desire information about experiential attributes,but online dating Websites contain primarily searchable attributes (Study 2).

Finally, we introduce and beta test the Virtual Date,offering potential dating partners the opportunity to acquire experiential information by exploring a virtual environment in interactions analogous to real first dates (such as going to a museum), an online intervention that led to greater liking after offline meetings.

Online dating has emerged as an undoubtedly popular way to meet potential partners: Some 11% of Internet users—16 million Americans—have used an online dating Web site (Madden & Len hart, 2006). The advent of online dating has both lowered the barrier to initiating contact (from a painful phone call to a click of a mouse) and simultaneously increased the number of available options. Despite this see mine promise, however, results have been decidedly mixed.

Anecdotal evidence and market data suggest wide-spread user disappointment (Egan, 2003), and grow with of the major online dating sites has slowed(Jupiter Research, 2005). These trends are particularly puzzling in light of recent research demonstrating generally positive role for the Internet in forming and developing platonic relationships (e.g., Michail-Hamburger & Furn ham, 2007; Kraut et al., 2002;Mc Kenna,Green,& Gleason,2002; Nie,2001; Sproull,Conley, & Moon, 2005). Given the positive effects of the Internet on platonic social life,there appears to be great potential for the Internet to improve romantic life as well.

We propose that understanding how romantic relationships are formed online can be informed by situating online dating on the search versus experience continuum—or, more specifically, by realizing that people are the ultimate experience good. Wheth er someone joins a dating Web site to find her soul mate or a one-night stand, success is not determined solely by her partner’s objective qualities (e.g., income and height) but also by subjective qualities, based on moment-to-moment rapport between herself and her potential partner.

She cannot know, for instance,whether she will find a self-declared comedian funny in person, short of direct experience. Even viewing other’s impressions—via his friends’ comments on historical networking pages—is not a sure signal that his sense of humor will appeal to her;although knowing others’ opinions may be helpful when pursuing


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