Dr. Media says, this is a good one. Here we see a wonderful example of how the Net is changing intimate behavior, just as the phone and car did in the 20th century. How can you maintain your reputation in an environment where anyone can say anything about anybody, and do so anonymously, or using a pseudonym? Anyone seen don’tdatehim.com, remember that song” It’s only just begun”, have fun.

PS new growth industry , Personal Reputation Management, or Reputation Management Coaching, cool, it’s all spin now!!

The Undateables

The next wave in online dating has singles rating each other — and one misstep can taint a reputation. When popularity trumps the search for a soulmate
September 23, 2006; Page P1

The Internet lets people search billions of Web pages in a fraction of a second and instantaneously tap information around the globe. One thing it couldn’t do: Find Brian Wolf a girlfriend.

Mr. Wolf was one of the 25 million Americans who visit online dating sites annually, lured by the industry’s promise that there’s someone out there for everyone. Four years and three dating sites later, he hadn’t found a match. His profile — which said that he likes to travel and play basketball and is looking for a long-term relationship — found few takers.


[image] Ellen Gamerman discusses the Undateables1 in a podcast.

Watch a video2 on the difficulties people encounter at online-dating sites.

Some tips on how to navigate top dating sites.

“It’s like 95% of these girls didn’t like me,” says the 30-year-old marketing manager for a Chicago-area food manufacturer. “That’s not a great feeling.”

It’s no exaggeration to say that online dating has revolutionized the world of relationships since it took off a decade ago. Now, with growth slowing, sites are looking for new ways to stand out. One increasingly popular strategy: Letting users rate each other, either based on their profiles alone or on the experiences of a first date.

Members of Engage.com3 can review people after one date for politeness and honesty. Consumating.com4 users give one another “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” depending on how clever their profiles are. JDate.com5 encourages members to talk about their dates on a message board, inviting them to share stories of “best dates, worst dates” as well as “turn-ons, turn-offs.”


The result is an emerging caste system, where highly rated daters see a lot of action, and others are deemed undateable. The online romance industry doesn’t talk about the folks in the latter category, but they’re out there. They’re singles with seemingly innocent attributes that are setting off digital flags signaling they’re unfit to date, or maybe just slightly less fit than others. A forgetful dater who fails to return an email on Engage.com, for instance, could be branded as rude. Simply living in the wrong ZIP Code can push unlucky members of JDate to the bottom of the queue. Even at sites that haven’t adopted a ratings approach, a growing cliquishness, combined with the viral nature of the Web, means an offhand comment to one person can come back to haunt you when you meet someone else just a few weeks later.

This is changing the way some online daters behave. For Sarah Schoomer, it’s meant focusing as much on trying to boost her ranking as on searching for a soulmate. After trying other sites that failed to find her a match, Ms. Schoomer thought she’d give Consumating.com a shot. She had attended a party the site’s members threw in San Francisco and liked the people she met there — they reminded her of the creative types she knew as a student at Oberlin College a decade earlier. The site also seemed cooler than others, with its quirky ratings feature and offbeat questions that encourage sardonic responses.

The 32-year-old doctoral student in clinical psychology spent hours filling out her profile, fretting over questions like, “Other than the souls of small children, what do you collect?” (Her answer: high-heeled shoes, books and “ex-lovers.”) She posted several photos, including one from a trip to Paris and another which she says captures her bubbly spirit.

But not long after her profile went up, the lines were silent. The site posts each member’s popularity score, which changes based on positive comments from other users, and then ranks them accordingly. Ms. Schoomer, who had received few plugs from her fellow Consumaters, was ranked close to 6,000 — far too low to break into the “Local Hotties” section that highlights top singles.

She tried to get more involved in the site — not only would she make more friends that way, but she heard that members could boost their popularity and score “points” by sending each other notes. Soon, she was logging eight hours a day on the site, trying to up her score by being more visible in message boards and sending strangers clever notes; her laundry, exercise routine and sleep were suffering.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, she took drastic action: a plea to the site’s 20,000 members. “I’m just a little too concerned with my standing,” she wrote on one of the message boards, describing how she wanted to bust into the top 500 most popular. Since many Consumating daters expect points to be reciprocated, they doled them out to her liberally, and within days, she’d climbed to number 343. “It’s all thanks to you,” a grateful Ms. Schoomer later wrote.

