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Alikewise, New Dating Site For Bookworms

Taylor Friedman |
October 18, 2010 | 4:06 p.m. PDT



Alikewise co-founders Matt Sherman (right) and Matt Masina (photo Caitlin Greer)
Alikewise co-founders Matt Sherman (right) and Matt Masina (photo Caitlin Greer)
Alikewise's beginnings, like any good story, open with a break-up. 

In 2008, all newly single Matt Sherman wanted was a girl to whom he could talk about the theme of probability as plotted in "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Was that too much to ask for?

"Necessity is often the mother of invention," quoted Alikewise's co-founder Matt Masina, explaining how his former San Francisco roommate came to approach him with the idea for a dating site that matches people based on the contents of their bookshelves.

The 41-year-old, still-single Sherman and the 36-year-old, married Masina brought their idea to fruition in their new home, New York City. Alikewise launched in July and immediately attracted attention because of its novel — no pun intended — focus on the written word. 

On Alikewise, instead of "you're hot," or "sexy smile," singles try their luck by appealing to each other’s intellect with "Read any good books lately?" and "I like your interpretation of the symbolism in 'Of Mice and Men.'"

Masina said it is the only noncommercial dating site he is aware of whose members are first and foremost aroused by talk of Michael Chabon and Philip Roth.

The now-defunct Borders UK once had a book-centric dating service called Happily Ever After, and book publisher Penguin Group has a site in conjunction with Match.com.

Masina said he believes Alikewise has greater appeal than these sites because booksellers prioritize selling their products before helping lost souls find their black swans. Penguin Group could not be reached for comment.

Masina said, "Prior to being married, I dated on a number of online dating services. They can be very impersonal. We tried to make it so that people can actually describe themselves. You can tell a lot about a person by the books they select." 

In a Wall Street Journal article from September, psychotherapist and author Dennis Palumbo questioned niche dating. "As we get older, we want a kind, caring person who cares how we feel," he said. “Not necessarily someone who has read The Cornish Trilogy.” 

Masina said he hopes that books will be the jumping off point that segues into a well-rounded relationship.

For music journalist Annie Reuter, that did not turn out to be the case. In an AOL article, she described her first date with "Mike" at — where else – Barnes & Noble. As to be expected, the date began with the pair wandering the aisles of the store and pointing out which books they had read, which, in Mike’s case, was almost everything. When all was said and done, she expressed her desire to crawl up with a book. Alone.

Still, Alikewise can boast of 6,000 members internationally within two months of its launching.

"We didn't think it would grow this quickly," Masina said. "It's become viral."

The Matts catered the site’s design to men, because, as Masina explained, women both read and use dating sites more. Thanks in part to shades of gray and blue, the gender breakdown is 43 percent male and 57 percent female. Masina said that the women often list Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell as their favorite authors. "There's also quite a bit of "The Great Gatsby,'" he said.

One man using the site, 29-year-old Brian Stephenson, a Louisville, Kentucky, native, said his residence in Seoul, South Korea, prevents taking the conversation offline. "Even if I don't get a single date out of the site, at least I have a growing list to remind me of what I've read and liked ... Also, boy is it refreshing to meet over books instead of club music," he said.

On his profile, Stephenson lists his 71 favorite books. He comments that picking a favorite "Harry Potter" book is like choosing a favorite child and that "Three Cups of Tea" left him in tears.

In Sydney, Australia, Christopher Levinson, 26, said the main reason he has not paired off with a fellow reader is because people rarely use the site Down Under either. Still, he too takes something away. 

"I spend a lot of my spare time working on my novel, so I don't always have time to go out and meet new people. I find Alikewise is a good way to do that, particularly as I know I already have something in common with them.” (For the record, Levinson's selections range from "The Velveteen Rabbit" to "The Diary of Anne Frank.")

Upon joining, members build a digital bookshelf representative of their real-life collections, minus the tattered covers. Even when people do not list the same books, an agreement between Alikewise and Amazon helps like-minded readers connect through Amazon’s search engine technology that generates similar titles. 

Masina said he will not charge people until the site reaches critical mass. And with membership growing exponentially — 1,000 members joined within a day — he is toying with new, interactive ideas. One includes making “Can I buy you a book?” the choice pick-up line for bookworms by encouraging them to send each other gifts through Amazon. 

He said he also hopes to host more speed dating events — a tradition that began at the July launch event in New York City.

You say you don't like "Cat's Cradle?" Next.

Reach contributor Taylor Friedman here. 



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