Online Dating Community

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Conceptual Framework

To form a broad, philosophical base for the context of my research study, I rely on the notion of “the refusal of the subject-object dichotomy” provided by Steward and Mickunas (1990) and presented by Creswell in his work, “Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches” (2007). The basis of this theory is that, “the reality of an object is only perceived within the experience of an individual” (p. 59). I feel that this framework is applicable in my study because I am investigating the experiences of the users. In order to do that, I must acknowledge and understand that the reality of their experiences and of the POF community they are communicating to me exists only within their perception.

There is no singular, definite experience of an online dating community and thus the multiple realities of the online community differ among users. There are common aspects of the experience to be discovered, however, the reality of the phenomenon exists differently within each user. Maintaining the concept that reality and truth is individually founded is vital within this study while attempting to interpret user’s experiences and construct an explanation of the POF online dating community and the phenomenon of online dating.

In order to put this conceptual framework into practice within this study, I will remain open as an interviewer and researcher in that I will not sway their responses, force my personal opinion on participants or let my view overpower any data collected. In interviewing, I will also leave my questions very open ended and probe only for more rich and concise information, not to invade the privacy of participants. Questions will be very open and relatively vague to ensure the comfort and trust of participants and to allow for a diverse, rich array of responses.


In preparing to conduct the study, I first completed an outline detailing the phenomenon at hand, the purpose of the study, the theoretical perspective being taken, the research questions, the delimitations, the limitations, and a list of possible sources to review. In the outline, I also predicted which methods I would undergo in conducting the study including the sample of participants, data collection, my role as a researcher, the data analysis procedures, the data display, and the ways I could ensure trustworthiness. Finally, this outline detailed the potential significance my study would have when completed.

After the outline was completed, I began to prepare for the data collection process. First, I created a Hotmail account,, specifically for email correspondence and MSN Messenger interviews related to the study. With that, I then signed up as a user on Plenty of Fish under the name “student_researcher”. I filled out the required fields accurately according to my true identity in terms of location, age, education level, height, ethnicity and gender, because they were mandatory. In doing this, however, I kept my information as anonymous and vague as possible. In my profile, I wrote about my intent in joining the community,

“I am a 3rd year Communications student at the University of Ottawa conducting a research study exploring user’s experience of an online dating community. I am seeking users aged 23-30 who are out of school and working/beginning careers.

The study will deal with the user’s reasons for joining, their activities and usage of the community, their perception of the community, and their opinions regarding positive and negative aspects of the community.

If you are an involved, active member of this online community and wish to participate, please contact me. Interviews will be anonymous, time-friendly and non-intrusive. Interviews will be conducted over MSN Messenger.”

I then administered a purposive yet convenient data collection method, aiming to use the first 4-6 users who met my predetermined criteria and followed through with interviews. With that, I searched both male and female users aged 23-30 in the Ottawa area. I sent messages to 20 users through the internal messaging system, including 9 female users and 11 male users. I sent out a generic message that said the following:

Hi (username),
I’m a 3rd year Communications Student at the University of Ottawa. I’m conducting a research study on the user’s experiences of this online dating community. I’m looking for users aged 23-30 who are out of school and beginning careers/working. I would just require a quick, anonymous, non-intrusive interview conducted over MSN or any other form of electronic messenger you prefer. Your participation would be greatly appreciated and would contribute to both my pilot study and research of this topic in general! Please view my profile or message me for more information.


I received two replies from users who were willing to participate. Of these users, 1 was male and 1 was female. This is a low response, however, 7 interested users messaged me after seeing my profile and offered to help. Five of these users actually followed through by providing me with their e-mail address, and 4 of those ended up actually participating in interviews conducted over MSN Messenger.

All 4 of these were male participants, because the response of female users was minimal to nonresponsive. Before beginning the interviews, I e-mailed the participants a consent form to fill out and email back to me. I also wrote a list of interview questions derived from my central research questions driving the study. At that point, I arranged convenient times to interview the participants and conducted the interviews which each lasted roughly 30 minutes. I saved the interview MSN Messenger conversations in Word documents within a folder specifically for this research study, which is locked under my username in my personal computer.

