Online dating site reviews

:cupid: Can you really find true love online? We pop the questions and also look into privacy issues and online scams.

Would you like to share an online dating experience? Leave your story in the comments below.


This is another myth busting exercise isn’t it? :heart_eyes:

I’ve talked to a couple of people who have used different on-line services. Their consensus is that of the people they met there were a few nice ones, but no stand-outs.

If you find love using a dating agency/on-line system, you are truly blessed with exceptionally good fortune.


I met my current partner though an online dating site. We’ve been together 10 years now.

I can’t remember which site it was.


This is a follow-up to the CHOICE review on the topic a year or so back. It covers what I’ve learned from of my first couple of weeks dipping into today’s sites. Admittedly this is just a personal view, my needs mightn’t be the same as yours, nd others out there might have had a better experience with some sites. Nevertheless, I think it might be worth sharing for the benefit of others who might be planning to dip a toe into this shark-infested pool.

I found my wife on a dating site (RSVP) many years ago, and though it’s all come apart recently, I did get 14 years of companionship out of the match, at least the first ten of them joyful, plus a family I’d never expected to have. So on balance I think it’s fair to call that a pretty successful pick, and it left me favourably disposed toward dating sites when the time came to start reluctantly searching again.

I’ve consciously avoided the likes of Tinder and gone for the ones recommended in supposedly objective comparative reviews as the most reputable. Given what I’ve found, I hate to think what the really dodgy ones must be like.

For starters, there are a lot more of them these days, they’re all usuriously expensive for the paid (“premium”) option, and all of them try any trick in the book to lock you into a lifetime subscription to which you haven’t explicitly agreed. Typically, you commit yourself to this through an unlimited repeating subscription clause somewhere around page 13 of the 25-page Terms and Conditions to which you’ve implicitly agreed as part of the registration process. They also make it exceptionally hard to back out if you do decide the service is a waste of money.

The “free” or “totally free” option which all of them except Elite Singles claim to offer is effectively worthless - all it really entitles you to do is put up a profile, in some cases fill out an instrument which purports to analyse your personality, and then get a stream of “matches”, most of them generated by the algorithm without the knowledge of the other party, in most but not all cases with pictures and a very truncated profile, about which you can do nothing without first committing yourself to the paid version.

If you resist their persistent nagging to switch to “premium” for a fortnight or so, they do start to offer you “special rates”, and in some cases it’s worth waiting for that to happen - except that you need to watch the fine print even more closely, since you generally find that once your period of “bargain” subscription has expired, you’ll be switched automatically to the highest available monthly rate. The other trick you have to watch for is that around this point the special rates they offer turn out on examination to be weekly rather than the monthly ones they’ve previously been quoting.

Some sites offer alternatives to the flat rate. RSVP, which is still going and still seems to offer some advantages over a generally shabby field, will let you correspond with potential dates on a free (“basic”) sub provided you buy a “stamp” (averaging out at around $6-7) each time you send a message and each time you receive one, though I think they let you continue the conversation without buying a new one. This could work out quite a bit cheaper over time if you’re the cautious kind who only bothers putting out a feeler if you’re sure you’ve found a good prospect, especially as the only paid rate (“Premium+” - don’t know what became of ordinary premium) includes only four stamps a month and doesn’t appear to offer much more in the way of useful features. Zoosk has various gewgaws like “coins” which I suspect are needed on top of the flat rate (admittedly a bit more reasonable than some) to go about your normal business, as well as enabling you to buy imaginary gifts and flowers for your belle if you’re really sad and really determined to waste your money. Single60s offers something they call bolt-ons, which appear to give you the facility to communicate with potential matches from the free service by paying around $14 a month to send messages and another $9 to read them, but I’ve yet to go into that option far enough to tell whether there’s a catch.

