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Before online coupling services like Plenty of Fish and Tinder became a key way for singles to meet up, agencies would send out home-recorded VHS tapes. These would allow people to know exactly who they were hooking up with when they arrived at dates. But the digital age saw this go out of fashion in favour of personally-created online profiles, meaning people looking for love were able to create a false sense of who they actually are.
Then one day, tucked among your magazines and bills, you find a strange piece of junk mail. But for decades, if you wanted to gaze upon a plethora of eligible singles, you had to go to a repurposed office building during open hours and watch them flicker by onscreen, spooled through Sony Betamax SLOs.
Welcome to the age of video dating. Betamax cassette tapes, an early example of the technology that enabled video dating. The s was not only a time of sexual freedom, but also relationship tumult. Thanks to new laws and evolving sexual mores, divorce rates were climbing. Around the same time, VHS and Betamax tapes became widely available, enabling people to record and watch themselves without needing to invest in prohibitively expensive equipment. After spending a dinner party listening to his cousin lament how difficult it was to meet people, a young videographer named Jeffrey Ullman put two and two together.
He borrowed seed money from his parents, did a bunch of research into the psychology of attraction, and created the first video dating company, which he christened Great Expectations.
They were decorated almost exclusively with enormous photos of happy couples—eventually, ones who had actually married after meeting through Great Expectations. A Great Expectations employee would come in, click on a hidden camera, and begin gently grilling you. A young Jeff Ullman, backed by early success stories. Photo: Jeff Ullman. You open an objection and then you answer it.
After squeezing acceptable answers out of you, the employee would show you the resulting five-minute tape. To hardened Tinder users, this probably seems tame, even quaint.
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But at the time, video dating was considered somewhat scandalous. Reputation management was more difficult. But others were great fans.
Screenshot: Youtube. ByGreat Expectations had 17 franchisesand was pulling in millions of dollars. Competitors got in on the game, offering local flavor.
Then, of course, came the internet—the greatest niche-ification machine of all time. Ullman sold Great Expectations intoo, and within a few years, its new owners had shut it down. Take in the vulnerability on display in videos like, say, this infamous montageand the misgivings become more clear. But Weigel thinks there may be room for it in the future—if not for a Vine-Tinder hybrid, then something that looks a bit more like Great Expectations.
Jeff Ullman. Read next.
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Timeline of online dating services