AOL Readies IM-based Dating Play

In the latest move to monetize its popular AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)
network, America Online is poised to launch an online dating site that will
leverage IM.

During coming weeks, AOL plans an advertising campaign announcing Love.com, an online personals service in the
vein of InterActive Corp’s Match.com. The ads will
encourage users to sign up for a free preview of the site and will highlight
its reliance on AOL’s AIM.

“Love.com will marry the benefits of real-time communications together
with AIM’s active user base to deliver a casual, fun and comfortable place
to meet and get to know new people online,” said AOL spokesman Derick Mains.

The site also is leveraging technology from online personals network
Spring Street Networks, and interactive ad agency RealBranding is handling
portions of the site’s development.

Copy on the Love.com site touts the service as “the coolest way to
quickly find a new friend, a hot romance, or the love of your life — and
only love.com uses the power of AOL Instant Messenger service to make it fun
and spontaneous.”

AOL has been hinting at just such a project for some time. Steven
McArthur, executive vice president for AOL Messaging, told the Wall
Street Journal
in May that the company was exploring an online dating
service.

Although Mains described the Love.com service as being “powered by the
popularity of instant messaging,” exactly how the site will integrate AIM
remains to be seen, however. He declined to provide additional details.
Spring Street Networks Chief Executive Louis Kanganis did not return
requests for comment by press time; spokespeople from RealBranding declined
to comment.

Instant messaging and online dating both represent two bright areas in
the otherwise gloomy Internet sector: U.S. consumers are expected to spend
$313 million on online dating and personals in 2003, up 37 percent from last
year, according to Jupiter Research, while the Radicati Group predicts that
the current 590 million accounts will multiply into 1.4 billion by 2007.

Not surprisingly, then, AOL isn’t the first to explore ways to link the
two. MatchNet, which runs sites including AmericanSingles, JDate, and
CollegeLuv, last year introduced Flash-based instant messaging and videoconferencing
developed by Userplane.

Other large players, like Yahoo! Personals and FriendFinder, as well as a slew of smaller dating plays such as DateCam, and the recently launched
MatchedUp.com and KissyKat — a site dedicated to animal lovers and pet
owners — also integrate instant messaging into their communities.
Typically, these sites enable registered users to see if fellow members are
online, and then engage them in a chat session.

But they don’t integrate with public instant messaging networks. That
means that a user generally must navigate to the site to make contact with
others; while AIM users typically keep their IM clients open whenever
they’re connected to the Internet.

Another potential area where AOL will hope to create synergy could reside
in Buddy Lists and AIM users’ profiles, which they enter to be listed in an
online directory. AOL has been testing a service it calls “Buddy Match,”
which connects like-minded AOL subscribers using those profiles: if others
on a user’s Buddy List have similar hobbies or interests, a colored
background will appear behind their name. So far, Buddy Match only exists
in a beta version of the next AOL service software, and not AIM.

At the very least, AOL can take advantage of a whopping 50-million-strong
monthly userbase for the AIM service, most of whom are using AIM clients
that support advertising, and who could be ripe for receiving ads promoting
Love.com.

Once it launches, Love.com will become but the latest effort by AOL to
capitalize on the online dating market. In addition to the new site, the
company has for years operated [email protected] on the Web and its flagship service,
for which it currently syndicates listings for from global partners
including Match.com and Lavalife.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.

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