Can Orwell, Vonnegut, Austen lead you to love?
NEW YORK—Chin Ma is 25 and looking for love. He paddles regularly in the dating pools online, paying fees to navigate millions of profiles based on lengthy checklists and compatibility formulas.
So how'd he find his latest prospect? Through a book by Andy Warhol on Alikewise.com, a newcomer looking to connect people free of charge based on their favorite reads. It's a unique approach in a recession-hardy industry that has dozens of niche sites serving potheads to pet owners, millionaires to Mac lovers.
"Alikewise is more subject to your creativity than the larger sites," said Chin, a management consultant from Brooklyn. "There's more of that soft dynamic. You get to know people in a non-superficial way."
Hobbies and passions like reading are often included when online daters describe themselves or their dream mates. Site users can search and be searched by the books and book opinions they put up next to their profile pictures. There's also an option to respond to general open-ended conversation starters that include: "Two things I can't live without ..." and "The bravest thing I've done recently ..."
Other users can leave comments about your books, and the site sends notifications when somebody adds the same title or books in the same general interest area.
"There are plenty of niche dating sites, but they struck me as a bit too niche," said the co-founder, Matt Sherman. "They seem to orient themselves over one particular interest or type of person -- athletics, religion. Our attitude is that books can be about anything. They're a means to an end to get the conversation going."
Sherman thought up the idea a couple of years ago after breaking up with his girlfriend, wondering if he'd ever find a woman who has read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan" or F.A. Hayek's 66-year-old "The Road to Serfdom." The site went live in mid-July and has about 1,500 users, split about evenly between genders.
Among the most popular books posted? Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." Among the most posted authors of the moment? Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell. Stieg Larsson, Chuck Palahniuk and Jane Austen also pop up often.
The top subscription dating sites boast millions of users (Match counts 29 million), and the most popular free sites can have many thousands. Sherman and fellow founder Matt Masina aren't looking to compete by that measure. Who's to say what your love match likes to read anyway? What does it really mean if they're paperback people, Kindle lovers or hardcover fanatics?
Emmaleth, a 26-year-old woman from Fresno, Calif., put up "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss: "Hello?!?! This man wrote the most poetic yet simple explanation of life! I LOVE this book and honestly I CRY sometimes when I read it. Yeah, enjoy knowing that."
The Matts of Alikewise said the draw may be more about the crowd than the love science behind their approach. "We think there's a different caliber of person who reads," Masina said. "You won't go onto our site and find guys with their shirts off."
Other sites exist for bookish on the prowl. The Passions Network, a less-than-flashy free social media and dating hangout, has separate areas for writers and lovers of comic books, manga and reading. Company president Michael Carter wouldn't disclose how many users they have.
In the extreme niche department, there's a gathering place for admirers of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead and "Atlas Shrugged" that includes a dating area. Michael Kelley, 50, of Aiken, S.C., thought he'd give it a try after two failed marriages and intensive study of Rand's work years later. He met a fellow devotee who moved to Florida. They're still in touch and plan to take a cross-country trip together.
"I thought I could find somebody there who thinks like I do," Kelley said. "I thought maybe this is why my relationships with my two wives didn't work out. They didn't have the same world view."
So far so good for the biography-loving Chin, who posted "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho and "His Way: An Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra" by Kitty Kelley, among others. He invited the woman who posted "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol" to a Warhol exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.
"We had a great time," he said. "Hopefully it will turn out well."