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Who knew? Online dating actually can be easy and fun

The Baltimore Sun

Once, while I was profiling a guy for my blog, we got to talking about online dating.

"I don't believe in the online-dating thing," he said. "That's just not my thing."

I once was one of those people. But time and singledom wore me down. Eventually, I acquiesced, trying free and pay dating sites.

I exchanged lots of e-mails and winks, and met some cool people, but more often than not, nothing really panned out. And after getting to the point where I saw the same people -- the ones who seemed interesting and never wrote back, the ones who wrote back but were weird and the ones I just tried because was bored -- my online experience fizzled.

But there seems to be a growing response to this online-dating fatigue. Take, for instance, Crazy BlindDate.com. You pick when (tonight, tomorrow or another time) and where you want to date, and say what you want to do (have dinner or go to the movies, for example) and bam! -- the site sets you up.

Sam Yagan, co-founder of online-dating site OKCupid.com, started Crazy Blind Date because he wanted to make online dating easier and more fun. When he and his friends were talking, he says, the biggest complaint they had was that online dating was too much work. You spend so much time filling out profiles, e-mailing like crazy to ensure this guy is not an ax murderer, that it loses its spark. "Online dating has no spontaneity," he says.

The site, which was launched in November, isn't available in Baltimore yet -- it's offered in Austin, Texas, Boston, New York and San Francisco right now -- but he says Washington is likely one of the next expansion cities. And after that, Baltimore is probably not that far behind.

Yagan says the goal of the site is to get people out there. He says technology has helped bridge differences in the dating world and get daters out of their comfort zones, such as familiar locations, class or race, but people can easily fall into another trap -- spending too much time online.

Dan Abelon, co-founder of SpeedDate.com, agrees. Profiles and e-mails are not important, he says, contact is.

"The only stuff that matters is meeting [people] and interacting with them," he says. "Meeting with someone is the first step." Abelon says he and a friend started SpeedDate, which was launched in October, because of frustration with conventional dating sites.

"We designed SpeedDate so that it would be the fastest way to meet people," he says. His site works pretty much like a speed date, but online. You get matched, you talk to [a person] for three minutes via Webcam, vote yes or no, and then you talk to each other afterward if it works out.

He says about 25,000 dates have taken place on the site since its launch. "It allows you, in a relatively short amount of time, to see that you're compatible with someone," he says. "I think it makes going on dates less intimidating."

Which Stephen Stokols says is also part of the goal of WooMe.com, a similar site he co-founded. He says dating sites carry a stigma, especially among the 18-to-24 set. In addition to the issues of time spent online and lack of spontaneity, sometimes the people are just too serious.

His sister Haley Stokols, 24, had trolled the online-dating scene before they started WooMe and had dating fatigue. "It was kind of not really what I was looking for at all. It was not our scene," she says. "[People] weren't carefree; they were hardcore, looking for soulmates." When she went speed-dating in San Diego with friends -- "to make fun of it," she says -- she actually had a good time. And thus hatched the idea for WooMe.

WooMe works like a speed date -- you chat (either by video or picture and microphone, if you don't have a camera), you "woo" (if you click) and you exchange information. Stephen Stokols says 35 percent of their users mutually woo each other.

He says sites like theirs are the next step in dating. "The new technology allows for a real, live interaction. That's the closest you're gonna get to the offline world," he says. With video speed-dating you see them, hear their voice. "All that stuff allows for more learning about a person."

maryann.james@baltsun.com

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