Vegetarian love, online

Looking for that elusive hunk of meat-shunning lovin'? Try VeggieDate.com.

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Among the ever-growing crowd of online matchmaking sites is a meager little service called VeggieDate. For $14.95 and a completed personal ad/survey you receive a lifetime membership, allowing you to surf for the meatless man or woman of your dreams.

Like most online dating services, VeggieDate is little more than an SAT-like series of multiple choice/true-and-false questions filtered through a software program and sorted into categories. When this system works, it leaves as little room as possible for the unexpected: Not only don’t I want to date a meat-eater, but I want to know HOW VEGGIE ARE YOU? before I set about getting to know you. Bisexual vegans only, please.

I’ve searched long and hard on Match.com and Matchmaker.com. But nowhere did they ask me about my meat-eating habits. Elvis vs. Beatles? Salsa vs. Swing? Yes. Steak or celery? No. If I’d chosen the Internet to make my love connection, and meatlessness was my highest criteria, then why shouldn’t I use VeggieDate?

But VeggieDate’s flaw is that it doesn’t have sufficient listings to yield useful results — a mere 1,195 ads as of Monday and approximately only 10 new listings each day, according to Steve Urow, VeggieDate’s founder. With numbers so low, chances are my meat-shunning hunk of lovin’ is advertising elsewhere, if at all.

It’s amazing that anybody meets anybody this way, but there are just enough success stories on the big matchmaking sites to generate hope. Hope drives page views. Page views, not to mention all that marketing information one gives up when filling out forms for Mr. or Ms. Right, theoretically spells reimbursement for venture capitalists. But while this is fine for meaty sites like Match.com or Matchmaker.com, with their big dollars and IPO fantasies, does the model really work for smaller sites like VeggieDate, with its limited audience and idealistic goals?

I asked Urow, who started VeggieDate as an extension of his activist site Greenpeople.org, how his business plan worked. He answered: “I want to use VeggieDate as a reason to get more eco-friendly people onto the Internet. I believe the Internet will allow us to more easily live eco-friendly lives. We can find out about eco-friendly products and order them online and generally network with others who share our views.”

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That’s very noble, but Urow may find it difficult to make good on those lifetime memberships without additional revenue streams. The talk in entrepreneurial tech circles these days has been all about “vertical portals.” Unlike their horizontal forerunners, like Yahoo and Snap.com, these tall, lean sites hope to specialize in a single topic — MP3 listings, for example. The databases created at these sites can then be sold to the horizontal players, who get tons of data without doing any real work.

Then again, that may be VeggieDate’s salvation. If the future of online matchmaking isn’t horizontal, but vertical, what’s to stop VeggieDate from selling its content to a larger vegetarian site, doing a little co-branding swaparoo and voila? — a veritable vegetarian meat market. A match made in cyberspace. These things happen every day, for carnivores and herbivores alike.

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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