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Tell-All Sites Put Online Dater Profiles to Truth Test

By Sandy Fernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 30, 2005

Online dating traditionally has been a pretty solitary affair: just you and your computer, flipping through profiles with the hope that somewhere, typing away, there's someone else who enjoys Montecristo sandwiches, the Faint, and late-night viewings of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."

You have no wingman amusing her friends barside as you chat up the cute brunette in nerdy glasses. No reassurances from your cousin that her neighbor, though a little strait-laced, is "a really nice guy." And if that athletic 28-year-old you've been e-mailing turns out to be a dumpy, married 35-year-old, no recourse but to go back online and try again.

But now you can roast 'em on one of a handful of new Web sites that are making it their business to let users review their online dates.

"This dater takes great photos, but when you meet face to face, he's small and skinny. The face is the same, but none of his photos show his true size," says a typical posting.

Singles, be afraid. Be very afraid.

One of the sites creating the biggest buzz is Truedater.com, which launched in January and claims, says co-founder Mark Geller, "tens of thousands" of users so far. On Truedater (which features the quote used above), visitors can input online identities from four dating sites -- market leaders Match.com, American Singles and Yahoo Personals, plus the more nichey Jewish site JDate-- and search for reviews that'll tell them if, say, Lovinit62 isn't quite the six feet he claimed, or if Cutedoctor14 seems longer in the tooth than 32.

Helpful links take you to the target's profile with a button click. Users can also post anonymously, under an online name (Truedater advises people not to repeat the handle they date under). The site's basic question: whether the person reviewed is a "truedater," i.e., truthful in his or her self-portrayal.

"What we're trying to do is create a system of feedback, so people understand that they can't just get away with lying," says Geller, a veteran of online dating. "Our real goal is a growing movement for more honesty."

There's little doubt the online dating world could use it.

Falls Church resident Jeff Martin, 32, went on Match.com in 2003, after his divorce. He estimates that, in the year that he used the site, he went on dates with 60 women. About a fourth to a third differed significantly from their profile, says Martin, most using a picture that was "five years and 20 pounds ago." His biggest shocker? A woman who sent him photos of a tall, athletic blonde -- one of her lying on the beach in a red bikini -- then flew herself out from San Diego to meet him and turned out to be someone else entirely.

"She probably outweighed me by 30 pounds," says the 185-pound Martin. "Her face was not at all the same."

He squired Ms. Someone Else around all three days they'd planned. She never copped to the deception. Love did not bloom.

Match.com spokeswoman Kristin Kelly says that in one of its surveys, 92 percent of respondents reported being perfectly honest in their profiles. But in a large-scale 2001 Canadian study, more than a quarter of respondents admitted misrepresenting themselves; other surveys have had similar results.

Clicking through the reviews on Truedater -- which are browsable, by the way -- the road to the truth revolution seems paved with juicy schadenfreude.

"This guy's pictures are WAY out of date! They are about 10 years old -- and those 10 years haven't done him any justice!" writes MindyW about an unfortunate date. A link to her mark's JDate profile shows three pictures of a mop-haired young man, smiling and squinting in the sun.

"REAL waste of time," begins a review of another unfortunate. "Age & years he went to school don't jive. Graduate education that doesn't exist. . . . Rambling about excuse . . . You get the picture!!"

Attempts to reach the dissed were unsuccessful.

"Definitely, a fair number of people go on just to read the dating reviews," says Dominic Ang about Niftyguy.com, the site he co-founded in April. Billing itself as "your guide to who's nifty in the San Francisco Bay area," the site contains browsable reviews -- sometimes labeled with the person's full name. The reviews are not just about dates, but also cover professionals for hire, like plumbers and hairstylists.

As on Truedater, a decent percentage is positive. But the negative ones -- like the guy who gets tagged a "total weirdo" for IM-ing his crush too much -- "are the funniest," says Ang. "They crack me up."

Like Geller, Ang says that because his site merely posts the reviews rather than creating them, he and his site are "only publishers and distributors and disseminators of the information." Both sites plainly say they do no verification, though they do remove posts deemed offensive, and give users an easy to way report those.

Match.com's Kelly finds that position troubling. "A free-form venue to discuss people is interesting," she says. "That does seem to be something that consumers want to do. But you have to be real careful about violating people's privacy.

"Truedater is not making any claim about the veracity of the information, which could be hurtful and damaging. They're careful to distance themselves from that responsibility but it's there nonetheless."

Opinity.com, a Web site launched last month as an "online and social reputation services company," also guards its information carefully.

"We don't let users browse the reviews," says CEO Ted Cho. "This is not for fun."

Users can rate other people online under the categories of commerce (say, a seller on eBay) , community (a voice on a Yahoo message board), gaming (a player of Ultima Online) or dating. Aside from writing an opinion, they're also asked to rank certain qualities on a standard 1-to-5 scale. Under "dating," for example, you'll be asked about honesty, helpfulness and "skill," among others. The results are then turned into percentages and cheery graphs.

But there's no rubbernecking here: To look someone up, "you need to know them -- at least their username and the Web site they're on," says Cho. "This is not 'hot or not'; we want this information to have value. We imagine people coming here with a very specific agenda."

For the most part, Opinity avoids the subjectiveness that devils other sites. Because it's clear that, in the land of online love, the difference between honesty and etiquette is sometimes perilously unclear. People get flamed for refusing second dates, not returning phone calls or -- in one notably clueless example -- not returning a Wink, the automated e-mail that Match allows a user to send in lieu of a personal message.

Frani Levinson, a Reseda, Calif., beauty clinic owner, went on Truedater shortly after the site was launched, looking for some of the 40 men she has dated over the last two years.

A lot of postings, she says, seemed to fall in a certain category: "He didn't like her or she didn't like him and then he goes on the site and ends up ruining her," she says. "And she could be a cool person. You don't know who you can trust."

Backing Geller's assertion that "the users feel invested in the site," Levinson, 44, has clear ideas about what is and isn't acceptable. Last year, she says, she dated a man who stopped calling her after she walked in on him cross-dressing.

"But I wouldn't post that, because I wouldn't want to expose him," she says. It would have to be, she says, that someone was blatantly dishonest with her.

She pauses.

"But then, I lie about my age, so who am I to judge?"

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