Twenty-five year-old Nitin P Raghani runs a design agency in the city and swears that he kept his distance from the online dating scene because he thought it was “corny”. However since January, Raghani has been chatting with a sea of women he met via Ditto (.com), a relationship platform that he heard about from a friend.
What changed his mind? “I have never believed that anything could replace real-life human interactions. I still feel that is the best option but Ditto simulates the same experience.” “I spent an entire day building my cloud,” he adds, in all seriousness. Though he isn’t on seventh heaven yet, he is referring to his profile on the site, which is made up of 27 categories of interests. The site requires all members to upload two images and build a portfolio based on books, music, food and other preferences. “I love the idea of the cloud because you get to know what kind of an individual the opposite person is and if you will have any common topics of conversation,” says Raghani.
In the five months since he signed up, he has been on two dates with women he met via the site, has 10 ditto matches and five niche matches. “Ditto matches are made with people who have the most number of interests in common with you while niche matches are made with people who have extremely specific interests like you.” He explains. “For instance, saying ‘I like Chetan Bhagat’ will get you a match with a lot of people, but saying ‘I like One Night at a Call Centre by Chetan Bhagat’ is more specific.”
Match people by interest
How does that work? Shweta Sharma, founder and CEO of the site, explains, “We use an algorithm to match persons of the same or opposite sex depending on their orientation and then suggest users they should meet based on how similar their interests are.” Sharma worked as an advertising professional for 13 years before she decided to start her own venture, along with television presenter Neha Sareen.
What makes Ditto different from a social networking website is that you can’t search for someone on the site — the algorithm automatically suggests people who share interests similar to yours. “We have a screening process that allows only real names and real faces to be registered as users, so you won’t find anyone with a username Hottie69 or a picture of a model for a display image,” says Sharma, adding, “We’d probably have double the number of members if we didn’t screen people who signed up, but it isn’t about the numbers.” Ditto has 1,500 users since its launch in January.
Same-same is boring?
Not everyone loves the idea of dating someone exactly like them, however. Raghani, who isn’t planning a sequel to the first dates that he went on, is pondering whether he wants to end up with someone with the same hobbies. He says, “I guess it would have to be a balance. We should have some similar interests so that we have activities to share, but there should be something new to talk about as well, so maybe I’d look for a 30 per cent match in the girl.” Like Ditto, a number of other ‘interest-based relationship sites’, that purport to be different from the marriage sites that allow parents to create profiles for their children and ask for details such as caste, height and colour of skin have made an entry into the great Indian marriage and dating market.
Mangoes, not marriage
Two Mangoes(.com), an online dating site that was started in North America to cater to NRIs a year ago and opened to Indian users earlier this year, is one such entrant. Toronto-based Anita Dharamshi, co-founder, says, “We are not a matrimonial site. We are a dating site and it’s supposed to be fun, so we introduced the concept of mangoes as currency.” Co-founders Paras Dharamshi, Anita Dharamshi and Rahul Bhardwaj hit upon the idea when they realised that mainstream dating sites in the US don’t target Indian audiences and the only other option was Indian matrimonial sites.
Users earn mangoes every time they log in to the site, add friends and send messages. They use mangoes to buy and send virtual gifts to other members. You can also earn mangoes by publicising the site via Facebook or Twitter. The site asks users who sign up to rate their desiness on a scale of mangoes to coconuts. While mangoes are an Indian’s best friend according to the site, coconuts is “a term commonly used in the US to refer to Indians who are brown on the outside but white on the inside,” says Dharamshi. So if you wear kurtas and bob your head to Bollywood music you are a mango but if you dress in Tommy Hilfiger and listen to Eminem, prepare to be called a coconut.
“The traffic on matrimonial sites is decreasing although the market is growing. This shows that attitudes and mindsets among Indian audiences are changing. The problem is that matrimonial sites aren’t evolving with the user,” she feels. Today, Two Mangoes has 10,000 users worldwide with 40,000 Indian users and an average of 1,000 new sign ups per day.
OkCupid(.com) was one of the first interest-based matchmaking websites to go live in March 2004. Founders Chris Coyne, Sam Yagan, Christian Rudder and Max Krohn describe the site as “extremely accurate, as long as you’re honest, and know what you want.” After you sign up and create a profile, OkCupid requires you to take certain tests that will establish a personality type. It will also ask you about the kind of partner you are looking for and create mutually-suited matches through a system of algorithms.
“We don’t have any preconceived notion of what makes a good match. We don’t have any preconceived notion about whether like-minded individuals click or opposites attract. What we believe, fundamentally, is that people are single and people therefore turn to online dating, not because they don’t know what they’re looking for, but because they don’t meet enough people in their day-to-day life,” says Yagan.
Similarly, India-Passions(.com), a dating site for singles in the country, offers a free dating social network that focuses on helping people meet others who share similar interests. While dating is a focus on the site, the service is also open to members looking to meet others who share similar passions. If you have a passion for yoga, join the Yoga Passions group on the site and you could find a yoga partner, if not the love of your life.
Likewise, Nevada-based Heart & Hobby, was founded in August 2011 by Alice Vysata. She says, “I could not find a dating website matching people based on interests except those that matched singles based only on one specific interest. This compelled me to create a dating site comprising ‘Interest Group’ pages, in which singles could search for and interact with each other based on the interests they share.”
