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Kathryn Interviews Mark Brooks

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I am a regular reader of Mark Brooks’ title=“OnlinePersonalsWatch”>OnlinePersonalsWatch  Mark’s blog is THE resource for the most recent news on the online dating industry.  A few days ago, Mark and I got on the phone and interviewed each other.  Here’s my interview of Mark:

Mark, how did you get started in the online dating business?

I’ve been in the online dating business since 1998.  I started a little club in the Bay Area called, “Ace Club.” I used to sell semi-conductor test equipment.  I moved to the Bay Area but I couldn’t find a club that I was interested in and started Ace Club.  I stuck a poster up in Nose Bagels; people talked and grew to 3,600 members over the course of 1 ½ to 2 years.

Was that really the ground floor for you?

Yes, basically it was a real world social network.  It grew virally and in ’99 I transitioned out of the semi-conductor industry, which wasn’t doing to well at the time anyway and I helped out a friend who was working on a site called Hyper Match and then I went to work for a company called E-Turn.  So Hyper Match was an early version of E-Harmony and E-Turn was an early version of Plaxo. 

I think I remember reading that you’ve also consulted with true.com and Friendster and Friend Finder?

Yes, I actually befriended the fellow who started Friendster back in 2000. I was working for E-Turn and attempting to do some business development with a company called Hot Link, of which Jonathan Abrams was CEO.  I actually met Jonathan Abrams through a mixer.  I used to run this thing called internetmixer.com and I met Jonathan there and also through E-Turn.  I then met Dr. Conrue through my club, so I met both of these men and in 2003. I helped Jonathan with Friendster when he was working out of his apartment. I ran Mark’s List, which was its events list for a little while and did some other stuff. 

It then occurred to me that I wanted to work for a real dating company and Friendster was just a very strange anomaly, plus the piece that I was working on, when Jonathan got funding and the big boys came on board, namely Ram Shruram, Tim Coogle and Pay Pals, Peter Field, they didn’t like my idea too much with the events element.  Looking back on it, I hope they regret it a little.  In some ways the events section, running events, was a little dangerous for them.  Events tend to be very high risk and I don’t blame their decision, they had a lot to focus on at the time. 

I immediately had an opportunity to work for Friend Finder and I took it, a real dating company.  I had great respect for what they achieved, went over to work for Dr. Conrue, got basically my boot camp training.  I ran PR for them and helped run the affiliate program as an Affiliate Manager.  That’s how I got my feet wet in that camp.  I did some media buys and got an idea of how it all worked.  It was actually funny because at the time it was fairly new territory for them as well because they had only done affiliate marketing, so ad buying and PR were completely new for them. 

From there, I worked with the President who left Friend Finder to start dieter.com.  He didn’t need me for about 3 months while he was building the site, so I went to do some work for cupid.com and then decided in January, 2005 to do my own thing and work for a few companies at once and leveraged my experience and did PR, business development and strategic advisement.  In short, I helped online dating and social networking companies make more money and that’s what I’ve done ever since.

I worked for Web Date and True and advised them for a long while, dieter.com and I worked for a few other leading companies now.

I can see why you’ve become one of the voices of the industry because you’ve had such a far ranging experience in a relatively short time.

It’s actually been a fairly long length of time in Internet years. 

When you said 1998, that’s the year I met my husband on Match.com, so I first became aware of Internet dating in 1997 and I’m coming from a user end rather then the developer end like you have.  I’ve just seen amazing changes as you have as well.  I remember the 1997 and 1998 days, very few people even had pictures up.

It’s a whole different world.  I think Friend Finder started in 1996 and before that 1994 was Web Personals and there were a couple of early services.

I’m working on editing an interview I did with a fellow who started an Internet dating service of some sort back in 1966.  He was at Yale and he just started a punch card based system and started Operation Match and the student submitted a questionnaire and in 10 days they would get back 6 matches for $3.00. 

What do you see going on now that concerns you?  I’ve been seeing so much lately about scamming and safety concerns.  Have you noticed that as well?

It’s getting picked up in the press.  It’s always been a concern and it’s always been something that the Internet dating sites have had to fight.  Yes, it’s getting more PR pick up and yes, sites are bigger then ever and expectations are higher then ever.  In short, Internet dating services seek to improve on the real world.  They’ve done that pretty effectively by improving search over flat personals from newspapers and they’ve done that by improving modes of communications, which still need some more improvement. 

