14 January 1999

Email Dating Works

Research by a social scientist at Rensselaer confirms that online relationships can lead to face-to-face romance as in the scenario in You've Got Mail, the hit movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Meeting via e-mail or online "chat" can be more gratifying. A "bad hair day" or mismatched socks won't affect an e-mail conversation. "Users can achieve more intimacy online than they commonly do face-to-face," according to research by Joseph Walther, associate professor of language, literature, and communication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "Such intimacy often sets the stage for a 'real life' encounter."

In virtual relationships such as the one in You've Got Mail, as many as 33 percent of friendships formed online eventually move to a face-to-face meeting, according to cyber-researchers.

Unlike the film version, however, there's usually a phone call, and a photo exchange before a physical encounter. Walther's research suggests that those who take these steps toward offline relations have a better chance of success than those who don't. Studies also find that women are more likely than men to have a relationship online (72 percent vs. 52 percent).

Science à GoGo are planning to turn the forum into a dating agency. What do you think?