Monday, August 07, 2006

Internet dating: Rich, good-looking?
Christopher Follett
Fri, 24 Jun 2005

It's skin-deep, can be cruel and is unashamedly elitist: welcome to, an online club that seeks out the rich and good-looking for a community shielded from the riff-raff.

Dubbed "stupid" by critics but boasting a huge success in its Danish home, the network is going global and expects membership to top the million mark by the end of this year, its founders say.

Signing up like a reality show

Joining up is a process that mixes the cruel with the exclusive: applicants are vetted by existing members of the opposite sex in a ritual that resembles the voting on TV reality shows.

During a three-day rating marathon, women must decide which men they think should join their club by filling in an electronic form.

It's vice versa for men to judge aspiring female candidates.

"It's an elite, exclusive community for very special people," according to Robert Hintze, a 28-year-old Dane who founded the online club in 2002.

It is destined to create relationships, "private and professional, between people who stand out from the majority due to their attractive appearance and excellent personal qualities", he said.

The site sees itself as a tool to meet new people at parties, go to the cinema or special events, find a job or the right skiing holiday, track down a flat, sell a car, debate any issue and — of course — find a date.

Govt not bothered

Egalitarian Scandinavia may seem an odd place for such a starkly snobbish community to see the light of day, but the Danish government, for one, is not bothered.

"We do not think there's anything intrinsically wrong with these services, it does not seem to be a problem. And as long as that is the case we cannot be opposed to them," an official at the social affairs ministry, who declined to be named, told AFP.

Moving to London

Nevertheless, a rival community chatroom called "X-Forums, the last bastion of intelligent discussion", is less diplomatic.

"A dating site that admits only beautiful people is elitist and stupid," a banner on its home page reads.

Still, a glittering launch party in a trendy London club earlier this month drew 1400 members and friends, and there are plans to expand to other European countries, notably France, Monaco, Spain, Germany and the rest of Scandinavia later this summer.

Coming to SA

The United States is scheduled for July and Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and South Africa for August.

The application process starts off simply enough, with an online form that lists age, weight, height, career, education, income and so on, as well as the essential photograph.

But no mercy is shown to those whose looks and credentials don't come up to snuff.

"Our members are very critical, they care for the community and don't want to let in unattractive people," Hintze said.

"The voting process gives them power, they want to ensure the club remains a place for the elite, for like-minded beautiful people."

Still, those rejected can expect some "friendly advice" from the 1000 or so members usually taking part in the voting process.

Of 70 000 applicants in Denmark since 2002, only 12 000 got in. In Britain, where the club has just launched, some 3500 applicants out of 14 000 have so far made it.

Most members are well-off and between 28 and 35. Many are self-employed, or boast trendy jobs in advertising, film, information technology or the media.

Airline pilots, company directors and doctors have also been welcomed.

Hintze said his website was a simple reflection of what goes on in the real world.

"People are more open today about relationships and what they want. They are very ego-focused, selective and individualistic and they cultivate the image of being members of an elite community," he said.

"Good looks are all-important."

For now, the club is open to members interested in the opposite sex, but a gay service is planned for 2006, he said.