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Selecting the Right Dating Site Software

Mark Brooks is starting a list of Dating Software and Services similar to my Tools & Services directory. At least that’s what I though until I looked at the date of the post, April 13, 2006. I thought it was from last week. My inability to read dates correctly, I couldn’t help but start writing responses to commenters, albeit one year later.

To get started: here are some of the issues I have with these types of lists.

  • Lot’s of systems get on there that shouldn’t be.
  • No technical due diligence is performed.
  • Most of the people who complain about the software are not programmers, so their angry lashing out is biased.
  • When it comes to dating site software, offshore developers aren’t going to save you a dime. In fact, they are going to cause you many more problems.
  • While I am about as virtual as you can get, I like to be able to be close enough to my developers that I can buy them a beer while we talk shop an well as be able to chew them out in person when they stray off course.
  • Someone on Mark’s list said that custom coding is the way to go. That was obviously written by a programmer.
  • Most every dating site in a box will not scale to millions of daily pageviews. Just ask the IT guys at Match, or Markus at Plenty Of Fish. Ask dating site developers about load balancers and watch their expression.

These are generalizations, mind you. There are some incredibly talented developers and businesspeople putting together dating site systems and hosted solutions. The problem is they are difficult to find, or expensive, or not customizable enough. No one solution is ever going to be perfect. You have to prepare to get the short end of the stick on a few things.

Be incredibly careful about working with vendors and developers outside of the US. This is a general statement that will upset many incredibly talented developers and companies, but after hearing people complain about non-US vendors for years, take heed when you’re paying someone in foreign currency to develop your dating site.

Hosted services. If you want a site that looks just like every other third-tier dating site out there, and shares the same questionable profiles with hundreds of other sites, go for it, and expect to give up 20-50% of your revenue for the privilege.

From what I’ve seen hosted white-label social networking sites are far better managed than dating sites. Better code, better service and less hassle overall. I’ve also never used a hosted dating site myself and never recommend them to a client unless they are a tiny niche site and know nothing about internet businesses and have money to throw around. That hardly ever happens. Perhaps SkaDate or Dolphin or World Dating Partners are exceptions to this rule.
If you are hot to trot about a cool niche site for dirt bike riders or left-handed volleyball players, go start a site at Ning.com. You’ll be up and running in a few hours and promoting the site in a few days.

Your site most likely won’t need to scale to millions of users, and if it does, so what? At that point you’ll have so much money you can rebuild while you grow, like Myspace did and Friendster didn’t.

Mark’s statement that it takes $100,000 to seed your community surprised me. Mark, surely you mean to add a zero to that number. Whatever the number, it’s related to your target audience, for one thing. If you target techie early adopters, all you need to do is start a blog and get mentioned on TechCrunch.

The problem is with most new sites, it’s not the first 50,000 visitors that count, it’s the 50,000 after that. Lots of people will check out your site when it launches, and never come back.

Small nice sites, you better know where your potential members already hang out online. If you don’t, you’re in big trouble, go find them.

I still say it costs several million dollars in marketing money to build up a decent-sized dating site. Some things get cheaper like hardware and development costs due to advances in software. Marketing just gets more and more expensive.

As Sam Moorcroft, owner of ChristianCafe said in Mark’s post, not to dissuade new competitors, but you will most likely lose your shirt trying to start a mass-market dating site these days.

Affiliate marketing is a waste of time unless you are a big name brand. Save your energy for other traffic driving experiments.

Emil Sarnogoev has a seriously great comment on Mark’s blog. Where has he been hiding out? Robert Fathers has a great comment as well, I’m not going to repeat what they say here, I would though, because I agree on almost all points both make.

I agree with Markus on a few points as well. Relationship Exhange could have owned this market and since they have been bought and sold and bought have lost momentum which is too bad they had a good thing going.

Someone named Andreas made a good time-capsule comment, basically that it’s $100k and a 12 months to get a ground-up development project to where existing high-end dating scripts are out of the box.

I say $50k and a month, tops.

If you build, customize or sell dating site systems, scripts or anything related, head on over to the Tools & Services Submit Form and send me your details. I’ll post on the page when I do the next update.

Installing Boonex Dolphin in 42 Minutes

I was on the phone today with a client who had an older version of aeWebworks (now called Boonex) dating software, which is now called Dolphin. I went over to Boonex and checked out the live demo and thought, what the heck, lets’ see how difficult it is to install.

