Academic Paper: User Group Analysis of Online Daters

CECS 5200 New Technologies of Instruction | Academic Paper

Spring 2015

User Group Analysis of Online Daters

By Crystal Hollis


This paper analyzes internet users who are looking for information about potential dating partners. Online dating sites are commonly used in today’s technological environment to find intimate and romantic relationships. But most research on online daters focused on mate selection and relationship formation based on U.S. Census data (Rosenbloom, 2011). Online dating is common among young and middle aged adults. Typical online dating sites used by this internet user group includes Ok Cupid, Match, and eHarmony. Non-dating websites include Craigslist, Facebook, Meet Up, and Twitter. According to the Pew Research Center, 45% of single online daters are 18-29 years old. 66% of online daters have dated someone they met online and 23% said that they entered in a long-term relationship or marriage through a dating site or app (Duggan, 2013). 61% of same sex couples and 21% of opposite sex couples met online (Rosenbloom, 2011). 66% are men and 34% are women who consider themselves single, but looking for committed relationships. 58% of online daters are white, while 10% are black and 17% are Hispanic (Duggan, 2013). Most online daters are college educated or have some college experience and live in urban or suburban neighborhoods.

The Information Search Process (ISP) model and the Uncertainty management theory complements the analysis of online daters. The ISP model describes the feelings, thoughts, and actions of the individual with a knowledge gap (Case, 2002). Internet users searching for information about potential partners will also experience uncertainty. The individual may not feel comfortable with the lack of information they have on a stranger. The knowledge gap regarding potential partners leads to seeking background information. The emotional investment and risks of privacy and safety factor in an online dater’s information needs.

Searching for romance partners online

The Information Search Process is applied in two different stages regarding online dating: the first is to seek information about available partners online and the second is to seek background information after contacting a particular partner. While both stages do occur in one situation, an information seeker may sometimes give up the search before reaching the second stage. The steps in the Information Search Process are initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, presentation, and assessment (Case, 2002). The search is initiated by the user’s emotional need and demand for an ideal partner. The user identifies a lack of knowledge about available partners and then perform the search on an online dating site.

ISP: Searching Partners

The user moves on to the exploration step, creates an online profile, and then proceed to the dating site’s search engine. 53% of internet users agree that online dating allows people to find a better match for themselves because the physical barriers of time and distance is not an obstacle (Duggan, 2013). When online daters create a profile, they provide both explicit and implicit details about themselves. Explicit information are answers to questions about preference and characteristics while implicit information are collected from users’ online activities (Alsaleh, 2011). The online dating search engines use social matching systems to recommend suitable partners. However it isn’t sufficient because it is difficult for a user to tell a system what they consider an ideal candidate. Human beings are too complex to categorize. Sometimes explicit and implicit information are contradictory or does not match. The messages that are sent between users reflect the actual dating preferences (Xia, 2013). An online dater might answer a question, preferring to date someone whose favorite food is pizza, but messages someone whose favorite food is spaghetti. Sometimes the user stops searching after this step if they weren’t able to find any suitable candidate on the dating site.

The user approaches the formulation and collection step using search engine filters such as geographic location, demographic information, and keywords. Male users are likely to search for shorter and younger women while female users are likely to search based on socioeconomic status (Xia, 2013). After narrowing the search, perhaps the user found a suitable candidate. The user thinks that the potential partner’s profile and the photos somewhat match the ideal criteria. At this point, the user temporarily ends the search for available candidates and starts looking for information about a specific candidate.

ISP: Background information

While the user reads the information on the potential partner’s profile, a question arises: is this person telling the truth? A study in deception of online dating profiles found that 86% of online daters believe that other daters misrepresents their physical appearance (Toma, 2008). Deception and misinformation is one of the biggest detriments of online dating. Users are worried about privacy, security, identity theft, sexual predators, cyber stalking, and misrepresentation (Gibbs, 2011). Because of these concerns, users may be selective in what kind of information they publicly share. Users may also omit certain information to strategically present themselves in a positive image. Self-presentation takes into account both the target audience and context of the social interaction (Toma, 2008). Because of these factors, it may take a user a long time to build trust and gain knowledge about another person’s attributes.

Uncertainty Reduction

Female users may reduce uncertainty because of privacy and safety concerns. The lack of shared physical context and nonverbal cues create greater uncertainty about others and complicate the process. (Gibbs, 2011). Women are more likely than men to experience harassment. 27% unfriended or blocked someone from a previous relationship (Duggan, 2013). Not everyone strives to reduce uncertainty and some may avoid information, such as a potential partner’s undesirable behavior or past.


The search process for online dating is a lengthy process and may not successfully reach the last step. Online dating sites should improve ways to help users reduce uncertainty and encourage safety. One way to solve the problem is to incorporate background check databases with online sites. The search for romantic partners is very complicated and cannot be entirely explained to search systems.




Alsaleh, S., Richi Nayak, Yue Xu, and Lin Chen. (2011). Improving matching process in social network using implicit and explicit user information. 13th Asia-Pacific web conference on Web technologies and applications, 313-320

Case, D. (2002). Looking for information: A survey of research on information seeking, needs, and behavior (3rd ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Duggan, M., & Smith, A. (2013, October 21). Online Dating & Relationships. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Gibbs, J., Nicole Ellison, and Chih-Hui Lai. (2011). First Comes Love, Then Comes Google: An Investigation of Uncertainty Reduction Strategies and Self-Disclosure in Online Dating. Communication Research, 38(1), 70-100.

Rosenbloom, S. (2011, November 12). Love, Lies and What They Learned. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Toma, C. L., Hancock, J. T., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Separating Fact From Fiction: An Examination of Deceptive Self-Presentation in Online Dating Profiles. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1023–36.

Xia, P., Ribeiro, B., Chen, C., Liu, B., & Towsley, D. (2013) A study of user behavior on an online dating site. 2013 IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining, 243-247


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