During this process, my role as a researcher was to remain an observer. I kept all my introductory processes very professional and impersonal to prevent miscommunication of my intentions and to ward off POF users that contacted me for reasons beyond the study. I created a separate e-mail account and MSN list with participants to prevent any of the participants from contacting me outside of the study.

During the interviews, I probed for more information when needed, but did not ask overly personal questions to ensure the comfort of the participants and to maintain their trust in me as the researcher. There were a few instances where they asked me personal questions, so I answered in a polite but vague way to maintain the integrity and motive of the interview.

In order to analyze and synthesize the data I collected through the MSN Messenger interviews, I first considered my personal experiences with the phenomenon. I then developed a list of significant statements as gathered from the participants regarding how they experience POF, and went on to cluster them into larger theme units.

With that, I wrote a textural description about what they were experiencing and a structural description about how they were experiencing the phenomenon. I finished by synthesizing the ideas into a general concept that captures the essence of online dating through POF as a phenomenon. These steps will be explained in full detail in the following section.

Presentation of Data

As aforementioned, I had not personally utilized an online dating community and had no primary knowledge of the POF community. However, I had secondary knowledge of it based on the experiences of my friends and coworkers. Although I had not used a dating community, I had a thorough understanding of what they were and how they worked, and overall, was very aware of the phenomenon.In order to identify significant statements and themes, I coded the MSN Messenger interview files according to “how” participants experience POF and “what” they experience using a color-coding system.

The following section will outline the participant’s statements that pertain to the central questions of the present study in terms of how they experience the POF community. On the topic of how the features of the website itself effect his experience utilizing the community, Participant 1, Eric, said, “it depends how you use it…and I don’t use it the same way every time…it [the website features] may change the people you end up meeting.” He also felt that there were limits to the search engine because he would like to search for keywords in profiles.

Conversely, Participant 2, Fritzgerald, responded that he enjoys the broad options for searching users within the internal search engine, although he would like the site to have instant messaging as opposed to the internal email-style messaging system. Josh, participant 3, believed that the popularity of the site could be attributed to the fact that it is free to join and although the community itself held potential to give users what they are looking for (dating), he would “always like [meeting a partner face-to-face] better”. Further on the topic of how the site itself affected the experience, Participant 4, Ross, believed that “the ‘users you might be interested function’ never really worked…whatever algorithm they used to identify interests and ‘compatibility’ or ‘chemistry’ didn’t seem to work” for him. However, he felt that “there was no financial commitment if it didn’t work or stopped working.”

As far as their reasons for joining, Participant 1 signed up for POF because it is free and had more users than the previous dating community he was a part of. Participant 2, Fritzgerald, joined POF because, “a friend told [him] to”. Similarly, Participant 4, Ross, joined upon “the recommendation of a friend”. Josh, the third participant, joined because it was free and he was looking for a “decent local dating site” that would be better than the one he was on before that had a membership fee.From these significant statements regarding how the participants experience POF, I can derive four units of themes:

Search engine

Whether participants found the internal search engine of users to be useful or not, they felt that it played a role in how the website itself effected their experience of the online dating community.

The perceptions of the search engine differed among users, as one user found it to helpful and adequate whereas another felt it lacked some options such as profile keyword searches. Regardless of the impressions users had of the search engine, each one utilized it as a vital aspect to their experience.

No financial commitment

Most participants made reference to the free aspect of POF. It came across as a significant reason for signing up, and was a differentiating factor from other communities. It seemed that the free aspect of POF compensated for the experienced shortcomings of the community.

POF’s “matchmaking” function

Similar to the internal search engine, there is a function offering users suggestions for possible matches. According to a participant, this function effected how he experienced the site because the function was not that accurate in his experience. The function matches users based on common interests, which may not always be adequate in forming a connection for some users.

Word of mouth advertising

All 4 participants initially heard of the site or joined POF based on word-of-mouth experiences of friends. This commonality displays how POF spreads as a phenomenon among the general population and how non-users begin to experience the community. The popularity of the site can be attributed to the inclusive and free nature of the community. Since users have no financial ties, they can freely use it in whichever nature they desire to.

