To say that online dating has gone through a transition would be an understatement. Calling or texting, going out on more bad dates you would like to admit, falling in love.
The beautiful mess of meeting new people is as universal of an experience has humanity has to offer. We are a social species after all, and no one wants to be alone when we are at our worst. Despite this magnetic need that keeps us drawing closer and bouncing off each other, it sometimes feels insurmountable. Not just to meet the one, but meet someone to spend an evening with. We all would love that perfect match. Bumping into each other walking down the street. Becoming best friends before awkwardly confessing our feelings. Coincidence and fate are not always reliable though, which is why we have the internet (among other reasons).
Before there was an Internet, there were personal ads. The first personal ad has been tracked down all the way back to 1695, but they used to be a staple in newspapers and bulletin boards up until recently. For the longest time, these ads had a stigma attached to them. Showing romantic/sexual agency, while at the same time being unable to achieve this in person, branded you at best a failure, and at worst a deviant. Early and frequent adopters of personals where the LGBT communities. Unable to express themselves in the far more repressive societies of the past, ads allowed for coded communication as a way to meet your peers.
Newspaper ads stayed popular despite the baggage surrounding them. Only during the shift in zeitgeist during the 1960s, the perception changed. Partially due to a rejection of traditional models of romance, and partly due to a broader acceptance of homosexuality. At the same time, students built the first computer-based dating platform was experimented with. Coined “Operation March,” it was the first algorithm-driven system designed to find the perfect match. Based at Harvard, it used to the same model of filling out questions to cross-check answers with other user’s results, used in one form or the other on dating sites today.
During the 1990s it was finally time for dating to go online. Online dating giant Match.com was founded in ’95, and stigmas of desperation and failure did not stick around for long. As the Internet took the world by storm, so did finding love through it. Not only does the majority of the population find it positive, but the number of long-term relationships and marriages are on a steady rise.
Types of Online Dating
As with any successful business, imitators are soon to follow. These days online dating makes up one of the largest chunks of digital revenue. Therefore it is not surprising in the least, to see the variety of online dating options for lonely hearts. Variety, however, can be tricky sometimes. To help interested people out, here is a quick overview of some of the more popular websites to find love.
The granddad of dating websites, and naturally it also boasts one of the largest user bases on the market. In a lot of ways, match.com is a platonic ideal. After you sign up, you fill out a questionnaire, add pictures and fill in information about yourself to create a profile. You can browse recommendations or browse freely based on filters. You get matches based on liking each other, or try and get prospective mates attention through “winks.” Where match.com differs, however, is that to message someone, you need to pay. While you can dip your toe into the water for free, actually getting to the point of dating, meaning basic communication, money is required. While this does represent a hurdle for some, it also means that users generally take their time serious. So in that sense, the website is for people looking for something serious.
OkCupid is the website for people who want to express themselves. Registration and most of its features are free (there are some optional premium services), at first glance the service seems rather pedestrian. The real unique selling point questions. While a questionnaire is not novel, the level OkCupid takes it to is. Divided into categories such as dating, sex, and lifestyle, you can answer hundreds of different questions potentially. Based on your answers you receive percentage points with other users, based on how often you answered the same. This enables you to tailor the degree of expression, based on how much time you want to spend. In that sense, this website is excellent for people who like to spend some extra time online, before committing to anything. OkCupid is also very popular with LGBT people.
Zoosk is quite similar to OKCupid, in that it is also a very data-driven. And data really is the name of the game. It adds global popularity meters to its users. It uses data based on your choices in their match features to tailor recommendations. And you can customize not only your profile but also add information about your ideal partner. With all these features it is the premier service for any perfectionists out there. Refining your presence to the last detail and percent point, it boils down dating to some hard and fast numbers.
While most online dating sites have mobile applications, it is still important to talk about those options that are exclusively mobile. Bumble, Blendr, Happn, or Tinder. They all fall under the category of dating apps or hookup apps. Unlike most websites, they simplify the process. Especially the notorious Tinder is almost wholly based on pictures. Users see, depending on your location, an almost endless stream of potential partners. Criticized for being superficial when it first came out, Tinder now fully arrived in the mainstream. And despite the bad press, it is probably the closed online dating equivalent of going out to a club or bar, and trying to talk to a stranger you find attractive.
It is the service for people looking for a quick dating fix. Just do not disappoint yourself with how throwaway it can feel at times.
Regardless of where you fall on the online dating spectrum, the dating industry will have the service for you. The Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail” came out 20 years ago. And what back then felt new and novel enough to base a whole movie around, feels quaint today. The digital world has taken over every aspect of our life. Big Data is the driving force binding much of our global society. And online dating on our phones enables us to browse for people like they are shoes. All of this sounds more negative than it is. What started as sonnets about love in the middle ages, is today still the same: A perpetual search for a human connection and an everlasting hope to find Love. Is that not worth it?
