The two thought it would be interesting to see whether users of different dating sites define success differently. Other researchers have looked at how people connect online, how sites construct profiles, or how much people lie - the kinds of questions you can ask at the beginning of a relationship. Mascaro and Magee were more intrigued by what happens later.
They analyzed the success stories posted by users of three of the sites - eHarmony, Match.com, and OkCupid.
Mascaro and Magee found that most people who took the time to tell a story were pleased to be married, engaged, or dating, but the proportions varied widely by site. Eighty-four percent of the stories on eHarmony were about marriage, compared with 46.7 percent on Match.com and 23 percent on OkCupid. Only 0.5 percent of eHarmony users saw fit to celebrate dating, while 20.8 percent of Match.com users and almost half of OkCupid customers considered that success.
The Drexel researchers said that they didn't ask the sites whether they culled stories to emphasize a certain type of success, but that they found evidence the sites weren't doing much to edit or sort stories. Mascaro said he and his wife posted their story on Match.com and it appeared as they had written it.
OkCupid did not respond to The Inquirer's questions about how it handles success stories. A spokeswoman for eHarmony said it posts as many success stories as it can, but added, "The stories posted are intended to help inspire people who are looking for love." A Match.com spokeswoman, who said her job is to edit the stories for grammar, said the site posts virtually every story. There are 150 to 200 a month.
"We do get some crazy stories, people that are happy with never getting married or this is their third marriage from Match.com," said the woman, who said company policy prevented her from giving her name.
The sites have different marketing strategies and allow different amounts of user control, which probably affects who joins each service. Match.com and eHarmony are paid sites while OkCupid is free. Match.com and OkCupid allow customers to search while the more paternalistic eHarmony delivers potential mates based on a personality survey. Because it has a lengthy questionnaire, eHarmony accounts take the most time to set up, which likely makes that site less attractive to people who just want to hook up, Mascaro said.
The researchers also found evidence that "in-person social networks" - word of mouth - also affect choices. If a friend meets someone interesting on a site, you might be more willing to try it. Here's some evidence: They found success stories on Match.com from 22 couples in one small Southern town. That was 1.46 percent of the town's entire population.
Mascaro and Magee are now doing a deeper analysis of the success stories. They plan to do surveys on attitudes about online dating and interviews with people who feel good about their experiences.
"We don't believe that married, dating, and engaged are the only ways to classify success," Magee said.
Mascaro, who studies political discourse on social media, is also interested in dating that results from other online sites. College students, he said, may friend everyone in a class and then use Facebook to arrange dates. "There may be people that are doing online dating but don't call it online dating," he said.
Mascaro and Magee were also struck by how many people "thanked the technology" for their relationships. It was almost as if they thought of the sites as a friend who had introduced them, Mascaro said, "like someone you would toast at the wedding."
- Stacey Burling