Based on the information gained from the participants in the MSN Messenger interviews, I am able to interpret what they experience as users in the POF community. All of the participants in my study have met face-to-face with people they initially “met” online through POF. The outcomes of these were varied in their success: 2 of the participants reported making friends through the site, but none of the 4 said that meetings led to something long-term, or accomplished their central goals for joining the site.

One participant mentioned the discrepancy between offline and online identities like the point mentioned in the review of Henry-Waning & Barraket’s study of online dating in Australia. Online dating leaves a lot to the imagination, and the fantasy a user constructs about their online interest does not always match the person’s identity in real life. Based on feedback given by the participants, I can assume that the POF community does not serve as the sole outlet for fulfilling their romantic goals.

It seemed that the participants used POF for actually finding the people they would not have met otherwise, however, it was only the starting point. Therefore, the participant’s experience of POF is that it is a temporary, introductory step to be abandoned after a face-to-face connection was established beyond POF. This concept also pertains to point raised in Henry-Waning & Barraket’s study that online dating reinforces “live” dating as opposed to changing the nature of it.

The users were also found to experience the pickiness of their fellow users due to the volume of people to choose from in the POF community. This notion was anticipated prior to the interviews due to the over-stimulated state of the current era. Participants accentuated said notion after experiencing a micro example of it within the context of POF.

Each user experienced different individually constructed realities of the POF community. A factor effecting how each user experiences POF is their self-proclaimed level of involvement in the community. To determine this, I asked each user what their involvement in the community is on a scale of 1-5. Participants 3 and 4 reported a 1, for minimal (checking mail 1-3 times per week), participant 2 said he had moderate involvement at a 3 on the scale, and participant 1 said he was very involved at a 5 on the scale. The level of use of the community plays a role in determining how each user constructs their experience of it and thus the reality of the POF community.

The essence of the online dating phenomenon through the POF community as gathered by the participants is generally that POF serves as an intermediary step between live dating and online dating. POF is viewed as a convenient, helpful and time-friendly way to initially meet people that users otherwise would not have had access to. However, POF was not the final answer to meeting and dating a partner. Because it is a free service, it holds an extensive body of users that are seen as more “average” compared to more serious and involved users of costly dating communities. Conversely, because it is so inclusive and popular, it is perceived to have a smaller selection of serious online daters who are looking for long-term relationships.Continued on Next Page »


Alapack, R., Flydal Blichfeldt, M., & Elden, A. (2005). Flirting on the internet and the hickey: a hermeneutic. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8(1), 52-61.

Barraket, J., Henry-Waring, M. (2008). Dating & intimacy in the 21st century: The use of online dating sites in Australia. International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, 6(1), 14-33.

Creswell, J.W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gunter, B. (2007). Internet dating: a British survey. Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives, 60(2), 88-98.

Appendix 1: MSN Messenger Interviews

Participant 1:

Éric says: (6:18:04 PM)

are you ready?

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:18:14 PM)

ya, i am if you are!

Éric says: (6:18:26 PM)

i am

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:19:05 PM)

alright, i'll begin then!

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:19:12 PM)

So first off, why did you sign up on Plenty of Fish?

Éric says: (6:19:33 PM)

cause i found a site with more people

Éric says: (6:19:38 PM)

pof ahah

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:20:04 PM)

there were more people on POF compared to another site you were on?

Éric says: (6:20:15 PM)


Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:20:49 PM)

so other than having more people, how does POF compare to other sites you've tried?

Éric says: (6:21:31 PM)

its free but not much serious people in there

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:22:00 PM)

what do you think most users are looking for?

Éric says: (6:22:31 PM)

quite vague question

Éric says: (6:22:57 PM)

many are looking for fun, some for sex, some for serious stuff

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:23:57 PM)

what are you looking for from the site?

Éric says: (6:24:13 PM)

long lasting love

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:24:57 PM)

do you think POF has potential for fulfilling that goal?

Éric says: (6:25:30 PM)

well since there are real people you can meet on there, of course

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:26:09 PM)

have you met up with people face-to-face that you met from the site?