If you haven’t heard of the Pirate Bay, the time is now. Just 18 years ago, in the symbolic year of 2000, famous metal band Metallica sued the young website Napster. Designed to make use of the increasing speed of internet connectivity, Napster offered its audience of mostly college-aged adults a platform to share and download MP3s. The industry accused it of facilitating online piracy. By the time the lawsuit was over, it ended up being one of the most divisive court battles of the burgeoning online technology. Its fault lines can be felt even to this day in the cultural zeitgeist, even if the players have changed. The most famous one being the notorious website the Pirate Bay.
Ultimatimately, the argument came down on two sides. Some felt Metallica’s response was dis-proportioned and showing signs greed. Signs of a millionaire artist who lost touch with the realities of music in social environments. For many Napster was just the newest incarnation of activities such as tape trading. An exchange of cultural values outside any economic concerns. At the same time, Metalica stood up for artists everywhere. The artist who put untold hours into their hard work, and deserve to make a living from their craft. And in these terms, it is not easy to draw up easy, binary conclusions. Is piracy an issue of consumer vs. artists? Consumers vs. industry? Most likely it is a grey area of muddled intent and values, a grey area we are going to try and explore.
This article is neither a guide to nor an endorsement of torrenting. But it will serve as an introduction to the Pirate Bay. As it currently stands, online piracy represents an illegal form of copyright infringement, and as such is a criminal activity.
For those unfamiliar with the Pirate Bay, and Thepiratebay.so, it is a so-called torrent site. Torrent sites, or BitTorrents, are websites distributing torrent files for download. Simply put, these files work as a form of a decentralized distribution network. For example, if someone downloads a song from iTunes, they access the file from one of many central servers. This, however, is an inefficient way of managing downloads, especially when many people want to download at the same time. A torrent file, however, gets broken into little chunks, distributed over a swarm of participating user bases. Instead of downloading a file in one piece, torrenting downloads the file in small increments spread out across many sources. And as soon as you start to download, you are also taking part in the swarm and help others to download.
The torrent file itself does not contain any of the actual content. Rather it contains metadata, that enables the user to download the content using specific clients. This is where the Pirate Bay comes in. Torrent sites like it are collections of torrent files covering everything from music, movies to video games. They are a source to gain access to endless hours of entertainment. All free, and all illegal, provided by collectives of hackers and determined individuals. Online communities rank the best torrent sites, based on their catalog. The market is in constant flux, as legal actions force sites to shut down, only to reappear a week later under a slightly altered name.
To understand the appeal of online piracy, especially during the days of Napster, we have to take a look at the past. Media distribution used to build itself was highly centralized. Print, movies, TV, music were all controlled by a strong entertainment industry, asserting vertical control. The result of which was a media landscape with a limited number of channels, most infamously of all probably TV. When there were only a handful of networks present, the amount of time was finite. But then came the Internet.
The Internet was not the first incident of new distribution channels occurring. But unlike anything before, it really opened up the floodgates. Instead of waiting for the industry to provide entertainment through their rigid structures, the audiences began to change. A hunter-gatherer mentality started to take root. People started to actively seek out desirable content. Why miss your favorite TV-Show, when you could just watch it on your own time? The media landscape turned into a fragmented collection of endless distribution channels, all competing with one another.
Instead of publishers, record labels and studios controlling the system from the top down, the internet opened endless opportunities to reach people. The only problem, the entertainment industry did not catch up quick enough to this change. This is why Napster first took the world by storm. For a more media savvy generation, traditional distribution began to feel more and more constricting. To use a metaphor, if there is only one store in the city selling music. And that store is only open once a week. It is only a matter of time before people begin smashing windows. What everyone failed to understand: consumers are willing to pay for their entertainment, but it was not reflecting their reality.
Game of Thrones – The Canary in the Coalmine
Since its release Game of Thrones has been one of the most successful TV shows of all time. At the same time is also has been the most pirated show of all time. While this success is certainly flattering for HBO, the network producing the show, it also represents millions in lost business. It also shows how a global phenomenon in the age of the Internet transcends borders. Throughout the show’s runtime, HBO began to decouple their pay-TV model from their online streaming model, in order to appeal to the new viewing standards.
At the same time, however, a global fan base cannot always legally engage. A service like HBO is not always available in every country. Waiting for physical home video releases is not enough for many, living in an interconnected world. This leaves them in the position of distribution limiting their willingness to pay. The same is true for films often being released with huge gaps in different local markets. Some companies still acting as if they are living in an analog world. They have to embrace the interconnectedness of worldwide audiences, instead of punishing them through outdated models of local distribution.
There is no question that online piracy is illegal. Court cases across the globe have used the download/upload realities of torrenting to justify some extraordinary high fines. In most cases, these ruling hardly justify the intent of the person who committed a crime most closely compared to shoplifting. Punishment should fit the crime. Yet online piracy never gained the same stigma as theft in the analog world, despite PR attempts throughout the early 2000s.
Subscription has been more than anything the industry’s way of defeating piracy. Torrenting is most likely never going to vanish, but Netflix proved that the changing user expectations making piracy popular can be embraced. Nowadays the music industry applies this business model with services such as Spotify and Apple Music to great success. Software giants like Microsoft and Adobe did the same for their user programs. Convenience is the keyword. And its time for the remaining businesses holding out, to embrace the lessons the Pirate Bay and other torrent sites are trying to teach them.