Disclaimer: Now before people get all worked up, remember, this is an unscientific undertaking and I am not an IT guru, although I am quite familiar with blog software. Nobody paid me to write about this, I was simply curious, as the Boonex posts here get tons of comments from people either very happy with the software, or totally pissed off at the lack of custmer support. I got some grief today about an affiliate link to Webscribble, another popular dating-site-in-a-box. I had forgotten all about that link. Long time readers will also notice the ads in the sidebar. The ads are affiliate links, mostly for clients. They exist for several reasons, I am curious about which get the most clicks, and they provide me with beer money. Maybe sometime I’ll set up sites with other systems, it’s not on my radar at present. End disclaimer.

Initial setup was a breeze, nothing to it. I immediately digressed into reading manual pages of unix commands, which probably doubled the setup time. I could have done everything from my FTP client but sometimes you just like to fire up the command line and get under the hood and I like to exercise my inner sysadmin from time to time.

Step 1: download software
Step 2: upload to web host
Step 3: create database.
Step 4: fiddle with file permissions,
Step 5: log into new dating site.

Time spent: 42 minutes.

Time customizing theme and getting ready for real traffic: Unknown. I couldn’t figure out how to tweak the CSS that drives the themes from within the admin interface, which led me to the Expertzzz forums and Wiki, which worked for a few minutes, then promptly broke:

Cannot complete query (query):
DELETE FROM `boon_sessions` WHERE `time` < 1174515947
Incorrect key file for table ‘boon_sessions’; try to repair it

Oops. Talk about bad timing. If they can’t get links to the support database working, what other problems are lurking just around the corner?

Notes from the install process

Make sure your host has all of the necessary programs and features to run Dolphin. If they don’t, you’re out of luck. It appears that a lot of people b0rk the initial install because they are not paying attention, and then complain loudly in the forums. This is not the case for all install-related issues though.

Read the Dolphin Wiki to get started and have the forum in another browser tab for easy reference.

Permissions instructions are not clear and need to be redone. For latest version 5.6, told to change permissions on directories that don’t exist.

They need to add an alert to change default password. Hint, it’s under Global settings menu.
this should show up in control panel at first login.

Dive into Global Settings menu:view all. Review and make changes. Pretty straightforward.

Fix: “Bread cramp divider” should be “bread crumb” in main Admin panel. There are a lot of spllelling mitsakes in the documentation and administration interface. This can make certain tasks challenging, but not as much as the lack of links to help and documentation from within the admin interface. That’s just plain lazy on the part of Boonex. They don’t understand that the more help you give people right in the page they are working on, the less cluttered their support forums will be with newbie questions.

Some of the admin settings are real head-scratchers and you end up burning a lot of time trying to figure out what certain terms mean.

CSS templates are not writable by default, so you have to manually change permissions, but that info is not readily available. A system that makes it difficult to apply your design to it’s templates is not fun. Witholding judgement until I can read the manual.

Sumitting an event for the event listing page did not go well. After clearing all the errors pop-ups, I submit the event, page reloads back to main manage events page with error:

Wrong date format for wrong

What does that mean? Back to the forums to figure it out, wait, they are broken, so I’m spinning my wheels trying to get the event posted. Why are events listed down to the second? Not all events require tickets or max # of people. Didn’t like my initial password. Decide to move on and add some news items into various custom categories, which goes smoothly.

When I created my profile, the link from confirmation email didn’t work.

Height is in ranges, should be inches or cm.

No default IM? Need to upgrade? Over to Userplane (advertiser on this blog). Will integrate that later. Userplane still references Boonex as AE Webworks, need to change the email templates.

Adding new questions to profile. This is super important for any dating site, and was problematic for me. Changing the search type of the new question refreshes the page and your new question is not saved. No clear description of search type, match type or match field. What does all that mean? Where is the link to the description of these fields?

Orca Forum. Never loaded, the cool new AJAX features are broken, kept trying to reload the page. Perhaps it was because I was using Safari on Mac to load the live site. Maybe it’s great, who knows. I prefer phpBB.

New questions, rearranging modules and theming are probably the most important to new dating site owners, or people moving over from another platform. I may add more to this later when I embed Userplane and tweak the CSS.

So far so good, not bad for a few hours work, but a long way to go to make it look unique and get all functionality rolling the way I want it to.

ModMySite is an active forum for Dolphin administrators.

That’s as far as I got, go check it out.

Still here? Type Boonex or aewebworks in the search box here and see what comes up. Lot’s more insight from people with a lot more experience than me with Dolphin.