Éric says: (6:26:18 PM)


Éric says: (6:26:27 PM)

a few

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:26:52 PM)

in person, how did they compare to their online profile and chatting?

Éric says: (6:27:55 PM)

its the same people as for the beliefs and kind of people

Éric says: (6:28:02 PM)

but its always differrent from what we imagine

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:29:34 PM)

alright. does the website give you what you're looking for? in terms of it's services, how it works, its layout, etc.

Éric says: (6:30:15 PM)

you work for pof?? lol

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:30:51 PM)

haha no! this is just a research study for school.

Éric says: (6:31:03 PM)


Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:31:55 PM)

just answer best as you can recall..did the website itself impact how you met people on there or what you thought of online dating?

Éric says: (6:32:33 PM)

you mean from their advices6

Éric says: (6:32:34 PM)


Éric says: (6:32:39 PM)


Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:35:18 PM)

from the different features of the website and how it works. like how you can search for users, or the messaging system, or the way the profiles are

Éric says: (6:37:20 PM)

i dont see how it could

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:38:32 PM)

so do you feel that the profiles, searching engines or any other feature of the website had no impact on your experience of the site?

Éric says: (6:39:11 PM)

well it depends how you use it

Éric says: (6:39:22 PM)

and i dont use it the same way every time

Éric says: (6:39:43 PM)

it may change the people you end up meeting

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:40:41 PM)

okay. how did you hear about POF?

Éric says: (6:41:08 PM)

from a friend

Andrea (Student Researcher) says: (6:41:39 PM)

on a scale from 1-5, how involved would you say you are in the POF site?

Éric says: (6:42:48 PM)

5 says: (6:43:25 PM)

have you ever been to their local events? the ones they host at bars and stuff?

Éric says: (6:43:42 PM)

no says: (6:44:23 PM)

alright. overall, how would you describe your experiences on POF? (sucesses, an observation, an opinion of it)

Éric says: (6:46:35 PM)

it opens possibilities but its still hard to find that person that is ready and open for it

Éric says: (6:46:47 PM)

sometimes it feels impossible :) says: (6:47:29 PM)

I see! why did you start looking for a long-term relationship online to begin with?

Éric says: (6:48:11 PM)

cause i was single

Éric says: (6:48:12 PM)


Éric says: (6:48:34 PM)

you dont need another reason than that

Éric says: (6:48:55 PM)

but im too shy to meet people from outside says: (6:49:38 PM)

ohh okay, i see. what are the downfalls or shortcomings of POF, if any?

Éric says: (6:51:32 PM)

the site or the online experience?

Éric says: (6:52:05 PM)

it would be that people judge too fast and doesnt give a chance to know a person says: (6:52:18 PM)

thats for online experience?

Éric says: (6:52:39 PM)

yes says: (6:53:10 PM)

what about for POF?

Éric says: (6:53:39 PM)

limits to the search engine.... says: (6:56:19 PM)

less users or the search engine itself?

Éric says: (6:57:13 PM)

it would be nice to search for keywords in the profile to find similar interests

Éric says: (6:57:23 PM)

more users is always good

Éric says: (6:57:25 PM)

too says: (6:59:24 PM)

alright, great answers! those are all the questions i have, do you have anything else to add?

Éric says: (6:59:51 PM)

have you tried it?

Éric says: (6:59:52 PM)

ahah says: (7:00:25 PM)

haha good question! i've heard about it from friends but never signed up myself until i made my researching profile

Participant 2: says: (7:12:04 PM)

do you have time for that quick interview now? it is there a better time that works for you?

fritzgerald says: (7:12:15 PM)

now is ok says: (7:12:47 PM)

alright, awesome. i'll begin: says: (7:13:00 PM)

So first off, why did you sign up on Plenty of Fish?

fritzgerald says: (7:14:09 PM)

my friend told me to join.

fritzgerald says: (7:14:25 PM)

but hadn't heard of it be4 that. says: (7:15:07 PM)

was it the first dating site you singed up for?

fritzgerald says: (7:15:52 PM)

yes says: (7:17:24 PM)

what are you looking for from the site?

