WOMEN
12/15/2011 04:02 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2011

Nerve.com Launches Algorithm-Free Online Dating Site

Anyone who has crafted a message on OkCupid knows that online dating is still a very unnatural act. You scan the stranger's profile, wittily riff off of their listed interests, insert a few choice questions, and acknowledge how weird the whole thing is (using the words "sorry," "apologize," and "awkward" in your first message ups the likelihood of reply). Nerve.com hopes to make this whole experience less stilted, and on Wednesday launched its new love portal, Nerve Dating.

It isn't Nerve.com's first foray into online matchmaking. Nerve Personals were also intended to "energize the world of online dating" over a decade ago. Rufus Griscom, who co-founded the site, told the New York Press then that on Nerve you'd "be able to go online and say, 'I'm looking for someone who loves Faulkner, hates their mother..." It was "literate smut" for the affluent and college-educated lonely heart.

But the internet has changed in the past ten years, and Nerve is apparently trying to change with it. The new site has no pleading personals, no questionnaires, no algorithms, according to the New York Times' "Bits" blog. Nerve Dating takes the hint from Twitter and Facebook, and allows potential romancers to break the ice through a flowing stream of public updates. You can go onto the page "What did you do last night?" and see if someone's yesterday strikes your fancy. In the "Opinions" section, you can check out other users' thoughts on culture, sex and dating, or other soul-stripping questions, like "The Ghostbuster I most relate to is…"

And if you want to message someone, it'll cost you $20 a month. Sean Mills, the CEO of Nerve, told the Times that the fee serves as a filter that "benefits everyone on the site."

Nerve Dating isn't the first matchmaking site to integrate social networking features. That honor in fact goes to OkCupid, which allowed users to write journal entries, create quizzes, and instant message prospective paramours. Many dating sites have followed. Zoosk, which started as a Facebook app, is run exactly like a social network, and took home $90 million last year. Heartbroker lets you set up your Facebook friends.

Many have pursued the dream of making online dating less awkward. Grouper sets up three girls and three boys with info gleaned from their Facebook profiles, based on the logic that a "social club" is less potentially horrifying than a blind date.

On Grindr, users meet each other based entirely on physical proximity. So your message doesn't communicate, "I'm really into you." It means only, "I'm here, you're here, what do you say?"

In years past, online dating sites vied for domination based on the genius of their algorithms. eHarmony bragged about its 258-question personality test, which is responsible, it claims, for nearly 120 weddings a day. A sociologist devised the algorithm for Perfectmatch.com, while Chemistry.com is founded on an algorithm designed by an anthropologist well-versed in neural chemistry.

These websites took on the role traditionally occupied by families, churches, and clubs. When it came to love, they knew better than you. But the younger set is rebelling against this top-down matchmaking and its invisible mechanizations.

That could be because the younger generation has been raised on social media, and finds the frozen profiles and secret behind-the-scenes workings of many dating sites uncomfortably old school. The majority of the users on eHarmony, on the other hand, are over 35, and are less likely to be fluent in the ways of the social web.

"The story of online dating has become about algorithms and not about having fun with people online," said Mills. "We're moving away from the algorithm era into the social era. This is a dating site that reflects how the Web has changed."

Singles in their 20s and early 30s are also often looking for good times more than "the one," and so prefer the freedom to pick their partners. If these people reach 35, and the instant messages and status updates have failed to garner a true love match, then maybe that they'll admit defeat, throw up their arms, and surrender themselves to the almighty algorithm, too.

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