Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Many Now Find Dates Using their Cell Phone

Recently, Jeff Blum was out buying a sandwich when his mind wandered toward his social life. So he got out his cell phone and sent a text message with his work ZIP Code to MeetMoi, a new mobile-dating service. Within minutes, his phone received the profile of a woman who worked nearby, and the two began exchanging messages about where they worked, their professions — and meeting up for a drink.
"I liked the fact that we were talking right then and not waiting for e-mails to go back and forth," says Blum, who is 24 years old. "It all happened right away."
Millions of consumers have begun prowling for a date on their cell phones, thanks to new mobile-dating services that enable "real-time" dating — that is, letting users connect on the spot with the people they pick out. Designed to be instant versions of Internet dating, many of the new services have capabilities that online-dating services haven't offered — such as letting you search for a date in a location you can update as you move around, and letting you chat with other people seeking a date while you're out and about.
Match.com will soon launch a new mobile-dating service that will allow its 15 million members to access their profiles and send messages to potential matches from their phones. Match.com is also planning to launch some dating features on Ask Mobile GPS, a software application that lets users of phones with built-in Global Positioning System chips search for local businesses near their location. While the service is still being designed, it could allow users to search for other daters nearby. "We want to take mobile dating to the next step," says Match's chief executive, Thomas Enraght-Moony.
MeetMoi's recently launched dating service helps users identify people who are nearby and looking for dates. Registered users can indicate that they are available by text-messaging a ZIP Code or street address to the service. MeetMoi then searches for other members who have indicated they're looking for a date in the area and sends back the profiles of people who match the user's criteria. The service is free to register and costs 99 cents for 10 anonymous text messages.
Zogo was launched late last year and connects users who want to talk by phone. Users who log in through the browser in their mobile phone will see a list of matches based on information they have provided about their preferences. If one of the matches sparks a member's interest, he can request a phone conversation, prompting Zogo to send a text message to the match's phone. If the recipient consents, Zogo calls both phones simultaneously, without disclosing either member's phone number. Zogo is now free but may soon start charging a monthly subscription fee for some features.
Jumbuck Entertainment's Fast Flirting service is a mobile version of speed dating. For about $3 a month, it allows users to sign into a virtual "lobby" where they can select a flirting partner based on factors such as age and location. They can then have private text conversations of up to 10 minutes — a twist on real-world speed dating in which users try to meet a lot of new people in a short period of time.
While consumers who would rather flirt from afar are skittish, the new features are starting to gain steam among a new generation of mobile daters who want to do everything on the go. The services are already driving strong growth for the mobile-dating market — and helping to entice consumers to sign up for the mobile data plans that are necessary to browse the Web from their phones. An average of 3.6 million U.S. cell-phone users accessed a dating service from their mobile phone in March, according to M:Metrics, a mobile research firm, up from 2.8 million in March 2006.
Dating is in many ways made for mobile phones, says Mark Donovan, an analyst with M:Metrics, because people are often most eager for a date when they are "out and about." But the services, particularly those based on location, are likely to appeal most to users in dense urban areas, where the dating pool is likely to be larger and more concentrated.
Mobile-dating services also face pressure to prove that they are safe for users and can't be exploited by stalkers posing as daters. To address such concerns, MeetMoi makes its matches without divulging members' locations to each other, and it automatically logs users out of the location they put in after two hours. "You tell us when you want to become available," says MeetMoi's founder and CEO, Andrew Weinreich. He adds that the service is safer than other dating services because a user can have only one account pegged to his or her phone number (unlike Internet dating sites where users can register under multiple aliases).
Still, some worry that location-based features might be misused. "Right now the application would become a stalking application if you added GPS," says Ted Verani, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Trilibis Mobile, creator of mobile-dating service Webdate Mobile. He adds that GPS may be appropriate when technology improves to enable users to better regulate who sees what.
Other hurdles for potential miscreants include a complicated sign-up process. While many services will work across most phones, they often require the users to sign up for a mobile Internet data plan. Some carriers may block some services like sending profile pictures, because they consume too much traffic. And pricing plans still vary widely, with some services charging per text message and others charging monthly subscription fees.

By Jessica E. Vascellaro
The Wall Street Journal

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