For the money, however you pay, you can expect to get swamped with obviously fake profiles or ones that fall way outside the purported scope of the service - e.g. well over half those on Sliver Singles are or claim to be well under 40, and most of those on Academic Singles not only have no university affiliation, but haven’t even finished high school. Even ones like Single60s, which explicitly state that they won’t accept registrations from anyone under a specified age, in practice seem to take anyone. This can make them even worse time-wasters than Facebook, something I’d previously thought impossible. (I did the most fully targeted search I could on Single60s and RSVP and each time found, once the fakes and the plainly unsuitable had been eliminated, a grand total of one woman in my search area who met my most basic compatibility criteria.)

The other thing you need to watch is that no site is actually a stand-alone one, and most of them will try anything to pass you along to one of their even dodgier “partner” sites without asking. Maturedating, which initially seemed the most promising (and just about the only one which actually allowed me to correspond on a free account), flicked me on to a partner site called Lovebeginsat without asking before my 3-day “free trial” was even over, in the process parting me from a one-month sub which I definitely hadn’t approved. When I did get through the multi-stage process involved in cancelling my sub, the Yank in the call centre insisted on switching me to a “free” subscription to something even more suspect called Amour, until I finally persuaded her (I think, I hope, I must check) after the third or fourth run through her script that I would not agree to anything of the sort.

Similarly, I found one called Tasmania Only Dating which turned out to be anything but what it said on the label - it claimed the absolute right to disseminate your profile to an unspecified number of co-owned sites in an unspecified number of unspecified locations, and presumably any “approaches” you got through it would have been similarly sourced. Single60s, though it doesn’t appear to have an associated legit site, keeps trying to sweep you into one called Friends with Benefits, apparently targeted at people in search of a quick root, though its emblem (the silhouette of a naked harlot writhing in a doorway) is probably indicative of the kind of “matches” it offers; if you knock that one back you get pushed towards one called Fuckbuddy which appears to be simple fantasy sex.

The same applies even to the VERY expensive Big Three - Elite Singles, Silver Singles and Academic Singles - which seem currently to be regarded as the jewels in this cardboard crown. Although claiming to be specialist businesses offering tailored services to different markets, they prove on a little investigation to be effectively mirror sites, all owned by the Berlin-based Spark Networks Services, using much the same format and charging much the same rates (Elite Singles tends to be slightly more expensive), employing the same profiling algorithm, incorporating many of the same profiles, and not applying any kind of effective filter to block the out-of-scope.

The said profiling algorithm claims to match you using a “scientific” instrument to analyse your personality (indeed, one of them refers in its publicity to its “Nobel-prize-winning algorithm”, which came as a surprise since I didn’t realise the Nobel Committee had started handing out prizes for dating algorithms). Knowing a bit about these things, I couldn’t help wondering if this instrument has ever been psychometrically validated, just as I wonder if their spectacular quoted success statistics have ever been audited. Certainly the information that comes out in the published profiles is no more informative than anyone else’s - for example, everyone I’ve found on Silver Singles claims to care about “liberal parenting”, whatever that might mean, and “social activity”, apparently to the exclusion of all other social, economic, ethical and environmental issues.

And these, remember, are the supposedly ethical ones. The others I’ve looked at are much of a muchness, some with their own quirks and minor good points. RSVP offers a relatively free-form profiling tool which leaves you reasonably free to say what you want to say and doesn’t pretend to read your mind. Single60s has by far the best profiling questionnaire but seems to have a very limited pool of talent, at least in a small place like Hobart, and isn’t in much of a hurry to weed out the more suspect members. Silver Singles verges on cruelty in the tricks it plays to make you pay up. None of them, so far as I can see, offers anything like value for the considerable amount of money they part you from, especially in the longer term. None of them comes close to offering what I imagine the average punter wants from a dating service: a no-frills, easily accessible bulletin board, a good range of choice, a search tool which enables you to cut down the flood of “possibles” to a manageable volume and quickly and accurately target the kind of person you’re interested in, and a reasonably secure facility for private correspondence, all at an affordable price for only as long as you want to use the service.