I would like to see more services adopting telephony and web cam based dating.  They’ve improved by offering personality profiling, which is a vast improvement over the real world but there is still a lot of improvement that can be made on safety but it’s very tough to do.  You have background checks, which are a very hard edged and not very reliable way of checking up on people.

That’s been my difficulty where true.com is coming from because there are so many holes in that.

Yes, but there’s also soft edged ways of dealing with background checks.  Engage I think has tried to leverage social networks to help people find people through their social networks.  It’s very difficult to make that unison work.  Friend Finder tried it and had a hard time with it, so essentially if you want to try and utilize your social network you go on My Space or Friendster.  But if you’re seeking a relationship it’s a bit more difficult.  You have to wade through all the people that aren’t that interested or motivated to not be single.  You’re dealing with people who may well be single but are not that motivated to jump into a relationship.

Yahoo Personals has done a nice job with their new Premiere that they’ve been doing the last year or so.  Are you aware of that?

I knew they had a Premiere service.

Yes, it’s kind of a second level of their membership. People who are seriously looking, self-identify and you can see them on their profile.  The other thing that it does that they don’t advertise is that everyone who has Premiere has paid so you know they’re a paid member.  I’ve also been getting a sense that we need to do more educating about scamming. I think the traditional advice of meet in a public place and don’t reveal your identity; people need more information then that.

Yes, indeed.  Dr. Phil did an entire show on it recently and it’s actually derogatory toward the industry but necessary to educate users.  The more users who are educated, the less chance scammers will have of causing damage.

What do you see coming in the near future with online dating that singles should be aware of or looking for?

I’m most excited about a couple of thing.  As I mentioned before, the Internet dating industry should and does seek to improve on the real world.  It’s made major improvements back in ’95 it made major improvements over flat, boring, difficult to work with personals in papers by allowing search.  You can say, “I want this” and up pops exactly what you want. So search was the first area that dating site improved on the real world.

Then they improved by allowing you to communicate.  You have someone who is a match and has what you’re looking for but then you have to talk with them.  How do you talk with them?  Email is sort of an elongated conversation and takes a while.  How about instant messaging?  Okay the industry had introduced that but I’m surprised that they haven’t introduced telephony.  It seems a pretty difficult thing for them to introduce effectively.

They’ve tried though didn’t they?

They tried but it failed unfortunately because it’s not been easy enough and they’ve not had enough people who have figured it out, so it’s been a failure.  I’m working with a service called Thumber to introduce a more vastly simplified way for people to connect anonymously, safely and quickly over the phone.  I understand that women like voice better.  Guys like visual but if the reality is that women have a chance to connect over the telephone first they can have an initial gauging of chemistry.  I think it’s very healthy for the industry to let people connect over the telephone early on.

Beyond that I’m very excited about communications, I’m very excited about personality profiling.  I don’t think it’s delivering but I think it will in the future.  It holds great hope for what the likes of E-Harmony and other companies can morph profiling into.  But I think in some ways you have to look at who is standing behind the test and you buy into them and you buy into the methodologies that they have.  Unfortunately, people are not very sophisticated enough to look that deep into the methodologies and sites don’t really put in those methodologies front forward.  So I look forward to sites being a little more open about how they match people and let people buy in.  Perfect Match and True I think are a little more open because they do mention some information on the site but I would like to see a boiled down version.

What I get back from my clients about E-Harmony is that they just don’t understand at all how these people get matched up with them. 

On the one hand it’s not good marketing.  People don’t really want to get into it in some extent but I think in time they’ll become sophisticated and demand to have the option of getting into it and E-Harmony doesn’t offer that option.  They probably will in the future but E-Harmony is very good at converting and retaining people.  I appeal to them to serve the masses a little more effectively that are starting to get more sophisticated and want to see what’s inside the magic box.

Mark is there anything you would like to add?

As regard to my safety and I’m pushing my safety advice these days.  I recommend don’t give out your contact information online.  The vehicle is there for you to communicate and you don’t need to give out your email address, telephone and for goodness sakes don’t give out your home address.  Number one there is no need to give out your contact information, talk online until you feel very warm and fuzzy about the person you’re talking with. 

Secondly, when you do meet up do it in a public place.  Go to a coffee shop have a first 20, 30 or 40 minute date.  A coffee shop is a perfect venue, go somewhere public.

Number three make sure somebody knows where you’re going and have them call into you an hour into the date and it kind of gives you a way to escape the date too.

Thanks, Mark

From Your Romance Coach, Kathryn Lord



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