They have their site set out for love

Trio meets online, create dating service

January 07, 2004|By Adrienne Saunders | Adrienne Saunders,SUN STAFF

Most people who sign up for an online dating service hope they might meet someone nice, have a few dates, maybe see romance blossom. But a trio of online daters from Maryland made a different kind of match - they started their own online dating site.

After striking out romantically when they met through an online dating service, Sandra Furton Gabriel, George Paley and Perry Wheelock joined creative forces to launch www.love homepage.com. It's a new Germantown-based service that provides each client with his or her own home page to mix and mingle with others seeking love, friendship or, perhaps, even business relationships.

For the three, such a site made sense. Each is a single parent who found the bar scene unappealing or inconvenient, while finding the more popular online dating sites, with their huge numbers of members, often overwhelming. "Some sites are so huge that you almost feel like you're walking into a football stadium," said Wheelock, 44.

So instead, they have tried to tailor their site to make online dating more intimate and productive. Each user - there are fewer than 5,000 so far - has a home page from which to privately view other members' profiles and send and receive e-mails. The pages are organized with e-mail, photo and chat room features, and personal contact information can be given out only by the user.

For those seeking privacy not just from others online, but those who might be looking over your shoulders at home or the office, the site also features a panic button that, when pressed, links to a page that appears to be a generic spreadsheet, so no one happening by can glimpse the private details of your activity.

The three partners seem to be a good business match, with varying backgrounds that bring different talents to the site.

Gabriel, 47, moved to Germantown from New York City two years ago, after spending more than 10 years in television producing and on independent event promotion projects. She was on the production staff for Late Night With David Letterman and The Joan Rivers Show, and has used her experience in high-end promotion, production and networking to give the venture commercial clout and a diverse client base.

Wheelock, a Timonium resident, uses his experience in software development for programming the Web site, while Paley, who moved from Buenos Aires to Germantown about three years ago, has experience in information systems and a background in counseling.

Gabriel's recent divorce actually served as a catalyst for lovehomepage.com. It caused her to move from New York to Germantown, and to check out the online dating services where she met Paley and Wheelock.

For Wheelock, the online dating scene was an answer to his home situation, where he cares for his two daughters. "[Online dating] is a way for me to have a social life without having to leave the house," he said.

After meeting online, Gabriel met Wheelock for coffee at a local Starbucks. But instead of a plan for a second date, they came out of the coffee shop with a business plan. After Gabriel had a similar date with Paley, he joined the effort.

Based on their experience with other services, the three made a list of what they did and didn't like, and have tried to incorporate those ideas into their site. So far, lovehomepage.com, which operates out of Gabriel's home, has attracted nearly 2,500 users, Gabriel says.

Among those users is David Brown, a 48-year-old operations manager from Ontario, Canada. He says one of his favorite features is a section of a user's home page that tracks both who has viewed your profile and your contact history with other users to avoid "repeated effort" with someone you already spoke to.

"You're going to find some people who are going to rub you the wrong way," Paley said, addressing the safety and privacy concerns inherent in online dating.

Kim Schonfeld, a 44-year-old site user in Maryland, said setting specific search parameters has been helpful in finding people who suit her.

"So far, people seem more honest, and maybe because it's a newer site," she said, but added one general gripe: The men are "all too short. Guys just don't care that they're shorter than you."

Schonfeld said the best feature is the easy sign-up.

"They take your answers and put them into a paragraph so you don't have to think about what you want to say," she said, referring to software that converts replies to multiple-choice questions into an easy-to-read paragraph that the user can edit.

Schonfeld said that because the site is so new, she's only ventured out to meet one person, and they decided to be just friends. The remarkable thing, she said, is that they have actually stuck to that pledge, which she said rarely happens.

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