Two New Sites to Ease Your Way Through Dating Hell

11/16/07Follow @wroush

So it’s Friday night, you’re single, and you have no plans for the evening. You can clean out your refrigerator, catch the latest nail-biting episode of Deal or No Deal, or maybe, if you’re feeling courageous, go out on a crazy blind date.

Time was, setting up a blind date required some matchmaking (or meddlesome) friends with available acquaintances. Not anymore. The geniuses at OkCupid, a free dating site co-founded by the same three former Harvard College students who started the CliffsNotes killer SparkNotes, have figured out how to pair up desperate eager singles on a couple of hours’ notice, with only a website and a few cell-phone text messages as the intermediaries.

Their new site—called, appropriately enough, Crazy Blind Date—went live in Boston, San Francisco, and New York on November 7. (The site also works in Austin, TX, where OkCupid beta-tested it for several months.) It’s part of an intriguing trend, one that began several years ago with the rise of political organizing site Meetup.com but has moved recently in a more purely social direction. It’s all about using Web technology (plus a bit of text-messaging magic) to help people leave their computers behind and have safe, fun, no-strings face-to-face interactions. Another startup, Cambridge, MA-based Mix & Meet, announced at the November 6 Web Innovators Group meeting in Cambridge that it’s also building a Web-based system to facilitate spontaneous social gatherings—in this case, groups of about six people (three men and three women, typically).

“I run a very large free dating site, so I am the last person to bash that model, but [ad-supported dating sites] are really designed to keep you on the site and to compete with other demands on your leisure time,” says Sam Yagan, OkCupid’s CEO and one of the aforementioned Harvardians. But with Crazy Blind Date, “We said, ‘What if we didn’t try to compete for leisure time? What if we became the only dating site that wants you to get out from in front of your computer and go out on a real date?’”

Crazy Blind Date LogoCrazy Blind Date is definitely not a typical dating site. There are no elaborate personal profiles to create or browse. There are photos, but you don’t see them until the last stages of setting up a date, and they’re deliberately blurred out, so the date really is blind. Rather, the site is all about helping you set up a date, which can be done as much as two weeks in advance, or as little as an hour. A series of questions helps you pick a preferred neighborhood, the kind of place you’d like to meet (a bar or coffeehouse), and the characteristics of the kind of person you’d like to be paired with, including gender, age range, height, ethnicity, and education level. You also have to specify how your date can recognize you, how quickly you can get to various neighborhoods near yours, what kinds of things you like to talk about, and what you expect of a date. You must also give Crazy Blind Date your cell phone number, so that the site can send you text messages to help you locate your date when the time comes; your date doesn’t get your number (unless you give it to them later).

With all of those preliminaries out of the way, Crazy Blind Date matches you up with other people looking for dates in your neighborhood and time slot, e-mails both potential parties to confirm your interest, and then guides you to the date location. Though some basic user-defined filtering goes on behind the scenes—the site will only pair you with blonde, 6’4″ Native American women, if that’s what you specify—Crazy Blind Date is not about matching people based on sophisticated algorithms in the vein of OkCupid, eHarmony, or Match.com.

“We’re actually turning the model upside down,” explains Yagan. “It’s not about deep searches or aggressive filtering. You do the filtering in person.” If you don’t click with your date, no big deal—you can leave after 20 minutes (“less is rude,” the site advises). “And heck, even if you have a bad date, it makes a good story later,” says Yagan.

For now, Crazy Blind Date isn’t seeking advertising—and it probably won’t, since the idea is to get people off the site as quickly as possible. And it will never charge users to go on dates, says Yagan, who wants to see how … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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