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To join eHarmony is quite a challenge. There is a questionnaire to start with, and you do not know how much the subscription is until you have completed the questionnaire (though there are researchers who have set up trial memberships to find out, and published their findings on the web).
What may be a concern though is that with eHarmony's questionnaires concerning lifestyle and income level before you know the subscription level, they may well set a particular individual's subscription level based on the answers given. Without transparency, how can anyone tell? Other sites, such as MyMatchMature or DatingDirect are quite upfront about subscription levels.
Well, what about the joining process? With most sites this is relatively straightforward and speedy - MyMatchMature has two steps and you can enter as much detail as you want. No doubt eHarmony would say that several hundred mandatory questions about likes/dislikes/ personality type and so on will improve the match and their success rates, with a benefit to their subscribers, and that is fair enough.
I ploughed through the process (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) and was then told that there were no suitable matches. Of course, the several hundred personality type test questions may well have identified me as a poor prospect (and the techniques are such that false answers can be identified) or a lurker. If the matching is so specific, then serendipity is removed, and I think that there has to be some serendipity in the online dating process.
Then, there is eHarmony's killer question at the end - 'Have you used an online dating agency before'? Generously, I would say that this is purely for market research, though a cynic might say that eHarmony's approach is so radically different that potential customers who have used other sites may have issues with the customer experience (which I cannot comment on as eHarmony was 'unable to provide you with a service').
eHarmony's matching approach is based on extensive psychological research, the profiling techniques used are based on those which are in widespread use in the professional and commercial world, and the founder of the business has great expertise in that area. But, it is quite a different approach to the matching process used by other agencies. eHarmony offer you matches based on your personality profile and interests. Their approach is based on extensive data analysis of married couples using regression analysis (a technique to measure linkage of features to results). This is a proven and widely accepted analytical method.
Finally, having failed to be accepted as a subscriber, I am very glad that I did not complete the personality inventory questions with complete truthfulness, otherwise my personality profile would be onfile in eHarmony's database. At the end of the process eHarmony does offer a printout of the personality findings, but the actual button to obtain it was not offered on my screen.
The features offered by eHarmony (as far as external research has been able to determine) do not appear to be any different (and perhaps even less in scope) than other sites such as MyMatchMature offers. Some features, for example, Starsign compatibility, are important to some people (that is, they can use this to search for members). This does not appear to be a feature of eHarmony's site, and obviously it is their right to define their service offering. You cannot search for matches, they are sent to you.
So, they claim that they are able to predict with great accuracy the best matches for people. Of course, this data relates to heterosexual couples, and so eHarmony does not offer its services to people looking for partners of the same sex. This has been subject to successful legal challenge in the US.
eHarmony has been heavily promoted in the UK, and intriguingly claims on its site that it has been "Scientifically adapted for the UK in collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford". I do not know if that means that the analytical method has been changed. The Oxford Internet Institute is 'devoted to the impact of the Internet on society'.
It would be reasonable to expect that in a given country, the matching process should be based on data from that country, so it is unclear whether the matching in the UK (or Canada, Australia and so on) is based on research data from those respective countries. If it is not, then that would call into question the 'success' of the matching process (unless of course there is proof that the US model applies elsewhere).
So, all in all, if you are looking for a heterosexual partner, have the stamina to wade through the questionnaire and are prepared to put your full personality inventory into their database, without knowing the cost in advance, then give it a try. They are undoubtedly successful and ranked number 3 on one listing I saw. I do know, with direct experience, that the more normal agencies work well also for many people.
© 2010 Phil Marks