So, first off, if you didn’t know, I have been a member of the online dating world for quite some time. Starting during my time in Dayton, I have been on and off various sites as, well, it’s honestly a bit easier for me to meet people more my style that way. After all, that was where I met Bambi, and before then (through a rescue ranger fan site) met another lovely young lady that was quite spiffy. True, I did have an excellent relationship with a girl that I met while in Grad School, but alas, that is the exception and not the rule. So, as a result, I like to think that I can speak with some authority on the topic of online dating in general.
Well, I ran across an article posted on one of those dating sites, OKCupid, and, well, it’s really a bizarre thing for them to talk about:
Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating
Now, OKCupid is a free online dating site, that supports itself through ads, mainly, but — and here’s the kicker — they have “subscriber” level themselves. It’s about $5 a month, and called the A-List. And now here he is telling everyone who is paying that they are pretty much idoits for doing so. It’s like GM posting about how American Car Companies are untrustworthy and poorly run, and conveniently only use Ford and Chrysler as examples. And the guy never once makes any mention of this in the blog post, like OKCupid is still totally free. Sure, it is free, but if paying for a dating site is so horrible, why not cancel that aspect of the site and refund the subscribers money? I mean, it makes me very skeptical of his arguments when he labels a blog post something akin to “Paying for dating sites is wrong unless its for mine.”
At the beginning of the article, the writer — Christian — admits an important fact:
As a founder of OkCupid I’m of course motivated to point out our competitors’ flaws. So take what I have to say today with a grain of salt.
He then proceeds to crunch a bunch of numbers to try and show why paying for online dating is such a horrible idea, but in the end, all of his arguements can be applied to online dating in any form — free or pay. So, in effect, he makes an impassioned plea for people to give up online dating, which includes, well, his site.
Honestly, I still can’t figure out how on earth he missed this connection. Forget the paying aspect of it — a lot of his numbers are really much more about the difficulties of online dating for most people, and in fact could probably be used to convince some people to forget online dating altogether. After all, there’s nothing in his numbers that really makes a difference if people are paying or not. But, before I get too far, I’ll note some of my reactions to his comments, speaking as a veteran of online dating.
First, he points out a truism on all dating sites: women get too many messages from bad matches, and men get far too few replies. This is in general, mind you — I’m sure that there are some guys that get a large amount of replies, and first contacts, even. Also, I think it’s fair to say that guys, as well, probably get more messages from bad matches than from those that they are interested in. Speaking from personal experience, on OKCupid, I don’t get a lot of first contact, but when I do, it’s been about 99% from women that I have absolutely no interest in.
Then he goes through some numbers to show that it’s in Match.com’s and eHarmony.com’s best interests to lead their customers on with profiles that are either non-paying (and thus unable to respond to messages) or with profiles that are not even active any more. Now, this is something that is true — and, ironically, he doesn’t even take it as far as he could have. Because besides the fact that out of the 20 million or so subscribers on a site like eHarmony are inactive or non-paying, there are also a far more that are just not going to be worth the time to pursue, even if they are active and paying. For example, some people may live too far away, love cats while the other person has deathly allergies, or there just is no chemistry.
But, you know, OKCupid is just as guilty of this. Remember, they make most of their money through ads. Ads only generate good revenues if the site owner can prove that a lot of eyeballs are looking at the pages. This means that the more people on the site, the more eyeballs. So, it’s in OKCupid’s interests to get and keep as many people on the site as possible. Now, this isn’t to say that they are leading people on with false profiles or whatnot. But a number of times when I’m looking to search for matches, it will default the search criteria to women aged 18-55, within 1000 miles, and online anytime in the past decade. The last one is particularly telling — Christian talks about the evils of leading people on with profiles that can’t reply, and yet his site will often show you “matches” that haven’t logged on since the Bush administration. Isn’t that basically the same thing?
Then he points out that eHarmony says right on their site that their user base is completly refreshed once every 6.5 months
The most charitable way to interpret this last sentence is to assume their average account life is 6.5 months.
Well, no. the most charitable way to interpret that sentence is that within 6.5 months, their users have found the love of their life through the site and are happily together. And besides, wouldn’t that also mean that every 6.5 months there’s a whole new batch of single people that are available to contact? Isn’t that a good thing?
Next he shows how having only 1 in 30 people to talk to due to a subscriber wall is a such a bad thing, by showing 30 “attractive, single OKCupid users” and then hiding all but one behind a “Can’t Reply” graphic. But that is making the incorrect assumption that such a ratio would be any better on a free dating site, such as OKCupid. For example, you’ll note that he said nothing about whether or not the users showed were currently active or not, nor where they were located, and he certainly can’t say that just because all 30 theoretically can reply, that they would. And more to the point, it’s not like these sites are actually offering only 30 people to choose from. Scale it up to where “only” 10,000 people can reply, and chance are that it doesn’t make as much of a difference whether or not there’s a subscriber wall.
Later on, he makes this point:
If you’re a subscriber to a pay dating site, you are an important (though unwitting) part of that site’s customer acquisition team. Of course, they don’t want to show you too many ghosts, because you’ll get frustrated and quit, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re relying on you your messages are their marketing materials to reach out to non-payers and convince them, by way of your charming, heartfelt messages, to pull out their credit cards. If only a tiny fraction of your message gets a response, hey, that’s okay, you’re working for free. Wait a second…you’re paying them.
Er… no, that’s not even close to being true for Match; I haven’t used eHarmony in a long time, but when I did try it, it worked completely differently, as well. In eHarmony, you actually started off with a set of simple yes/no questions to see about basic interest, then moved up through a few more steps before you started e-mailing each other. So, you couldn’t get past those first steps unless you were already paying. As for Match, you cannot read emails unless you are a paying member — you don’t even know who the e-mail is from without being a subscriber. This is crummy on a seperate level, but the assertion that you’re providing their marketing material is just flat-out wrong, and the lack of basic research into this is disturbing.
Here’s another fun fact:
There is a negative correlation between the number of messages a man sends per day to the reply rate he gets. The more messages you send, the worse response rate you get.
As far as I can tell, this is from OKCupid’s own data. So, again, I’m not sure how this is really helping their cause. It’s not saying, “You wasting your time on pay dating sites” so much as “You’re wasting your time on dating sites.”
Finally, he wraps up the post by pointing out how eHarmony fails over 90% of the time to get people married. Interestingly enough, however, he provides no data on how OKCupid does in that category. In fact, throughout the entire post, OKCupid’s own success rates in comparison to Match and eHarmony are blatantly absent. It’s like a comparison ad without the comparison. And, again, throughout the entire post Christian never once makes any attempt to justify the A-list pay level of OKCupid.
It’s just such a mind-bendingly bizarre article that I cannot wrap my mind around it. I looked through some comments, and most people are totally in favor of it; I will admit it was a bit disturbing to see that very, very few people actually made any mention of OKCupid’s own A-List service, or the stunning lack of data about OKCupid’s own profiles and “success rate.”
Anyway — this was not a deeply-thought out response. Just something that struck me as so odd I wanted to jot down my random thoughts to it. I will say, however, that if that this did anything to my own take on online dating, it would to basically give it up. But, well, I doubt that will happen any time soon.