Why dating site design is important.
“Which is the best dating site or app to use?” In order to maximize their success at online dating, this is something people always want to know. However, if you think about it, if there was a best site or app, then everyone would use that one and the others would gradually disappear. Therefore, the question is probably best answered by considering the question, “Which is the best dating site or app for you?”
There are numerous dating sites or apps available, catering to all kinds of needs, interests, and demographics. In their research, Stephanie Tong and her colleagues categorised dating sites into three groups according to the amount of control they offer users when selecting potential dates (Tong, Hancock, & Slatcher, 2016).
- Firstly, there are sites such as eHarmony, which claim to provide users with the best possible date, through some kind of matching formula or algorithm. This matching process is dependent on information supplied by a user, which is used to match them to other compatible daters on the site.
- Secondly, are the see-and-screen type sites such as Plenty of Fish or Match, which allow users to look through an array of potential dating profiles, filtering by selected criteria and then choose and possibly contact those they like.
- Thirdly, there are dating sites which employ a blended design, which employ a combination of matching formula and self-selection described above. An example of such a site is OkCupid.
Which Is the Best Dating Site or App to Use?
The major difference between these categories of dating site is the amount of control they offer users, in being able to select their own date choices rather than be provided with matches selected by the site. Therefore, see-and-screen sites are more likely to give users a feeling of involvement and autonomy in making decisions about date choices. However, sites suggesting recommendations can give users higher expectations about potential dates, because such sites convey the impression that they are able to deliver accurate matches.
Tong and her colleagues set out to examine the differences in users’ impressions of sites employing algorithms versus sites using see-and-screen type designs. More precisely, the aim of this study was to investigate whether the design of online dating systems influences users’ feeling of control and decision making satisfaction in using different sites and their future expectations regarding potential dates.
Participants in their study were presented with a simulation of one of the three different types of dating site described above. Following this the researchers administered three measures testing:
- I felt like I had a good degree of control over partner selection.
- Ultimately, I felt that my choice of partner was up to me and no one else.
- I felt like I was able to select my own dating partner.
- Overall, I am satisfied with the person I’ve been matched with.
- I generally enjoyed the matching process that I experienced today.
- I thought the partner matching process was effective.
The results from this study showed that the see-and-screen type dating systems boosted users’ feelings of control they felt they had in online dating, which consequently increased their decision making satisfaction (optimism about the choices they made) and their future relational prospects with those they had selected. In other words, the autonomy afforded by the site affected users’ feeling of being in control, the satisfaction they experienced in decision-making, and their feelings that they had selected a date with whom they could potentially develop a good relationship.
Dating sites employing algorithmic matching systems were found to reduce users’ feelings of control. Curiously, however, the researchers found that the suggestions of partner choice offered by these sites ultimately influenced users’ final choices and also increased their enthusiasm. The explanation for this is that potential online dating relationships suggested on sites employing algorithms are perceived by users as being somewhat validated by the site. In other words, although users experience less control over their choices, they nevertheless perceive that they have made good choices because these have been validated by the algorithmic matching process. This idea of external approval by the system is similar to the idea of a person’s romantic relationship satisfaction being linked to approval by one’s friends and family. Indeed, such external approval is often a significant escalation point in many romantic relationships. Obviously, a further advantage of algorithmic systems is that they reduce the number of (possibly undesirable) profiles presented to users, therefore streamlining and simplifying the dating process.
Blended systems, which offer a combination of see-and-screen and algorithms, while leaving dating decisions to the discretion of the user, do provide a level of validation, too. Therefore, blended systems benefit daters in two ways. Firstly, they reduce the amount of confusion and effort users experience in see-and-screen systems, but they also benefit users by giving them a certain level of control not provided in completely algorithmic systems.
The researchers do concede that the degree of optimism and control reported online may change when they meet face-to-face. However, we now know that married people who met online report more relationship satisfaction than those meeting offline, so regardless of the type of system, online dating overall seems a preferable way to find a partner for a sustainable relationship. A final consideration is that the type of dating site or app that is right for you will quite obviously depend on individual differences between people. In the current context, the type of system that is right for you may depend on whether you prefer to take control or whether you want someone to suggest potential dates to you.
Tong, S. T., Hancock, J. T., & Slatcher, R. B. (2016) ‘Online dating system design and relational decision making: choice, Algorithms and control’ Personal Relationships, 23, 645-662.