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The question is about qualitative research (not tracking or usability testing).

Contextual inquiry (for example) is mostly described in the context of "work". Users are being observed while performing some tasks in their work environment (not at home). But even in this case many users feel uncomfortable being observed and asked question.

Online dating, however, is a very personal domain and users can mostly be observed at their homes. Would they feel comfortable to demonstrate their "real" behavior?

What do you think would be a creative way to observe their real behavior in online dating?

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I'm a bit perturbed by your use of the word 'creative' here. It sort of reads like you want an unethical way to do it. Why not just ask if there is just 'a way' to do it. What do you mean by 'creative' in this context? –  JonW Oct 21 '13 at 16:05
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What are the goals of the research? –  usingtheinternet Oct 21 '13 at 18:11
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@JonW the word creative is used to emphasize the fact that in my opinion you cannot just come to user's home and say: so now please go through all the steps of your standard online dating process and I'll be observing you, which would be possible in a "job" environment. In dating or partner search very personal aspects (ego, pride, desperation, prejudices etc.) are involved. So my fear is that the fact of observation would distort their behavior too much, because they don't want to show their complexes, desperation, socially unacceptable behavior etc.. –  teplik Oct 22 '13 at 8:41
    
@usingtheinternet Some of research objectives are: 1) What doesn't work for users in a "standard" feature set of online dating products. 2) What are the reasons to use online dating instead of real life dating 3) What kind of interaction with other users seems natural and engaging to them –  teplik Oct 22 '13 at 8:48
    
Interesting question, and a challenge that most researchers in psychology have to deal with "creative way" to avoid bias and get to the real behavior. Often people do not realize how creative research-design can be. In this case, I'm leaning towards saying that it will be very difficult to carry out an observation study (as opposed to anonymously filling in questionnaires / writing essay). Also, your first and third goal already sound very concrete, if you haven't come to understand your user's behavior yet. –  Liang Oct 22 '13 at 20:48
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I think a creative way to run this sort of study is to remove all social risk to your participants. Do this by only recruiting people who are married and met their spouse online. They will reveal their actual behaviors because they have nothing to lose. They were already successful in this domain, and cannot lose face with the facilitator. You can also learn a great deal by studying such a group, because their strategies worked for them. And you could get two participants out of each successful recruiting attempt.

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In my experience with user testing and based on your research objectives I can suggest a couple of things.

1) Test users using an online dating product. Identify a site that has the "standard" set of features you want to test. Based on the use of the word "standard" you must have a few in mind. Set up specific tasks for the user to go through and observe their reactions, body language and what they say.

2) Is a little harder but I would ask the users I am testing. They are not going to give the 100% truth but they will tell you about their experiences and how they relate to the traditional way of dating vs online dating.

3) This one may present itself during the testing. Do the users seem comfortable using the online dating site or would they rather go a more traditional route?

Hope this helps.

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