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In case you missed it, the battleground for online dating dominance shifted over the weekend.

First, we learned that True.com is most likely delinquent on its advertising payments. As a result True’s ads are increasingly harder to find in the usual places like Myspace and it’s rankings continue to sink. More in the New York Times article, Is True.com Being Untrue to Advertising Partners?

A few datapoints:

  • In June of 2006, True.com has been ranked as the nation’s No. 1 dating site, according to Hitwise.
  • September 2006 I wrote that True was going to internally build and launch a targeted on-site advertising system. This was the first sign of trouble. Why go to the trouble to build an ad serving system when there are literally dozens to partner with?
  • Back in March Markus wrote that True now has more unique visitors per month than singlesnet and match.com combined.
  • Then came the Hot But Virtious New York Times article. Look at the traffic spike, then drop- off.

True.com Compete.com analytics 2007

True.com Match.com Quantcast analytics 2007

I’ve been saying all along that the True revenue juggernaut would never last. The capitalists will argue that “at least True made a lot of money,” but is that really how you want to measure success in the online dating space? And did they really?

Mark Brooks thinks ad rates will most likely go down and is worried that True.com damaged the reputation of the online dating industry. Certainly, some other site like Mate1 or SinglesNet will come in and pump up ad rates back up again. As for the reputation of the industry, we know all about that already.

Do you think this kind of stuff is being talked about at Tech Crunch 40 today? Of course not. silicon Valley and the Web 2.0 crowd are much more civil for the most part, because they understand that the stakes are much higher and that your competition might end up as your partner so it’s best to play as nice as possible. Not so in Texas, where is seems just about anything goes.

The dating industry has become a bare-knuckle brawl, the winners relying on creative accounting, sketchy business practices, low-brow advertising and questionable black-box matching systems.

And how is the consumer fairing in the middle of the mess? Not so well. A less than one percent success rate is nothing to crow about. Clearly, recommending people is a lot harder than introducing someone to a new band or author. We have a long way to go before online dating can be considered anything close to a successful industry. Yes, I know, $700 million in revenue, but I’ve never seen this number even remotely backed up?

With all the hype around Niche sites, they aren’t taking the business away from paid sites like everyone thought. Neither are the free sites for that matter, but that is a different topic alltogether.

Love Ain’t Chemistry

Upset at the idea of being Rejected by consumers, eHarmony has brought a complaint against Chemistry.com before the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The division ruled last week that Chemistry failed to defend its claim that it could use the “latest science of attraction to predict which single men and women you’ll have a relationship and dating chemistry with.” The division said Chemistry should discontinue that claim as well as several related to it.

Match said it disagrees with certain of NAD’s findings but would discontinue the claims at issue. NAD can refer cases to regulatory bodies, including the Federal Trade Commission, if its recommendations aren’t followed.

I have spend some time with Helen Fisher, the anthropologist who created the Chemistry matchmaking system and while I’m no scientist, I place a higher value on brain chemistry than I do answering multiple-choice tests, so there is my bias, right out in the open.

I’d like to know how the BBB was able to effectively consider all the evidence in just a few weeks. Here’s a link to the report,which is impossible to bookmark on the NAD website and downloaded as an asp file type for some reason.

Claims at issue included:

  • “Introducing Chemistry.com—the first online personals site to understand the importance of chemistry in dating, serious relationships and even marriage.â€?

I’ll buy that, eHarmony doesn’t focus on Chemistry and it is the name of the company after all (Raises eyebrows).

  • “At Chemistry.com we move beyond online personals and get you out dating in the real world faster, because that’s what really matters to single men and women who are seeking serious relationships or even marriage.â€?

I don’t see anything wrong with claiming to get you dating faster. Maybe call it a goal of the service?

  • “Once we have your results, we use the latest science of attraction to predict which single men and women you’ll have a relationship and dating chemistry with.â€?

No problem with that, it’s the basis for the entire business model. Did the NAD read up on current state of the art matching and decide that Chemistry was not utilizing the latest science? I’m back to questioning what the BBB knows about scientific matching and what are the criteria for analysis?

  • “It’s our belief that meaningful relationships are built on two equally important foundations: compatibility and chemistry. Other sites may help you find out if you’re compatible, but only Chemistry’s next-generation system, based on years of research into human attraction and successful relationships, is designed to help you find both of these essential elements.â€?

Dr. Fisher labeled her research as preliminary, -1 points.

  • “An advanced matching system that combines compatibility with chemistry.â€?

Hard to call this one. A great turn of phrase (says the marketer in me.)

  • “Chemistry.com is the first site to match by both compatibility and chemistry.â€?

Replace chemistry with zip code or shoe size, is that wrong?

  • “Chemistry.com is unique in several other ways as well. The 1-2-3 Meet process enables you to learn some important things about your potential partner before you meet, hence alleviating some of the awkwardness of our first encounter. The scheduling tool makes it easy to find a time and place to meet. Chemistry.com also provides you with potential matches so you don’t have to make the initial approach yourself.â€?

-1 point, that is basically the eHarmony pitch except they have something like 15 steps.
Eharmony has some incredibly smart people on their team, as does Chemistry. From my perspective, would you rather answer questions about the length of your fingers or answer 436 questions? Guess what, people like to do both.

Eharmony has prevailed this round and Chemistry clearly needs to focus and stay the course and keep the marketing machine going if they want to compete head to head with eHarmony.

Can you imagine if the Federal Trade Comission has to get involved and people start looking at True? Total bloodbath, nobody wins except for social networks, which by the way are all instituting background checks.

Finally, we have Match and WeAttract going at it this month and Yahoo! Personals settling out of court. It’s a good time to be a laywer in the online dating space.

One final thought. eHarmony = Microsoft and Chemistry = Apple.