FutureFive NZ - Finding online love

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Finding online love

Our society is becoming increasingly reliant on technology and the internet, with online shopping, socializing, reading, and so on beginning to replace the traditional real-life alternatives. It is no surprise, then, that online dating is quickly becoming a popular, accepted and even preferred means of meeting friends and potential partners. This month in NetGuide, we guide you through the world of online dating and break down the social stigma that sometimes surrounds it.
Online dating is now widely accepted as a valid, convenient and fun way of meeting like-minded people. Countless people worldwide have turned to online dating and had great success, meeting both friends and life partners using online services. Although there has traditionally been some scepticism around the idea of online dating, people are quickly discovering that in today’s society, it actually makes a lot of sense.
We’re not saying there is anything wrong with the more traditional methods of finding a partner, whether it be through friends, at a bar or at work, but these days we’re all getting busier and busier and these traditional methods of meeting someone are becoming less and less realistic. Think about it – we often rush about our daily activities with our "I’m in a hurry, leave me alone” faces firmly in place, and our leisure activities are becoming predominantly screen oriented (spent in front of televisions, computers, smart phones, tablets and so on) with much less focus on in-person social activities.  Let’s face it, we no longer live in the days of Jürgen Habermas’ public sphere (the idea that an area in social life exists where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal topics and problems – like 18th century coffee houses). Today, when you picture a typical coffee house (like Starbucks) images of bustling, stressed out business people planted in front of newspapers, laptops or with a phone glued to one ear (and sometimes all of the above!) is probably what springs to mind.
Couple this with the fact that even when we do meet people in our everyday lives, there is a good chance they are not going to end up being "the one”. Often the people we meet from day to day are unavailable or have very different interests and personalities to our own, and it can sometimes take days, weeks, months or even years to discover that it’s not going to work. With online dating, on the other hand, you are matched up based on compatibility and you go into the relationship knowing that both sides are pursuing the same end goal. Using an online dating service is a great way of cutting straight to the chase, rather than waffling around for ages with small talk and courtesies, only to eventually find out that you’re just not on the same page.
Although you may think that it is mainly older people using online dating sites, younger generations are beginning to realise the benefits as well. "I’m really sick of the bar scene. I’ve never been much of a partier to begin with, and to me the idea of spending my weekends getting hit on by sleazy, drunk guys in a crowded bar until 3 in the morning is exhausting and absolutely does not appeal to me,” says Erin*, 23. "In addition to the fact that I just don’t really enjoy going out to the bar, chances are the guys I’m going to meet there will not be my type and it’s not going to work out. If we’re being honest, most guys who talk to girls at the bar are only after one thing and it’s not a relationship.”
And it’s not just girls who feel this way, "Most of the girls I meet at bars are not the type of girl I would be interested in starting a relationship with or taking home to my parents,” adds Jesse, 27. "The problem is, where else do people my age go to meet someone?”
He makes a good point. Most people who have met their significant others in more traditional ways have gotten lucky – a chance meeting at a social outing, a connection in the office or a friend of a friend. But for the rest of us, it’s difficult to think of many places one could go to meet their potential soul mate. This issue is only amplified by the increasing isolation surrounding our social outings. In today’s society, it is expected that people only talk to strangers if they have a clear purpose. For example, "how much does this cost?”or "do you know how to get to Queen street?”, and even then, we are often met with a frustrated and abrupt response.
The rising popularity and preference that most people have for email over phone or in person interaction is a clear example of the nature of socialization today. "I think people prefer to communicate via email because it gives them a chance to respond at their own leisure and really think about what they are going to say, and I think this is one of the huge benefits of online dating,” says Erin. "Plus, by talking to someone before meeting them, you can make a real connection based on your similar tastes or personalities, as opposed to one that might be based on more superficial and less important characteristics,” she adds.
Today, there are a wide variety of online dating sites available and it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Many sites cater to a very specific demographic such as "white men seeking Asian women” or "must love dogs”, and many are exclusively for members of a particular ethnic group, religion, age group and so on. You can also find sites meant specifically for people seeking a more casual relationship or ones for those seeking a lifelong partner. The site you choose depends on your personal tastes and what exactly you are looking for.
There are also more general dating websites that welcome everyone. One such site is NZDating.com, which won best online forum at our People’s Choice NetGuide Web Awards this year. We spoke with John Harris of NZDating.com to get the inside scoop!
NetGuide: What do you think differentiates your site from other online forums and dating sites?
John Harris: There are a number of factors that make NZDating.com the best dating and friendship service for Kiwis.
The main one is NZDating.com’s community is more fun to be part of.  We firmly believe relationships are built on friendships first and encourage our members to have fun getting to know new people in a less restrictive way.  When making new friends on NZDating.com, you’re more likely to find a special someone along the way - often that person doesn’t match exactly who you thought your ‘ideal partner’ would be.
While other services tend to take things too seriously and become limited to focusing on pairing people seeking serious long term relationships only, we think members should be free to make friends as themselves and tailor their experiences to their own tastes.
NZDating.com is also honest and open with its members - for example we don’t claim to be ‘free’ and then tell new members they have to pay to participate.  The site can be fully used for free, with the option to upgrade to a great value Gold premium membership for a suite of extra features to enhance their online dating experience.
For these reasons and more, NZDating.com is New Zealand’s favourite social dating service, and as one of New Zealand’s busiest web sites at any time of the day or night you can be assured there’s a member wanting to make friends with you!
