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Love in the time of the internet: A personal memoir

The tongue-in-cheek (or elsewhere) guide to internet dating

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The book of love

But it was still very hit or miss. My first attempts, while somewhat successful, revealed one of the key rules of internet dating: no picture, no date. As a novice internet dater you learn very quickly that if someone doesn't have a picture on their profile, there's a good reason why. You can also tell a lot about a person by the type of photo they do put online.

From a male perspective, if the photo itself looked quite old (this was in an age before digital photography broke out and so people scanned shots), you were probably going to be disappointed. Similarly, anyone with more than one cat picture on their page was to be avoided like the plague unless you were also a felinophile.

Female friends concur, and point out that if a man posts a picture of him and his car, you're probably always going to be second in his affections to a hunk of metal and rubber. A man pictured topless comes across as a bit of a slag, while if he has a drink in his hands you're looking at a hardcore boozer.

Similarly, the words used tell an awful lot about the person you are investigating. "Sensitive", "caring", or "loyal," usually means you'll be meeting the recently dumped or emotionally needy; and if you see the phrase "free-spirit", experience suggests they are as stable as a balloon in a tornado.

Among male profiles the words "ambitious", "driven" or "career-minded" means you're going to be bored to tears listening about his job; "bloke", "player", or "jack-the-lad", is most-likely an emotionally stunted manchild, and the phrase "looking for a good time" might as well read "just in it for the sex". Also "athletic", when the profile mentions no other sports, often means a couch potato who watches "Match of the Day".

Finally there's the age question. For reasons that are beyond me, a lot of people still lie about this one. Doing so makes no sense – the truth will out in the end. Men are the worst for this, usually with middle-aged Lotharios trying to scoop younger women. I've lost count of the number of female friends who have been disappointed in this way.

She blinded me with science

By the late 1990s it seemed that internet dating sites were springing up everywhere. It was one of the first areas of the internet to get a grip with the whole e-commerce model (after pornography), and websites began to try to bring a measure of science to the practice of matchmaking in order to differentiate themselves.

This began as very basic stuff, and there were a lot of hits and misses along the way. Initially sites took the Big Data approach, asking for details on everything under the sun seeking to find exact matches. But these quickly ran into problems when it because clear that people didn’t want to meet a doppelganger, but rather someone who had enough differences to be interesting.

This approach also turned off many potential customers. For example, it's rare now to find an internet dating site that asks for your exact weight. This is because the type of customers that personals sites really want are women – internet dating profiles back then were 80-90 per cent male and there's still a gender imbalance on most sites. Since women have been shown to not like inputting exact weight details, "body type" has become the norm.

Most sites still include a lengthy questionnaire, although some take it to ridiculous extremes. Users of OKCupid, for example, can spend days answering endless questions trying to delve deeper into the personalities of their users, with very limited success. Others have tried this approach, but it seldom works particularly well and tends to put off users.

Also popular is the extended essay that sites like Swoon and Nerve used to use, where you write a screed designed to show what kind of a person you really are. Treat these with extreme caution. It's not too hard to craft a good bit of writing, but they often bear little or no resemblance to the author.

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