If you wonder how anyone makes money out of such a dysfunctional product, you need to understand the business model which all of them follow. It’s a business model which aims not at maximising success but at maximising failure - not at achieving the most hits, but at achieving the most misses.

How would you imagine a successful interaction from the consumer’s point of view? Start with a wide field, narrow it down quickly and simply to what you really had in mind, identify and contact a selection who look like they might be right for you, go through a bit of trial and error, increasingly off-site, eventually find someone who best suits you, for now at least, then settle down to enjoy your relationship and give dating a break. Job done, satisfied customer.

But of course, this is just what the site owners don’t want, because once that happens you cease to be a paying customer, and they make their money by locking you in for a long as they can. That means making the search as long, arduous and expensive as they can manage, inserting all the false leads they can, pressing you into wasting time and money on dates you knew all along were never going to work out, so that you’ll keep coming back for another try, until it becomes a bit of a long-term addiction, rather like the pokies only with fewer wins.

Multi-branding, as practised by Spark Networks, works in this context. The smaller the pool of potential partners you can access, the less your chances of immediately finding someone suitable, the greater the role of luck, and the longer you can expect to wait on average until someone you really like shows up. So the Spark model allows the provider to enjoy the advantage of a fairly large customer base, since it can port profiles over at will from one site to another to fill gaps in its coverage of the target demographic, while denying it to consumers who generally can only afford to subscribe to one at a time, and need to pay a full sub to access the offerings on any of the others. Under this dynamic, crowding-out ceases to be a threat, and and so does market discipline, since proliferation actually reduces the competitive pressure on each player to improve the quality and value of its service.

Since market forces can do nothing to impose any discipline so long as everyone follows the same (highly profitable) business model, we find ourselves with a sector that is pushing against the limits of the consumer law, or in some cases probably going well beyond. A really good compliance check is well overdue, but I’m not holding my breath. Apart from anything else, lots of people who justifiably feel ripped off are going to be reluctant to report it because they feel somehow dirty or like a failure for using such a service, and many of the providers’ user interfaces actually encourage this self-perception. What the industry clearly needs is specific regulation, or at the least a voluntary code and associated certification scheme. I seem to recall that such a code body existed for ethical introduction agencies back in the days when they operated fact to face, but I’m not aware of anything similar that covers the online ones.

On the other hand, market forces might benefit the consumer, the way they’re supposed to, if only there were even a couple of sites prepared to beak from the industry model. If anyone out there knows of any such, I’m sure we’d all be grateful to hear about them. So far as I can see, the only hope on the horizon is that Facebook Dating must eventually launch in Australia, and I gather from the reviews I’ve read that it’s a true, free no-frills bulletin board, of the kind I was advocating earlier, which funds itself solely by flogging off your personal data. We all have legitimate reservations about Facebook, but at least if you’re even a casual user already, you have the perverse comfort of knowing that all your personal data of any monetary value will long since have been flogged off to Vladimir Putin, Mossad, Crosby Textor and heaven knows whom else, so there’s probably not much greater risk in adding in the dating option.

My advice for now? Accept that none of them is going to do exactly what you want and none of them, whatever their pretensions or however much they charge, is going to give you a genuinely tailored product or a noticeably superior grade of service. Familiarise yourself with the fine print, and especially make sure you feel confident you can negotiate the cancellation process, before you give them any card details. Be very careful all the time about where you click, swipe or tap, particularly in pop-ups. Try to stick with only one service, preferably the one that seems to offer the biggest pool of apparently genuine and more or less relevant prospects, and gives you some chance of interacting long enough to shift your courting to your personal email addresses. See how much you can get out of the basic service, trying to make do with extras like coins and bolt-ons to avoid getting into paid subs which offer the biggest risk of lock-in. And if you live in a smaller regional market like mine, and want a friend within easy reach rather than just another pen-pal, consider carefully how much a dating service is really going to improve your prospects over continuing to rely on chance meetings.


Welcome to the Community @DougF

Thanks so much for your excellent update.


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