New Dating Script

Dmitry Rudakov wrote from Moscow to tell me about his social-dating software script AbleDating. All he said was that they pay attention to some “tasty� things like 3d chat, games etc. Has anyone used this? Leave a comment is you have any experience with this $597 script.

Screenshots remind me a little of Cyworld, the US version of the immensely popular South Korean social network.

GPLDate, New Dating Site Software

Several times a week people ask me to recommend which dating site software or platform is “the best.”

Being that I am not a developer, I point people to the Tools area as a good starting point and let them come to their own conclusion, hopefully with a knowledgeable developer close at hand.

Intrepid online dating entrepreneurs may want to check out GPLDate, which Rob from ModMySite announced recently.

ModMySite provides help, support, modifications, and upgrades for the GPLdate Open Source Dating / Community Script, BoonEx Dolphin – Smart Community Builder Script (GPL), the BoonEx Dolphin Dating Script, the aeWebWorks aeDating Dating Script, and other related PHP / mySQL based Applications.

I really with they had come up with a better name than GPLDate. GPL stands for general public license, too generic.

The ModMySite contains a forum, which might be a good place for those of you looking for assistance with your site or help selecting dating site software.

Is anyone using Webscribble? I know several companies developing services for dating sites are using Webscribble for their test sites and have been surprised the software is not receiving more attention.

BoonEx (used to be AE Webworks) Dolphin script gets mentioned a lot in the comments here. I’ve not used it myself but I tend to lump all inexpensive script packages together, for good or for bad.

Often one would categorize dating sites in a box as reliable, scalable, extendable or the right price. Problem is you can only pick three, you never get four out of four.

Technorati Tags: gpldate

Online Matchmaking With Virtual Dates

Yesterday I had coffee with Jeana Frost, creator of Virtual Dates, an application well suited for the icebreaker portion of meeting someone online. You know the feeling. Someone catches your eye, but their profile doesn’t leave you with much to start a conversation with. You sit there re-reading the profile over and over, trying to glean that tidbit of information that’s going to tip the scale over and have you reaching for the Wink or Email button.

Suffice to say it was clear early on in our conversation that we shared common ground when it comes to our views on the shortcomings of online dating.

Jeana and her fellow academics think the current model for meeting someone online is artificial and static, and far removed from everyday social interaction. I couldn’t agree more.

According to Jeana and co’s research, online dating is terribly inefficient, lacks appropriate filters and a mechanism for social feedback. Where is the information we really want to know about a person? The attributes we need most that aren’t described by income, religion or favorite sports team?

To begin to address the perceived shortcomings of today’s dating sites, Jeana built Virtual Dates while at the MIT Media Lab. Virtual Dates is built on Chat Circles, part of of Sociable Media Group.

Chat Circles is an abstract graphical interface for synchronous text conversation. Here, color and form are used to convey social presence and activity, and proximity-based filtering is used intuitively to break large groups into conversational clusters. The system also includes an integrated history interface, which visualizes archival Chat Circle logs. Our goal in this work is to create a richer environment for online discussions.

While I haven’t seen the demo, from the description, it sounds like it could be a useful feature for dating and social networking sites, if the user experience is done just right and the final product is properly integrated. It’s got to be dead simple to stick on a site like a Userplane chat and tightly integrated, like WeAttract on Yahoo Personals. Speaking of WeAtttract, whatever happened to them?

I’m often frustrated with my dating site clients when it comes to baseline metrics for measuring various site stats. Thankfully, being a Media Lab alumni, Jeana knows how important the role of data logging can be in monitoring and measuring the performance of an application like Virtual Dates.

Thankfully there is a phenomenal testing lab available, Myspace. Unleash your app out into the wild, get 50k users in a few weeks and log loads of data about how people are, and aren’t using the service.

Less than half of all singles in the US has tried online dating. The other half remains a cagey quarry unlikely to sign up for a dating site any time soon due to a number of factors, known and unknown.

Dating sites should be doing everything in their power to figure out ways to entice more people to try online dating. Adding social networking features is part of the solution, but the real answer is the unknown and often intangible gut reaction people get to a particular blend of features, user experience and quality of the members. The vibe of a site is often what makes or breaks it’s success and it’s almost impossible to stumble across the perfect blend of paid subscription, social networking, dating, collaboration and communication tools which will define the online dating experience of the future.

Perhaps applications like Virtual Dates, or an environment based on the concept, is what’s needed to entice the other 50 million singles to give online dating a shot.

