Social networking sites such as Facebook are often about maintaining relationships you already have and reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. They tend to have a variety of ways for existing friends to communicate, from games and interactive content to messages and live chat. Sure, some people use social networks to meet new friends and even partners. Others build their friend or contact lists with the obsessiveness of any other kind of collector but these strangers-disguised-as-friends tend to just sit on the list once added, with little to no further interaction.
Traditional dating sites are all about getting two people – most often strangers – together. Communication carried out via the site is generally a prelude to a meet-up in real life. You search for your ideal match and, if you like the look of a potential partner’s profile, you can contact them with a view to meeting up.
Social dating sites blur the boundaries by mixing elements of the two together. They’re primarily dating sites so users know that everyone else on there is looking for love – or at least a date. Most start with a profile page which can include a photo and personal information such as your likes and dislikes, hobbies, interests and details of your ideal match. Beyond that, they offer a wider range of features than traditional dating sites, allowing much more scope to interact, break the ice and generally find out more about a potential partner. Even if it doesn’t work out romantically, users might also make more new friends in the process.
Badoo is amongst the leaders of this relatively new social dating scene, with more than 150 million registered users worldwide. As with most date-focused sites it has some paid features but Badoo took the decision early on to make all of its core functionality available for free. This means that anyone over the age of 18 can create a profile, search and contact other members for free. Beyond that, a system of ‘micropayments’ can be used to allow users to improve their search ranking and access special features like the ability to see who has viewed their profile.
Zoosk, which bills itself as ‘the romantic social network’, is not quite so generous. All members can create a profile and respond to a single short message but only premium or paid members can initiate messages or chat. The site does claim to have more than 50 million registered users though and is very keyed in to third-party applications on major social networking sites. This means it can be accessed via the main Zoosk site or apps on networks like Facebook, Bebo and MySpace.
TheComplete.me is another site on the rise. It’s unique hook is the FraME, which allows users to express themselves by visually representing their interests in much the same way as a Pinterest board. It might be an idea borrowed from somewhere else but social dating as a whole is all about bringing together elements from existing platforms of two different types.
Okcupid has been described as ‘the Google of online dating’. The site encourages different means of communication including instant messages, emails and ‘winks’, which are basically a flirtier version of a Facebook poke. It supports a busy public forum and also features member-generates quizzes. OkCupid indicates possible matches based on the answers supplied by users to the questions. Users not only provide their own answer but indicate the answer they would accept from a potential partner and the level of importance they place on the question itself.
Passions Network describes itself as ‘niche social networking for singles’ and works as a collection of specialist sites rather than a single general website. Members create a profile and can join as many of the standalone sites as they wish. They can then use message boards, chat and email others with similar interests. The individual sites vary by geography (such as Greece Passions or New Zealand Passions) and areas of interest (Intellectual Passions, Atheist Passions). They also range from the serious to the decidedly quirky. Whether you’re a fan of zombies, Star Trek or moustaches, Passions Network has a niche site for you.
By mixing up elements of traditional dating sites and social networks, social dating sites like these are changing the natures of both. They provide users with fresh and engaging new ways to search for that special someone online.