300 Dates in 24 Hours? No sweat.

Originally published August 2, 2008

By Ian Sherr

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – Francesca Salcido went on 300 dates in 24 hours without breaking a sweat.

Her encounters with aspiring beaus happened online at SpeedDate.com, a US start-up built on a belief that it doesn’t take more than 90 seconds to find a life partner.

“We may be using webcams and Internet technologies, but you’re still trying to find that chemistry,” SpeedDate co-founder Dan Abelon told AFP. “And if it isn’t there, you just move on to the next person.”

The website and its competitors apply the latest Internet technology to speed dating, a phenomenon that started a decade ago with men and women darting from table to table to chat in rapid-fire succession at a time keeper’s signal.

“If people decide they don’t like someone, they usually know within 30 seconds,” said Stephen Stokols, chief executive of SpeedDate rival WooMe.com.

“If you meet someone you like, three minutes isn’t long enough. If you don’t like them, 30 seconds is too long.”

Automated timers at SpeedDate and WooMe cut off online video chats after as little as 90 seconds or as long as three minutes. Those that felt romance kindling during curt exchanges can later reconnect to fan the flames.

The speed-dating formula differs dramatically from the format of most dating websites, which require users to detail their lives and interests in intricate profiles or extensive questionnaires.

Love seekers on those sites are matched based on their profiles and then chat via email before deciding whether to meet in person.

“We’re more like dating in real life,” Abelon said. “If you see someone you like in real life, you don’t go up to them with your resume and compare. You just talk.”

Instead of sitting at a coffee shop or a bar, speed dating websites let potential mates meet using webcams and microphones.

“I wanted to be a little ridiculous and put myself out there,” Salcido told AFP.

“My mom said the more places you put your resume, the better chance you have for finding a job. I figured I’d do the same thing with dating.”

When SpeedDate went live a year ago, it hosted 1,000 dates its first night.

Now it is a setting for from 100,000 to 120,000 virtual dates daily, with most of those online encounters orchestrated by web applications in profile pages of social networking websites MySpace and Facebook.

SpeedDate boasts users in nearly 200 countries.

WooMe.com reports that 1,000 to 4,000 registered users are logged into the site at any given time.

Stokols says that while users of SpeedDate.com are trying to find romance, most WooMe.com users have learned that true love may be fleeting but real friends are forever.

“Eight to 10 percent of our users have been to real dating sites,” Stokols said. “We’re more about meeting new friends, not necessarily meeting new dates.”

In this spirit, WooMe sent two of its users on a US road trip to meet in the flesh 1,000 of the new friends they made on the website.

The duo’s bar-filled adventures are being memorialized in text and video on the aptly named WooAroundAmerica.com.

“The dating stories are good to hear, and we’ve got plenty of them,” Stokols explained.

“What interest me are the stories that are unique to our platform where we’ve come up with a new way for people to extend their social network.”

(By Ian Sherr. Published Aug 2, 2009 on the wire at the Agence France-Presse)