Great minds think alike. (Or is it, "Fools seldom differ"?)
Just as I was slamming online dating sites for not providing anything close to a real date experience, one of the biggest players — LavaLife — was working on that very thing. (Or at least someone was.)
I logged into LavaLife over the weekend (hey it's research!) and noted that a new icon appeared in member profiles: In amongst Send Mail, Send Smile, etc., there now appeared "Date Me".
My investigation revealed that this feature was just what it seemed: The ability to interact live with other members, and to actually experience things together. (Play games, etc.)
This feature is powered by OmniDate, who describes it as a "plug & play communication technology that transforms traditional dating and social networking sites into a 3D virtual dating experience (patent pending)."
Creating an avatar from my own photo
The coolest feature is that you can create a "3D" avatar in (more or less) your own image. I tried it and it was a snap. I just uploaded a photo of my face, then adjusted the position of a series of colored crosshairs. The instructions were nice and clear.
I submitted my photo, and the initial result was hilarious: an avatar that kind of resembled me but younger and with a huge mop of hair:
I adjusted my hair and wardrobe. For this to work really well, more customization is required. Right now, everyone looks young and slim and has plenty of hair (or is totally bald). Here's the closest I could get to "me":
I still thought it was pretty impressive technology. Especially seeing as my photo wasn't quite ideal: I was smiling, and apparently the app works best with non-smiling pictures.
Off I go on a virtual date
Armed with my customized avatar, I went looking for a date. And to my delight, it wasn't long before someone accepted my invitation...
But it simply didn't work. I just got a blank screen. Bummer.
I wrote an email to my would-be date, and found out it didn't work on her end either. Apparently, she could see my avatar, but there was no place for her to type!
Try, try again
I had better luck on my second attempt. On my end, everything seemed to be working okay. I could type in messages, laugh, flirt, touch my date's hand, etc.
Unfortunately, I couldn't receive any of my date's messages or see any actions she made. Her avatar just sat there like a lump. (We later confirmed by email that she was typing in messages. But they didn't make it to my end.)
There are a couple of games you can play on a date... but again, they simply weren't working when I tried them.
Obviously, it's hard to call something a success when it isn't working right. But still, I'm encouraged. At least OmniDate and LavaLife are heading in the right direction. (LavaLife isn't yet charging for this feature, presumably because they recognize there are "issues".)
Once they fix the bugs, it'll be a worthwhile feature. And once they improve the customization and (especially) add more things to do on dates, I think it'll be a big hit. Great potential.
P.S. If anyone has a LavaLife subscription, please give virtual dating a try and let me know (via comment) how it worked for you. Maybe my ancient Mac was partly to blame.