There's not a day when Chris Wardzala doesn't think about how he unexpectedly met his fiance. It wasn't in a bar, at the office or through friends.
Instead, it was the Twitterverse that brought them together.
"It was so random and just so weird. I think about how crazy it's been that we met online in a place where we're so restricted in what we can say," said Wardzala, who teaches classes and workshops at the Apple store on Michigan Avenue.
Both new to the microblogging service in 2007, Wardzala and Magdelyn Skacan ended up following each other, at first sharing 140-character tweets about computer problems and sci-fi movies. It wasn't long before they were on their way to tweet love.
They exchanged e-mails, talked on the phone and hopped on planes to visit each other. And in May 2008, Skacan moved to the Windy City.
The couple, now living in the South Loop, is engaged to be married next year.
Though Twitter wasn't created as a dating platform, Skacan and Wardzala are one example of how social networking sites can be used to make a love connection.
Today, daters have an alternative -- or supplement -- to traditional online dating sites such as eHarmony or match.com. They are entering a new frontier of digital dating equipped with a slew of Facebook and iPhone applications coupled with mobile Web sites. But dating experts question whether such technology is a romance killer and whether it can lead to anything more than a hookup.
The mobile dating market -- which includes apps, mobile Internet services and text-based services -- has skyrocketed.
In 2007, the global mobile dating market was pegged at $330 million, according to Windsor Holden, principal analyst at Juniper Research, a U.K.-based telecoms analyst firm. That figure rose to just under $550 million worldwide in 2008 and is expected to more than double over the next five years, reaching nearly $1.3 billion by 2013, he said.
The driving force behind the mobile market's growth is the development of user-friendly apps and the increased access to the Internet through smart phones, he said. As more people get phones with GPS capabilities, there is an opportunity for dating services to increase significantly over the next two to three years, Holden said.
Already, some apps activate GPS to search for nearby singles. They have names like meetMoi, Skout and Grindr and alert users of possible matches in the same vicinity in real-time so they can meet in person.
"I honestly consider these sorts of things mobile- or micro-dating," said Laurie Davis, a digital dating coach and blogger, who brands herself as an eFlirt expert. "You should still be doing a regular online dating site, and this should be a tool to enhance your dating life."
Daters could have more potential matches if they do both, she said. While some mobile sites or apps have unique features, they require less information compared to detailed profiles and search keywords or location compared to matching criteria, she said.
"It's definitely a younger generation and it is more casual dating," Davis said. "You want to go on a date tonight, so you do or hook up. It's less people looking for serious relationships," she said.
Mobile dating may be better for tech-savvy young daters, said Julie Spira, cyber-dating expert and author of "The Perils of cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online." "Those are the ones that don't want to sign up for online dating sites and fill out very long questionnaires. This is the instant gratification mode," she said.
When Steve Odom got divorced two years ago, he tried online dating. But he came across superficial, carefully-worded profiles and grew tired of going on dates only to discover he really didn't have much in common with his dates.
At the same time, he started using Twitter and found that by following someone, he felt like he really knew them.
Odom, now 41 and living in Austin, Texas, wanted that in a dating site, so he created Gelato, which launched earlier this month. The site taps into social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter, as well as information from Netflix, Flickr, Last.fm and Hulu. That way, potential matches can see real-time Facebook updates and tweets, plus movies rented, photos downloaded, music listened to and shows watched.
He said he built the site to be a time-saver to find out if the user and others looking for love have shared interests. "Say I'm watching the Chicago Bears game, I can do a search for 'Show me women, 30-40, politically liberal, non-smoker, who has recently mentioned the Chicago Bears.' And if a woman on Gelato meets those criteria and mentioned the Bears in her Twitter stream, on Facebook or added a Flickr photo with a Chicago Bears description, she will show up," Odom said in an e-mail.
The information then can become a conversation starter and lead to a relationship, not a hookup, Odom said. "Romance comes from a feeling of connection with a person," he said. "Sort of like when someone says, 'I saw that you listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the other day' and the other person's eyes light up and says 'Yeah, I love them!' "
On the flip side, providing too much information has the potential to be a romance killer. "Part of attraction is the mystery. People want to know more about you," said Thomas Edwards, a dating and lifestyle development consultant based in Boston. What's the fun in going online for a scouting report on your potential date? he asked.
Dating experts also caution against putting too much information into cyberspace via mobile sites and apps.
"You still have to remember you don't know who's on the other end of that," said Jennifer Kelton, founder of badonlinedates.com. "With the instantaneousness of this, it kind of removes that one other layer. At least with the Internet, there might have been a longer dialogue going on to get to know each other to some degree."
Another safeguard, Davis said, is to be aware of logging on and off a dating service with GPS so others can't search for your location if you don't want them to know it. "You wouldn't want someone approaching you when you're with your family or on a date," she said.
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