The glam shot on the homepage: a milky-white alien with an enormous head. The motto: Love Long and Prosper. The disclaimer: Xenophobia Strictly Prohibited. Welcome to Trek Passions (trekpassions.com), an online dating site for the science- fiction set.
More than a decade after the first Internet dating site was launched, the biggest players – Match.com, Yahoo! Personals, and eHarmony – now boast millions of users. But wading through such huge and heterogeneous singles pools can lead to dating fatigue. So some lovelorn are turning to sites that offer the comfort of a common interest.
Niche services today cater to just about every interest and lifestyle imaginable – from the mundane (vegetarians and animal lovers) to the more esoteric (Ayn Rand enthusiasts and farmers).
It was after a wildly unsuccessful run with Esquire.com Personals, a paid service affiliated with the men's magazine, that "S" (he asked that his name not be used) sought out Trek Passions. The final straw came when he was rejected by a woman with whom he had nothing in common. "She was the complete and total opposite of me in every way," he confesses. When the self-proclaimed "Spock-like personality" turned out not to be "fashionably ironic," she was disappointed. (He doesn't think his day job as a janitor helped his cause any.)
"S" says that he's been told: "Weird people should date other weird people – the normals don't quite understand."
So one night, after Googling "geek" and "nerd" and "dating," he came across Trek Passions – one of more than 100 niche sites launched in 2004 under the umbrella of a larger service called Passions Network. (Jdate for Jewish singles, considered the yenta of the niche world, goes back to 1997.)
Initially "S" signed up for a number of the free sites, including Nerd Passions and Intellectual Passions. A bit like Goldilocks and her porridge, though, he found Nerd Passions to be "too generic" and Intellectual Passions to be "even more generic." But Trek Passions felt just about right.
"People seem to resonate with that one," he says. "They're more likely to look for people based on" an interest in science fiction.
Overall, the number of Internet users who browsed personal ads declined from 21 percent in 2003 to 16 percent 2004. Saturation of the general online dating market helped to grow the newest niche crop – some of the more unusual of which have sprouted up in the past few years. Theatlasphere.com, launched in late 2003, offers a meeting place for fans of author Ayn Rand. FarmersOnly.com was started last year because "City Folks Just Don't Get It!"
Usage has since stabilized, with the biggest sites continuing to dominate, but niche sites can make people who are still wary of online dating "more comfortable," says Nate Elliott, an analyst with Jupiter Research, a market research firm.
Trek Passions received a boost back in March, when, on his late-night talk show, Conan O'Brien quipped: "The fans say the dating website is going great and any month now they hope a girl will join."
It's not quite as bad as that. Although Passions Network President Michael Carter says they don't track such things, an informal count suggests more than a quarter of the 2,550 users are women.
Megan, a college student in a Chicago suburb who asked that only her first name be used, is one. She joined three months ago looking for fellow sci-fi fans. "There's not a lot of them around where I live," she says.
In many ways the site attracts about what you'd expect. One person interviewed for this story left the endearingly rambling voice mail of a man not entirely comfortable with women. And some profiles seem to be written in another language: "A TOS-TNG-DS9 Fan Looking For par'Machi."
Both "S" and Megan are exchanging e-mails with people they've met through Trek Passions. Yet both have come up against that age-old Internet dating dilemma: While "S" lives in a small town in Maine, his dream woman is a librarian in Arkansas. Megan is corresponding with a man in England.
May the Force be with them both.