Jeana’s dissertation is titled “Decision Making in the Information Age: A Study of and Design for Online Dating.” You can bet that’s going to be on my reading shelf in the near future. Harvard Business School did a story on Virtual Dates last week.

Dating and social networking executives would do well to seek out Jeana at jeana.frost at gmail dot com to find out more about how new social interaction applications will drive the next generation of online dating and social networking. If enough interest is drummed up, I’m hoping we’ll see Virtual Dates on dating sites soon enough.

Technorati Tags: , , virtual+dates

Friday 8-25 Links: JDate, Apple, Tribe.net, SkaDate, Facebook

JDupe: PocketChange mag dupes women into meeting mirage Richard Nouveau via JDate.

Re-Tribe: Mark Pincus is back as CEO of Tribe.net after being ousted in April. (possible hoax?)

Ex eDonkey (file sharing service) CEO starts YADS (Yet Another Dating Site). Supposedly traffic is thriving.

Version 5 of SkaDate software is available. What is it with the Eastern European lock on dating site software?

FaceBook adds blogs, just don’t call them that.

JDate gets political: raises $30,000 in donations for children in the North affected by the conflict.

Apple, Microsoft Try Social Software Model: Apple’s new OS, Leopard will have wikis and social networking feature. Microsoft announced XNA Game Studio Express, which costs $99 per year and allows you to compile code to run on PCs and the 360 as well as share your work with others in the same network.

Technorati Tags: , , dating+site+software, , SkaDate

Dating Software Reviews

Dating Software Reviews is a community of webmasters and dating scripts clients that offer reviews of online dating applications and services provided by dating software development companies. Dating platforms range from php to asp based applications, free, private and hosted solutions.

As with all community forums and review sites, your mileage may, no, will, vary. Some people put more time and effort into reviews, others simply mention the most popular packages or list every software package even remotely related to dating.

Technorati Tags: dating+software+reviewsq

ModMySite Dating Software Forum

I just found out about ModMySite, a forum focused on the discussion, support, and modification of PHP/MySQL based Internet Dating applications.

We currently support aeWebWorks AEdating, BoonEx Dolphin, and other popular dating platforms. Forums include topics like General Troubleshooting, Bugs, BBS, Forums, Blogs, Guestbooks, Chat, Shoutbox, Instant Messenger, Database, Graphics, Templates, Language Files, Payment Processing, Promotion, Affiliates, Security, Server Administration, Upgrading, and a free Mod Exchange.

I haven’t spent much time there but with all the emails and comments on the blog about different dating site software options I thought this might be helpful to some of you. Make sure to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Technorati Tags: modmysite

BoonEx Dating Software Revolution

Andrey Sivtsov, General Director, BoonEx Group, sent along clarifications about the BoonEx/AEWebworks deal. It was a bit confusing to say the least which is why I am writing this. Bias alert: Boonex/AE is an advertiser, if you think the amount of money I get from the few ads on this blog is enough to bias me you don’t know enough about blogging.

BoonEx is a privately owned company, based in Kyrgyz Republic, established in the end of 2005. BoonEx was founded by AEwebworks co-owner. In the end of 2005 AEwebworks properties were split between co-owners and AEwebworks website along with aeDating software legally became a property of BoonEx Group.

BoonEx will continue to support all AEwebworks customers and aeDating software, as per aeDating license agreement. Theyrecommend switching to Dolphin or Shark, as they believe that BoonEx delivery terms and support system is more effective for customers than those of AEwebworks.

What is Shark? Shark is dating business software. Shark was designed and developed by BoonEx Group from ground up and it is a truly high-end product for running a high-scale dating website. Shark has compiled C-based backend and PHP/AJAX-based front-end. Shark doesn’t have the variety of functions as Dolphin does, because it has different philosophy. They are working on the main engine, trying to polish it, while extra features can be developed individually for any specific customer. Shark is meant to be a corporate solution with main focus on business and marketing tools, greater stability and security levels.

BoonEx is now in the process of porting popular aeDating templates into Dolphin (web community software). They also plan to release a few new products and upgrade current ones.

More on Ray, Barracuda and Dolphin.

Technorati Tags: aewebworks,

Interview with Webscribble

I recently found out about a company called Webscribble, which has a private-label dating site software solution called webDate. The only other major offering I’ve come across that approached the same feature set is from AE Webworks. Since I get asked about private-lable sites all the time, and being an inquisitive guy, I emailed Webscribble to find out more about the company and it’s offering for the dating industry.

