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  PROFILES, PROFILES EVERYWHERE, BUT NOT A ONE TO DATE.  
   
   
 

I signed on to Nerve.com a long time ago, well before its founders, desperate for revenues of any kind, made it a dumping ground for the lonely hearts of TimeOut New York. And now I'm logging off. Permanently.

I'm amazed I ever used the service at all, since the signal-to-noise ratio has gone so far out of whack that online dating has become exactly like offline dating. Scads of random girls all in one place, all saying they want a nice man, but none of them are particularly friendly. After Match.com advertised during the Super Bowl, The New York Times anointed online dating an official mainstream phenomenon -- but it had become clear long before to anyone on Nerve who had to suffer through a date with someone who was not only wrong, but just didn't get it, that the whole Internet personals thing could be really lame.

This won't stop singles from piling onto the site tomorrow, I'm guessing. While couples here in New York commandeer the restaurants, and the bars are occupied by either the lonely and the loners, personals users will be scouring each other's ads with extra intensity, trying to find the ad they overlooked, hoping that someone's constellation of pop culture name checks meshed with their own.

I won't be one of them. For the last six months I've been dating someone I met on Nerve. She found me, I want to add, because it's usually a place where most men think love connections get made by spraying pick up lines into the crowd (and women are loath to encourage them). The fact that the person I'm seeing is so wrong for me on so many levels only makes the serendipity of meeting her even greater. I'd been looking for someone just like me before I met her, and it was a strategy that would obviously never work.

I write about the inner workings of magazines and media and that means my time is spent schmoozing with other media folk. I'd always envisioned meeting someone in these circles, but when they could read on my forehead the unspoken question "How can I use you?" I never had a shot.

I bring this up because by the time I'd found Nerve, I was already burrowed so deep inside the Media tribe that I would never, I was convinced, come into contact with a civilian again. (Especially someone who just happened to grasp my, um, thorny temperament.) I never did. I stopped trying. Then Nerve, and her, found me.

Nerve personals made good for me -- as they have for many in New York -- the promise of moving here in the first place. I am a refugee from stagnant, small-town middle American relationships, where the galaxy of people you met in high school never really expanded, and certainly never grew diverse. Of course, the City never proved to be so different from the small-time world, subdividing (for those of us with a certain background and education) into its various publishing, finance and fashion tribes, to name a few.

Cut off from each other in this way, we rely on the serendipity of friends and bars to find each other, and, as Nerve founder Rufus Griscom wrote in Wired, "serendipity is the hallmark of inefficient markets, and the marketplace of love, like it or not, is becoming more efficient."

While he speaks like a banker, Griscom is right -- particularly if you interpret "efficiency" as the ability to deliver on the city's promise of expanding our horizons in a way that isn't arbitrary. The person I'm seeing right now would have never intersected with me in any other way. Thank you, Rufus.

And there's another, unintended benefit as well, as far as Nerve's concerned. The company built its service on the backs of publishers, starting with the perennially cash-strapped Salon.com -- which dumped tens of thousands of users into Nerve's databases -- and before moving onto alt weeklies in the Midwest and a few print magazines like Jane. Unlike the advertising-based businesses it piggybacked on, Nerve made users pay up front for credits to be spent on ad responses. As more members poured in, the pool of potential matches widened (and grew more shallow) becoming ever more "attractive."

With a virtuous circle in place, Nerve and its personals spin off, Spring Street Networks, could afford to give its partner sites a piece of the take while keeping the bulk for itself. It's been a true win-win scenario for the higher-traffic sites that bought it. All they did was rent their personals users to Nerve, with no effort on their part required, and in return they've reaped the checks. Sites like Mediabistro.com -- essentially a job board for media people with bells and whistle attached -- raked in more than $18,000 from its personals, almost all of which fell to the bottom line.

No one will get rich off the online personals business -- with the possible exception of Match.com owner Barry Diller, but then again, he's already rich. Nerve deserves karma points for trying to keep Web publishers alive, or at the very least, on life support a bit longer. Will your romantic life be enriched by the world of online personals? I don't know if that's possible anymore, but that's because I found someone and don't have to try.

Good luck, suckers.


*BT*

Greg Lindsay is a former media reporter at Inside.com. He dares you to find his Nerve ad.