Social networks spawn online dating sites

Sally Herships Feb 8, 2012

CORRECTION: The original version of this story misstated the home of Jonathan Sperman. He lives in upstate New York. The text has been corrected.

Kai Ryssdal: The world of romance just ain’t what it used to be. Specifically, the world of starting a romance. There’s speed dating, group dating and online dating. The Facebook era now brings us social dating — websites built on the bones of our social networks. is one of them. Sally Herships became one of 137 million members to get us the story.

Sally Herships:Remember when online dating was new? Jonathan Sperman does.

Jonathan Sperman: I was online dating back when it was the kind of thing you couldn’t let anyone know you were doing.

Sperman is 34. He’s getting his masters degree in education and he lives in upstate New York.

Sperman: If there were girls that I was dating I might say, well can we make up another story for how we met so we don’t have to say it was from a website or something?

Because who does that? But then —

News Announcer 1: Facebook.

News Announcer 2: Facebook.

News Announcer 3: Facebook.

News Announcer 4: Facebook has 845 million users worldwide.

Social networks got popular and we got much more comfortable sharing our personal lives online. So much so that entrepreneurs are now latching onto our social networks to create social dating sites, like Badoo looks like a typical dating site. Lots of profile pics of guys without their shirts on. You search for people to meet by body type, age or even zodiac sign. But there’s a big difference between Badoo and sites like JDate or eHarmony. Mark Brooks is a consultant to the online dating industry.

Mark Brooks: The world is going to know if you sign up to Badoo.

Herships: When you say the world, who do you mean?

Brooks: Anybody who’s looking on Facebook.

Typically the only people who know you’re on a dating site are the other daters. But, when I use Badoo’s mobile app, the news that I was on the site was posted on Facebook for all my friends to see — including my husband. Brooks says broadcasting your private life is key to Badoo’s success. Subscription sites like eHarmony spend millions on advertising to attract new users. But Badoo doesn’t have to. Its users spread the word for it.

Brooks: Yes, they’re not paying so much to acquire users. In fact, in many cases, they’re not paying anything.

And neither are many of Badoo’s users. The company says it’s on track to take in $150 million a year. To make that, Badoo accepts ads and charges micro-payments to users who want to promote themselves. I paid one dollar to get my picture posted on the top of the site’s home page, which got me a lot of emails like these:

Imaginary Dater 1: Hi Sexy.

Imaginary Dater 2: Hi Sally, you seem adorable.

I’m testing out Badoo for work. I’m OK with people knowing. But some daters aren’t. Eli Finkel teaches psychology at Northwestern. He says while online dating may never entirely shed its stigma, a social dating site as popular as Badoo symbolizes a big change.

Eli Finkel: It suggests that we’ve reached a critical stage in the way online dating works -– that the stigma is largely gone.

Most Badoo users are under 40. They’re used to sharing their lives online. And they don’t have the protection that traditional dating sites give. You know, the freedom to lie about your age or weight. It’s hard to fudge the facts when your social network is watching. So is sharing the news that you’re online dating, possibly with the entire world, worth it? Remember Jonathan Sperman? He used to be really hush-hush about online dating.

Sperman: I’ve embraced it more. I mean, I’m not currently dating someone — though I am speaking to someone from Badoo and I am kind of looking forward to being able to say yeah, I met her from this website.

But Sperman has limits. He’s concerned about keeping his work and social life separate. And he’s not prepared to share everything, even to get a date. That’s why he told me he draws the line at linking his Facebook account to Badoo.

Herships: You’ll hold onto the privacy?

Sperman: As long as I can, I will hold on to that.

In the meantime, Badoo has a counter on its home page which tracks new members and as I’m watching, every second, the number ticks higher.

In New York and online, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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