fritzgerald says: (7:18:34 PM)

dating and making friends says: (7:19:18 PM)

so far, have you found this from the site?

fritzgerald says: (7:21:38 PM)

So far I have been on two dates but made more friends I will say 5 to be exact says: (7:23:22 PM)

Alright. In your experience, what do you think most users are looking for?

fritzgerald says: (7:23:54 PM)

male or female? says: (7:24:36 PM)


fritzgerald says: (7:28:05 PM)

well from my point of view I think many people think its easier to fine the special person online than in a regular scenario.. says: (7:28:30 PM)

why would you say that is?

fritzgerald says: (7:31:08 PM)

haven known or met people throught online dating I think thats what a majority of them think.

fritzgerald says: (7:31:53 PM)

I have asked the same question too before and got same responses or something similar says: (7:32:44 PM)

I see.Do you think POF offers people what they are looking for in an online dating community?

fritzgerald says: (7:33:43 PM)

Yes says: (7:34:56 PM)

How do the site features enhance or take away from the online dating experience? (the profile layouts, the search engine for users, the messaging, etc).

fritzgerald says: (7:39:16 PM)

The layout is ok. As for the search engine, it gives u many options to narrow or broaden ur search criteria on what u r looking for which is nice. Don't have any issues with the messaging though.

fritzgerald says: (7:40:53 PM)

I would like something more of an intant msging thing than having to keep msging pple. says: (7:41:39 PM)

Alright!On a scale of 1-5 how involved would you say you are in the POF community?

fritzgerald says: (7:42:10 PM)

3 says: (7:43:15 PM)

alright, so moderate? from that, what would you say is your overall experience of the site? (sucesses, observations, opinion on it)

fritzgerald says: (7:48:37 PM)

I would say my overall experience on the site has been great. One other observation I have seen on the site is that ladies overall are really selective which is kind of fun to see. Though its safe to say same as the guys haha says: (7:49:21 PM)

Haha, so you'd say both guys and ladies are both able to be selective on the site?

fritzgerald says: (7:50:02 PM)

yeap safe to say.... says: (7:51:06 PM)

thats interesting! okay, those are all my questions. unless you have anything to add, we're all finished up

Participant 3:

josh says: (7:25:42 PM)

ask me what youd like to know says: (7:26:11 PM)

alright, i'll start: says: (7:26:26 PM)

So first off, why did you sign up on Plenty of Fish?

josh says: (7:28:56 PM)

sry was away for a moment says: (7:29:09 PM)

thats alright. answer whenever you're ready

josh says: (7:30:02 PM)

it all started out looking for a decent local dating site,

josh says: (7:30:47 PM)

than realizing almost every other site costs money to use , where plentyoffish has always been free to everyone

josh says: (7:30:57 PM)

i think thats why its so popular says: (7:31:46 PM)

alright, have you tried other dating sites?

josh says: (7:32:32 PM)

yes i tried aff last year and paid but im looking for that now

josh says: (7:32:46 PM)

sprry not looking

josh says: (7:33:09 PM)

do you know of aff says: (7:33:37 PM)

no, i've never heard of that

josh says: (7:34:10 PM)

ok well it a very popular site for flings or one nighters basically

josh says: (7:34:32 PM)

for woman its free

josh says: (7:34:50 PM)

men pay 20 to 60 a month roughly

josh says: (7:35:06 PM)

seems pathetic somehow

josh says: (7:35:07 PM)

lol says: (7:35:28 PM)

haha thats interesting. What were yo

(Works with EndNote, ProCite, & Reference Manager)

APA 6th

Quesnel, A. (2010). 'Online Dating Study: User Experiences of an Online Dating Community.' Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse, 2(11). Retrieved from


Quesnel, Andrea. 'Online Dating Study: User Experiences of an Online Dating Community.' Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse 2.11 (2010). <>

Chicago 16th

Quesnel, Andrea. 2010. Online Dating Study: User Experiences of an Online Dating Community. Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse 2 (11),


QUESNEL, A. 2010. Online Dating Study: User Experiences of an Online Dating Community. Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse [Online], 2. Available:

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