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The future of matrimonial classifieds

November 15, 2004

I noticed something interesting the other day as I walked into the offices of the Times of India to place a classifieds ad for some waiters for my restaurant. As I was handing in the form to the lady at the counter, a sign on the side caught my eye (mostly because I saw a "10% off" screaming from it.) Unfortunately, I wasn't carrying my digicam with me, so I'll have to paraphrase what the sign said.

Here's how it essentially read: "If you place a matrimonial classifieds ad and do not specify any religion, caste, or regional criteria, we will give you a 10% discount on the ad. We are doing our bit for the betterment of society and eliminating bigotry."

I was quite pleasantly surprised to see an initiative like this from an otherwise morally bankrupt publishing group. We "educated" middle-class and upper-middle-class Indians love to tell others that the caste system does not have a strong grip in this country, yet we are unbelievably hypocritical when it comes to marrying off our own sons and daughters. "We don't believe in the caste system, but my Sanjay can get married only to a [some language] girl from [some caste] caste."

Speaking of matrimonial classifieds ads, I think that the growing popularity of online wedding sites like shaadi.com will mean the slow death of the print classified ads, at least in English newspapers. They will do what the spread of cellular phones did to the pager industry (yeah, remember pagers in India?) It won't happen immediately, but I give it about 3 years. The print medium has severe limitations: you can't write more than a few lines, which have to as short and sweet as possible, giving you only enough space to write a bunch of numbers and abbreviations. Here's an example: "Smart beautiful homely [caste] girl 25/157/6000 seeks [caste] qualified well-settled boy. Contact Box no..." Now this could fit almost anyone, giving you very little info to go on. Online, however, you don't have any space restrictions, and adding more fields isn't that complicated. It also allows you to easily build databases that can be searched on various criteria. What's more, it has that most important bit of information - a photo!

When I mentioned the above Times of India signboard to one of my friends, he pointed out to me that one of the matrimonial sites, instead of leading the way, was actually being regressive in its approach. BharatMatrimony.com, that advertises heavily on many sites, has an annoying "feature" that's also a bug. If you want to search for a bride or groom, one of the parameters required is "language". This isn't a multiple choice thing; you can only select one language. It then redirects you to one of its language-specific sub-sites where you can search away. However, if you are slightly more modern and don't particularly care that your prospective partner come from a particular state, you're out of luck. There is absolutely no way to specify "any" as an option or even to search through more than one language. If you want to check out women from all over the country, you just have to conduct 29 different searches. Isn't that amusing?

Lastly, I must mention an interesting conversation I had about our matrimonial ads with John Rhodes (he runs webword.com - a usability site) who was visiting Bangalore for some business. He pointed out some differences between personal ads in the USA and over here. He found that the most important criteria here seemed to be the person's caste, religion and family, while in USA, people would put their interests and partner requirements. He was amused to note the classifieds were divided by language. I just shrugged my shoulders and said, "well, it will take another couple of generations to get rid of our deep-rooted prejudices."

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