Now, her profile pops up on more searches, and she shares more than 100 “tags” — key words that describe her interests and personality — with the thousands of other users on the site. She’s seen a rise in inquiries from potential friends and suitors, and in one recent week, kissed three guys she met through the site. Her confidence is riding high, she says. “I’m pretty cute.”

After coming this far, Ms. Schoomer says she now worries that she could get so caught up in the popularity game that her true match could look right past her — or vice versa. “It does make me stop before posting something and wonder, ‘Am I being authentic, or am I just saying something provocative?’ “


Veteran online daters and consultants who help people write their profiles say there are ways to avoid the scourge of undateability. On many sites, recently updated profiles appear higher in search results, so it’s a good idea to tinker with them often. Savvy users of AOL’s personals service, for instance, make frequent and sometimes gratuitous changes to their listings, switching their favorite hobby, or ideal first date.

Photographs can be a minefield. A picture of yourself surrounded by friends is a big mistake — one of them could be more attractive than you. Sometimes daters kill their chances with profiles that state the obvious — people who say they like to go out for dinner or fix a cozy meal at home, for instance, are simply characterizing the eating habits of most Americans.

Others go too far in trying to please: Dating experts say women who talk too much about working out can inadvertently end up sounding like gym rats, and men who overstate their love of golf can lead a woman to believe that they’ll never be around on weekends. And woe betide the dater with the smiling mountain biker shot: It’s anybody’s guess what kind of face is hiding behind those shades.

At its most extreme, of course, the new online dating gossip machine can result in someone being publicly humiliated and branded as a cad. That’s what happened to Darren Sherman, a New York JDater whose recent dinner with a woman named Joanne became public after details of their date were posted on blogs and passed around via email. In recordings of alleged voice mails and transcripts of emails, the person identified as Darren Sherman repeatedly asks Joanne to reimburse him for her dinner and wine after she rejected him: “You ate the food, you drank the wine, you know, kindly pay your bill.”

Googling his name turns up dozens of links to the story, including one that reads “How Not to Act on J-Date.” Peter Shankman, a New York public-relations executive who related the story on his blog, says it received 26,000 page views a day for two weeks this July. “This is what happens when you’re not careful,” says Mr. Shankman. Efforts to reach Mr. Sherman were unsuccessful, and the emails and voice mails don’t give his date’s last name.

From top: Brian Wolf says after having no luck on Match.com, he set up his own site to find dates; Sarah Schoomer boosted her popularity on one site by encouraging other members to send her points; Denise Olmos received poor reviews on Engage.com from men she didn’t respond to.

The majority of undateables are hardly what most people would consider poor prospects. They’re not liars or criminals, but eligible single men and women who are being sidelined by the system. They’re hitting the wrong note by listing hobbies that scream shut-in — fantasy football for men, scrapbooking for women — or by including shots with their heads obscured by skydiving helmets.

Denise Olmos’s first foray into online dating came two years ago, shortly after separating from her husband. The 50-year-old blonde from Draper, Utah, who describes herself as a lapsed Mormon, was persuaded by her children to try out AOL’s personals service to help boost her self-esteem after the break up.

Then an email landed in her inbox, an ad for a new site called Engage.com. She liked the look of the site, which includes a “matchmaker” feature for members to set each other up, and a “Promise” section that states: “We passionately believe that there is someone for everyone waiting to give and receive love — and that means someone for you too.”

Ms. Olmos spent a half hour putting together her profile, noting her love of hiking, religion and rock ‘n’ roll (as manager of her children’s alternative rock band, Skarekro, she finds herself at more concerts than most women her age). Ms. Olmos, a former customer service manager, wrote that she was looking for a tall man who was spiritual and could appreciate her love of music and dancing.

One thing she hadn’t considered was another of the site’s prominent features: a ratings system that judges daters based on politeness, profile accuracy and responsiveness, then ranks them on a scale between one and five. After posting what she hoped would be an alluring photo of her in a tight white outfit lounging by a fireplace, the initial results were promising: Several email inquiries showed up in her inbox.