NG: How exactly does the NZDating website work? (What is the process someone goes through when they decide to give it a try)
JH: 1) Prospective new members must first select their age group and gender to continue.  Anyone under 18 is notified they are not permitted to join.
2) Qualifying people over 18 then go on to select a unique username and password (to access the service), enter their date of birth, email address and select the region where they are located.  To continue, they then must declare they agree to adhere to the NZDating Terms of Use.
3)  The email address is verified by the user entering the special code that was emailed by the NZDating system.
4) Once the email address is verified, the member is able to create a member profile page containing information about who they are, their hobbies and interests, etc. and participate in other areas of NZDating.com.
NZDating members are able to search other NZDating members by various criteria (age, sex, region, non-smoking, etc.) and send messages to other members using the internal email system.  The messages are stored in a database server and can only be retrieved by the member however can be retrieved by NZDating management upon request from the Police.  Messages are generally available for up to 30 days after an account is removed.
Once members start interacting, they have the ability to classify other members as ‘buddies’ (awarding extra privileges normally reserved for members they trust),  ( ‘contacts’ (also with extra privileges such as restricted photos) or ‘blocked’ (members can be added to this list if no further interaction is desired).
NZDating members are able to upload photos of theirs to be used as part of their online profile.  These photos can be available for viewing by all other members, restricted to specific members or only available when specifically attached to a personal message.  This enables members to maintain privacy while still sharing pictures with selected members.
NG: What are some of the benefits of finding a match online as opposed to more traditional methods?
JH:  Internet Dating is great for shy or more self-conscious people. We have had numerous reports from people who have ‘come out of their shells’ or ‘found themselves’ by using NZDating.com. With the benefit of anonymity and the numerous tools available, members feel more at ease and able to express themselves and learn that their opinions are valued - this is particularly evident in the popular messageboards area of NZDating.com where regular users form online identities based on their opinions expressed in various threads.
The online interaction can lead to more traditional methods of interacting such as telephone calls and then meeting in person. If someone is still not ready for one on one meetings with other members they can venture to the numerous member organised events where, as a group with other online friends, the pressures of one on one meetings don’t exist and they can have fun meeting both friends and potential partners.
NG: What is the main demographic using the NZDating website (age, education, etc)?
JH: NZDating.com has a broad spectrum of ages (from 18-90!) with the average age for both men and woman being 32.  Members who have entered their education level are generally highly educated, with around 50% having a tertiary education and around 30% having a university degree. Our members are just normal New Zealanders who happen to have discovered the benefits of being a part of NZDating.com.  One way they are different is that they spend much more time online! According to Nielsen-Netratings, Kiwi internet users spend much more time on NZDating.com than any other NZ website, in fact many users become so enthralled with NZDating.com that it forms a significant part of their lives. 
NG: Do you think there is a bigger demand for dating services/introduction services than there was in the past? If so, why?
JH: Yes – we think there probably is.  When you look at how little spare time New Zealanders have outside of working hours it makes sense to use a service like ours to interact with people.  Since a lot of Kiwis live outside of cities they stand to benefit even more by meeting and getting to know people without having to leave home!
Most importantly attitudes are changing, just a few years ago people were afraid to try alternatives such as internet dating and those who did tended to keep it a secret for fear of being too different. Nowadays many know of friends or family who have found that special person via online dating and are only too happy to recommend it to others.
NG: How many members does NZDating.com have?
JH: As of the end of March 2011,we have had over 1,150,000 profiles created (the largest in New Zealand by far), however since many leave after meeting a partner and we remove inactive members, the current number of enabled members at any point in time is closer to 300,000. 
To put that in context – the NZDating.com community is equivalent to the 4th largest city in New Zealand, significantly bigger than the population of Hamilton, with a new profile being added every 3 minutes (on average).
The Nielsen-Netratings NZ internet report reported 612,626 unique browsers to the NZDating.com website in the month of January 2011.
NG: How many people are successful in finding a match using this service?
JH: There have literally been thousands of couples created from NZDating.com members and many, many marriages and births!  One of our staff was recently part of a wedding party where the bride, the groom, the best man and maid of honour had all met their spouse’s on NZDating.com!
When we think of online dating, we usually think of sites like NZDating.com, but surprisingly, Facebook and other social media sites have become excellent tools for making friends and meeting potential partners as well. I will happily and shamelessly use some examples of my own to give you an idea of what I am talking about.
When I moved to a new city for university in 2006, I was completely on my own and it was pretty hard to meet people and make friends. Although I had a serious boyfriend at the time, so was not looking for a partner, I wasn’t really sure how to go about making new friends. Until that point I had lived in the same city my entire life and had kept many of the same friendships that began when I was in primary or high school. I went to a uni party in my new city and met a girl who was in Canada on exchange from New Zealand, and who had a lot of the same interests as me and seemed really cool. After meeting a few more times around campus came the habitual Facebook friend request. I decided to put myself out there and sent her a Facebook message explaining that I was new to the city, didn’t know many people and asked if she would like to grab a coffee some time. She has since become one of my best friends and one of the main reasons I travelled to New Zealand.
Through this same girl, I met my current boyfriend, and our relationship also began (strangely enough) on Facebook. When I decided to move to New Zealand, my friend suggested I add her flatmates on Facebook so I could get to know a few people in the country before I arrived. One of these flatmates became a good friend through Facebook and eventually became my boyfriend.
These examples just go to show the increasingly important role that the internet plays in our social lives today.

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