ODI: General Webscribble background

Web Scribble has been in business for over four years. We initially started with some small PHP based products that we sold on our web site. Our first major product, and one of our most successful products to date, was webDate. The first version of webDate was released in 2002 and we have since been constantly adding new features and improvements to it.

ODI: WebDate, 10 versions in 2 years, a mature product?

WebDate is one of the oldest and most mature dating software packages currently on the market. Since its debut in 2002 we have released 10 versions, each having enhancements and new features. Many of the features we implement for webDate are from customers requests and we are constantly adding new features to the software. Through the years, we have made stability, scalability, and feature set our highest priority. The software has matured to a point where it is very stable, with very few bugs and problems. We strive to help our customers succeed; whether they’re looking to start a small hobby site, or run a large site with tens, or even hundreds of thousands of members, webDate was built to handle it. Many of our clients have had some huge successes with their sites, and some have been published in newspapers, radio, and even on TV shows.

ODI: How is it competing with AE Webworks?

It’s difficult to say exactly how well we are competing, since we obviously don’t have AE Webworks’ sales data. We feel that webDate is very competitive with AE Webworks in terms of features and price. We actually have many customers who have converted from aeDating to webDate. Many of those customers cited a lack of support or communication problems with overseas techs as reasons for switching. webDate’s feature list is also very comprehensive, well planned, and implemented. We do not add new features to the software just to say we have them. Instead, we carefully plan each new addition, and get customer input on anything that we might be missing.

ODI: Where are you based?

Our offices are located in upstate New York, just outside of Albany.

ODI: I didn’t know cowboydate ran on webdate. I love that site.

Yes, they are one of our clients! They’ve done a great job with their site and are a real success story. CowboyDate has been running webDate for over three years now and is one of our older clients.

ODI: How many customers, how many sites hosted?

Unfortunately, we don’t disclose that information to the public.

ODI: What about Free installation?

Our customers vary in technical ability, which is why we offer a free installation with every purchase. We will install the software on any server as long as meets the system requirements for the software. The installations take a maximum of three business days to complete after we receive the request, but we often finish them in under a day.

ODI: Custom work

We realize that many companies and individuals may need assistance in customizing their site and adding new features to make it more competitive and unique. For this reason, we make our talented programmers available for custom work. In most cases, we can provide a price quote up front so the customer has an idea of the costs involved in the customization being requested.

ODI: Why is Zend Optimizer Required?

There are two reasons we use Zend Optimizer. The first is to protect against software piracy. We had some major piracy problems with our earlier products and we made a business decision to use Zend Optimizer and implemented a licensing system to help curb piracy.

The second reason we use Zend Optimizer is to optimize certain PHP code (they don’t call it Zend Optimizer for nothing!). The code that’s encrypted is core backend code that never needs to be modified by the customer. At the same time, since it’s an important part of the system, the code benefits from being encrypted because it runs faster.

ODI: Why so inexpensive as opposed to competitors such as aewebworks?

Our pricing structure varies quite a bit from AE Webworks. Rather than forcing customers to pay a large amount up front, we let our customers purchase just what they need.

The basic software package is $199, but we also have some optional plug-ins that can be purchased. Plug-ins are enhancements to the web site that may be great additions to some site, but not to others.

For example, we have a U.S. zip code plug-in that allows members to find others a certain number of miles away from their zip code. While this is a great addition for sites targeting U.S. members, it may not be a good fit for those targeting a country with no postal codes.

What makes our pricing structure so great is that you only buy what you need. You don’t have to pay extra for features you’ll never use.

ODI: What is average ticket price $199 + ?

It’s very common for customers to purchase at least one plug-in after they purchase webDate. Plug-ins allow our customers to add enhancements to their sites and to stay on top of a highly competitive industry.

ODI: Does Userplane provides the Live video? Is this a frequent module?

No, we actually have our own live video plug-in, which is not powered by Userplane. However, we have had some customers use Userplane for live video on their sites.

ODI: What are the most common modules ordered?

We have a very diverse client base that targets different niche markets all over the globe. As a result, there is no common set of plug-ins that are purchased. I would say one of the more popular is the U.S. zip code plug-in for those targeting U.S. singles.

ODI: Future plans?

We plan to continue developing webDate and are currently working on a new version. The next version of webDate will surpass all competitors in features and usability. We are completely revamping our administrative area to make it more user friendly. We will be adding many new features including blogging support, WYSIWYG template editor, more advanced subscription support, and much more.

Thanks to Alexander at Web Scribble Solutions for the information.

Technorati Tags: webdate, webscribble