That’s when Ms. Olmos made a crucial mistake that had lingering — and unexpected — consequences. Deciding that she wasn’t interested in any of the men who had contacted her, she ignored their emails. Then, before she could go on an actual date, her politeness and profile honesty scores dropped to one. As it turns out, it’s OK to decline an email on the site, but doing so courteously is important. She suspects that her failure to respond was probably responsible for the ratings drop. “Somebody felt rejected,” she says.

Her poor marks are still posted next to her picture. But instead of trying to combat them by emailing back and getting others to give her better reviews, she has simply abandoned Engage. Now she prefers Myspace.com, where she says she has met a lawyer whom she has recently started dating. “You can give anybody you want a low rating” on some sites, she says. “I could have had a million dates, but I’m busy and I pick and choose.”

Engage.com spokeswoman Trish McDermott says while some daters may feel bruised by a bad review, the rankings are cumulative, so singles can improve their scores as they continue to date. Ms. McDermott says the majority of daters on the site receive high rankings, and feedback can help singles improve their dating behavior by holding them accountable for their actions online. “On most dating sites your behavior isn’t even tracked; there’s no consequences for the behavioral choices you make,” she says.

Todd Hollis, a 38-year-old Pittsburgh lawyer, says he was filled with hope about a new relationship this past spring when a family member called, directing him to Dontdatehimgirl.com, a site where women post names of men to warn other women off. The site included anonymous allegations that he has a sexually transmitted disease and is a poor dresser (Mr. Hollis denies both).

His first thought when he logged on: Everyone in the city will be able to see this. Later, he told the woman he was dating about the mention; the relationship fizzled. Over the summer, Mr. Hollis says he investigated the sources of the accusation. He is now suing several women who allegedly posted the claims, as well as the owner of the site, Tasha Joseph, for defamation, hoping to claim at least $50,000. Ms. Joseph says she is not legally responsible for the content of posts that others write; she adds that men who are targeted can log on and post a rebuttal.

Mr. Hollis says before he asks women out now he warns them that they might see some unpleasant hits on a Web search of his name. That’s not much of an introduction, he says, and it often scares dates away. “It’s made me very notorious in the eyes of many women,” he says.

Another problem for online daters: overcrowding. With many sites allowing members to post for free — many charge fees only when daters try to contact each other — singles can get lost. Julia Gliner, a 28-year-old administrator for a New York City venture capital firm, joined JDate last winter and was confused when she couldn’t find her profile anywhere on the site soon after. When she called customer service, she says, she was told her that her Upper West Side ZIP Code was so crowded with single women, it might take days for her picture to emerge.

Ms. Gliner’s profile finally appeared a few days later — she followed the site’s advice and logged on repeatedly to show up in the “most active” search — but by then her confidence had dimmed. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of competition out there,'” she says. While she went on some dates, she didn’t find a boyfriend and quit after two months.

Gail Laguna, a spokeswoman for Spark Networks, which owns JDate, says the site posts all new profiles within 24 hours, but Ms. Gliner may have missed it initially and, in the following days, the queue could have easily filled to the 500-woman capacity, thus bumping her profile from the standard search. “It’s tricky because New York is our biggest market,” she says. “You can get lost online as easily as you can offline.”

As for Brian Wolf, the Chicago marketing manager, he says the best solution for his undateability was to take matters into his own hands. This spring, he launched Settleforbrian.com. Mr. Wolf says his site is what major online dating services would be if everyone were honest. Though he writes on the site that his nose is big and he doesn’t want kids, he also touts his sense of humor and good job: “I’m by no means perfect, but you could also do a lot worse. …In the end, you’d probably be happier with me than chasing the dream of Mr. Right.”

The upfront technique appears to be working. So far, Settleforbrian.com has netted more than 86,500 visitors in just over three months. He has received about 600 emails, gone on three dates, and says he’s feeling more hopeful about his love life than he ever has before: “I’m going to keep this up until I meet the right girl.”

Write to Ellen Gamerman at ellen.gamerman@wsj.com6