Today, one-in-five Americans finds his or her spouse via online dating websites, but according to Drexel University researchers, marriage isn't the only measure of success among people looking for love in cyberspace.
Rachel Magee and Christopher Mascaro, both second-year Ph.D students in The iSchool at Drexel, College of Information Science and Technology, and their advisor Dr. Sean P. Goggins, completed a study that takes a closer look at the success stories of online daters. Their results, which will be presented at the international iConference in February, point toward a more accurate interpretation of why people decide to use online dating technology, why they choose a specific site and what they consider a successful online dating experience.
"We each had used online dating sites, and were both fascinated with how and why people use these services," Magee said "We started to look at the research out there, and realized that what was missing was research into what constitutes successful online dating experiences. This is an extremely important part of most people's lives, and we wanted to look at the big picture."
The Drexel study, entitled "Not Just a Wink and a Smile: An Analysis of User-Defined Success in Online Dating," examined data gathered during a two-week sample period in the spring of 2011 from success stories listed on the dating sites Match.com, eHarmony and OkCupid. The researchers looked at a random sampling of 20 percent of the success stories from each site.
Their findings concluded that a vast majority, 84 percent, of users who reported "successful" experiences on eHarmony where referring to marriage. By contrast, 46.7 percent of the reported success stories from Match.com were marriage stories and only 23 percent of the success stories on OkCupid were about marriage.
"What we found in our research confirmed some of our experiences and anecdotal evidence, that certain dating sites fostered certain cultures and the range of success stories indicated as much," Mascaro said. "Our findings also indicate that even with the proliferation of technologically and mediated social networking sites, real world social networks still play a significant role in technological adoption and mate selection."
Each of the sites broke down their results into three categories of success: dating, engaged and married. An analysis of the data revealed that most users who had a successful experience on OkCupid, considered dating to be successful with slightly fewer stories of engagement and the fewest stories in the category of marriage.
The frequency of stories for both eHarmony and Match.com increased in each category from dating to marriage.
The researchers also examined geographic distribution of the people who logged on to write about their online dating success stories. Success stories followed population trends across the country. The region with the most respondents was the South Atlantic, while California boasted the most success stories as a state and Houston, Chicago and New York, respectively, were the top cities in generating online dating stories. The stories and locations of successful online daters indicate that in-person social networks may influence why individuals select online dating sites.
"Geography might not play a big role in dating site selection, but the people you know, especially if they are successful at online dating, might influence site adoption," Magee said. "This has implications for the design of online dating sites, and for people using these sites or interested in participating in online dating. There are so many sites out there, and many different success stories."
Magee and Mascaro are in their second year of Ph.D study working toward degrees in information studies at The iSchool.
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