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Local expert offers some guidelines for successful online dating

Online dating is a great way to practice your dating skills, says one local dating expert who cautioned against spending too much time in cyberspace.

"Sign up one month at a time for a total no longer than six months," says Patti Novak of Buffalo Niagara Introductions. "Anything longer than that will turn the benefits of online dating into an obstacle for real-life dating."

The benefits of online dating, suggests Novak, are:

* Identifying your weaknesses and strengths.

* Developing and improving your skills.

* Increasing your geographic pool. If you are willing to travel, you will be swimming in a larger pool of singles.

* Niche daters have specialty sites (JDate, ChristianCafe, LargeAndLovely, WineLoversMeet).

"Online dating is a lot of work," says Novak, whose dating service is distinguished by her personally matching singles. "Online daters have to screen scores of profiles. You can't check out his shoes or look into his eyes. There are no tiny pieces of information that reveal themselves like they do on a real date."

Novak estimates that 85 percent of her clients have already used Internet dating before signing up for her service.

She offers some rules for online dating:

* No more than three e-mails before you set a time to meet. Any longer and it becomes voyeuristic.

* Don't use last names. Occupation is OK, but not where you work.

* Don't use suggestive screen names. "You may attract the wrong type of people."

* Keeping a dating journal is not a bad idea. Record names, visual details, personality traits and interests.

"Go out and make a new friend," Novak says, "and if there's chemistry, it's a bonus."