The shaadi brigade
How does Shaadi (.com), one of the big daddies that began the relationship revolution online in India, feel about this process? Gourav Rakshit, business head, Shaadi(.com) admits that every year, the number of members who use caste as a criterion for determining a life partner is declining. “Indian members are becoming more cosmopolitan as they migrate from their hometowns and become part of the global ecosystem. However, there continues to exist a segment of users for whom caste is an integral part of the marriage decision, who use caste as a surrogate for lifestyle and culture, and for them searching by caste is essential in the matchmaking process,” he feels.
Still it has the numbers. Figures shared with us by the company say it has 20 million members to-date, over 6 million unique visitors every month and 3 million active members. Of this, 65 per cent are male and 35 per cent are female members between the age group of 21 to 35 years, 70 per cent are Indians and 30 per cent are Non-resident Indians. Seventy per cent of the profiles are self-posted while 30 per cent are posted by parents and siblings says Rakshit. “Previously, girls wanted a well-settled man. Gradually the emphasis has shifted to physique and good family upbringing. In the last seven years, compatibility also has become more important. However, certain things have remained unchanged, like religion and community which are still key to matchmaking,” he says.
Amrita Das (name changed), who recently signed up to a number of matrimonial sites such as SimplyMarry(.com) and BharatMatrimony(.com) echoes Rakshits opinion. The BPO employee says she prefers an old-fashioned matrimonial site because it is a “safe” option. “When matrimonial sites started out in the ’90s, there were many who were sceptical but the success rate has been impressive. It’s easy to use, since the community slots are convenient to look at prospects. There is no point finding a boy who will need you to create a stir in the family. For those who opt for an arranged marriage, it’s just a convenient way to cast your net wider,” says the 25 year-old Thane resident.
The social animal
Ivan John, who teaches sociology at Sophia College for Women, takes the emergence of these new dating sites with a pinch of salt. “Dating sites would be more popular in urban areas where more people have access to the Internet, but as far as the so-called forward thinking attitude is concerned, not much has changed. Dating sites are an easy way to have some fun till parents decide to find you a life-mate to ‘settle down’ with, ultimately,” he feels.
“Similar interests can play a significant part in starting a relationship, but the Internet allows users to project an image about themselves that may or may not be true,” says John. With all the focus on dating, we wonder if Indians are getting better with their pickup lines. Bala Menon, technology partner, Ditto says, “Users are simply a set of data to matrimonial sites. We try to get rid of this objectification of people and make online interactions seem as real as possible.”
“Many youngsters aren’t even given the option of dating, so the online space is an easy way to develop a relationship without your folks at home finding out. It’s easy for many to profess lofty ideas but very few can actually take action and stand up to their family about whom they want to end up with,” says John adding, “Many of us like to think that all of India functions the way life in the metros do, but that’s a very narrow outlook. If you say India is opening up to the idea of online dating, you must realise that a majority of the population is rural.”
We decided to sign up on a few dating sites to get some insight. Here’s what we learned.
>> Don’t trust users with names like naughtyboy, hottie, prince and dashingdude. We doubt their parents christened them with those names and if you can’t reveal your real name there isn’t much else that will turn out true.
>> While browsing through profiles, we realised that Edward Cullen had about 200 profiles across dating sites, a hot favourite for men who don’t want to show their face. We doubt Robert Pattinson needs any help finding a date but we’d warn you to stay away from men who think they bear a resemblance to the vampire character.
>> Expect to tolerate 20 creeps for every decent prospect.
>> Chat with them to get to know what they are really like, do not trust everything you see on the profile.
>> If you decide to meet someone who you met online choose a well-lit public location that is busy and familiar even if Cullen insists that he can’t tolerate the daylight.
4 questions for Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder & CEO — Consim Info Pvt Ltd with a portfolio comprising BharatMatrimony, PrivilegeMatrimony, CommunityMatrimony, EliteMatrimony, IndiaProperty, ClickJobs, IndiaAutomobile, and IndiaList
What demographic does Bharat Matrimony cater to?
Our members are mostly males aged between 24 and 28 years and females aged between 23 and 27 years. Fifty per cent of our traffic comes from tier one cities and the remaining is from tier two and three cities.
Over the years, has there been a change in the parameters by which people choose their partners?
Not really. In India, there are certain fundamental areas that people give importance to. Religion ranks first. Ninety-five per cent of our members want partners of the same religion. Then comes language, community or caste and that is followed by horoscope and other parameters. This is what has always been important to Indian couples and families.
How active are parents in the process of finding a mate on the site?
Parents are very much a part of the ecosystem. Ultimately it’s two families that are uniting, so it is important for parents to be involved in the process as well. Fifteen per cent of our profiles are created by parents for their children.
With the number of new dating sites, will matrimonial sites be facing competition?
Dating is a new concept in India and as far as interest-based matches are concerned, the beauty of a man-woman relationship is that there are differences in the thought process, which is what attracts you to someone. As far as the audience is concerned, the market for such sites is too niche. We are very clear about being a serious matrimonial site and so we are unaffected by the traffic that goes to online dating websites.
How much traffic does the site get from non-residential Indians?
About 20 per cent of our members are NRIs. It’s a large market for matrimonial sites since Indians abroad need to focus their search for a partner.