Where we're going, we don't need pants

The below was originally posted in my OKCupid Journal, as part of moving my “profile completion” bar from 85% to 90%. It’s an insidious system that successfully lured me into using online dating. And now I can’t seem to extricate myself. ^_^

OK, that profile-completion bar is going to lose. I’ve gotten this far, so I really have to see what happens when I fill it. I’m hoping for free chocolate from the sky, but it seems unlikely.

So while I’m dumping text on the Internet, I might as well complain about online dating sites. _Other_ online dating sites, mind you. (OKCupid will get a serve too, but a minor one. Spoiler, it wins in the end.)

If you are in a hurry and just want to see the ending, scroll down to the bolded summary header. You’ll avoid a really bad pun, and some analogies between video games and online dating websites.

I’ve avoided online dating sites for years, because I like to think the Internet hasn’t completely taken over my life (I’m holding on to that belief, BTW) but a friend of mine dragged me into OKCupid to take some test about the furry apocalypse. That’s where this whole profile-completion bar thing started.

Along the way I’ve had one (brief, I’m sorry to say) relationship from OkCupid but was staying away from any other sites because they were either costly (RSVP, eHarmony), ugly as all hell and unusable (PlentyOfFish) or just didn’t show up anything withing a few hundred kilometres of me (every “geek” dating site Google could find.)

This stance changed for no good reason I am aware of on New Year’s Eve.

Plenty Of Fish remains an ugly, unusable nightmare of a web site. It’s the spiritual successor to that old Flash website where you had to click the pulsating squid to go to pictures page, or the upside-down light bulb to turn the music on and off. I don’t remember if it was a satire about how Flash was destroying the Web, or a serious attempt by an artist or designer to try and move the Web away from all the boring text and pictures laid out in a way that’s meaningful and interrelated. I really hope it was the former…

Back on topic, my biggest problem with Plenty of Fish would have to be that it’s matching system is bizarrely unuseful, and most of the people there provide one-line profiles, and maybe a pair of interest keywords. That and you can’t combine their searches.

I like the idea of searching by personality. Numbers are fun. I like the idea of limiting my search to women of an appropriate age and relationship interest. I like the idea of of searching for people who live within 100km of me. So far, so good. But PoF and I disagree about the idea of using all these criteria at once. Heck, if I could have the personality search show me more than just bizarrely distended head-shots, it’d be a step up.

That’s also bizarre, BTW. Is ASP.NET so very bad at image manipulation that they can’t implement a system that can maintain the aspect ratio of a head-shot?

And the final straw in PoF’s haystack of pain? When it’s showing you photos-only, the ones without photos usefully tell you their age and what they’re looking for. So you can see either if someone’s attractive (in a Dali-ish way) _or_ if they’re an appropriate age and are actually looking for the sort of relationship you’re looking for. (BTW, what is “Other relationship” supposed to be. Some people won’t take messages from it, looking like it’s an synonym for fuck-buddy, and some people seem to use it as “friends now which might turn into a relationship if you turn out to match some arbitrary criteria I haven’t decided yet”. Maybe it’s in the PoF help, but frankly, they need all the help they can get with the site already, I don’t want to consume any of it with my inane queries.)

Sometimes it feels like PoF is actively trying to work against you. There’s plenty of video game analogies available here, but I’m going to compare it to some early Wii titles. The ones where motion control was so shiny, developers figured that anything that worked by waggling the Wiimote would sell like hotcakes, and failed to notice that Nintendo were launching with a title or two that showed how to do motion controls _right_, making everyone else who got it wrong (Samurai Warriors Katana, I’m looking at you), look like they’d been caught asleep at the switch. Red Steel actually has this reputation, but I think unfairly. Go back and try it now that we’ve had Wiimotes for three years, and they’re not new and bizarre addons. In fact, I might see if I can find the work copy of Red Steel, and actually finish the damn game. And in all fairness, Red Steel was a launch title, so the developers probably hadn’t tried Wii Sports or Warioware: Smooth Moves to know how it was supposed to feel.

Next up in my outpouring of… I dunno what this is. If it was hate, I wouldn’t keep going back…. The more it hurts, the more it shows I care, as the philosophers say.

Right? Yeah… Next, is RSVP.com.au

It’s an interesting system. Free to browse but costs money to open a communication channel. You pay per person per month. Once you’ve bought credit, you can send pre-canned little messages for free, so once you’ve decided to pay at all, you don’t have to spend the credit unless the person’s at least returned your “time of day”. Not that RSVP cares at that point, they have your money.

It’s a bit like a token-based video arcade. You go in, you can look for free. Once you want to play something, you buy a pile of tokens. Now they have your cash, and you suddenly become extra choosy about what you play, because you’re working from a limited pile of tokens.

They make no effort (that I can perceive) to find the _right_ people for you, and in fact the option to only show people whose “ideal partner” profile you fit isn’t always there. (Again, I think it’s not available when you also try to search for people who fit your “ideal partner” profile).

But once again, the real disappointment is the people. Not that it’s a huge disappointment, mind you, but most of the Canberra women on RSVP seem to hold as their primary interests sports, sports, V8 car racing and other sports. And unlike OkCupid and PoF, not posting a photo publicly appears to be the norm.

The plus side to RSVP is it’s popular. So once I’ve waded through the 143 women within distance, with appropriate relationship interest and age group, there’s a reasonable chance there’ll be three or four whose profiles both interest me and indicate I might interest them.

By-the-by, tall women are hot, but only seem to like taller guys, from what they tell me and post in their profiles. I think this is terrifically unfair. Short women are hot too. So’re women my height. I’m not being picky about height, to be clear.

So yeah, RSVP makes up for poor selection by playing the percentages. That’s actually why I went there, after a friend was stunned I was on a smaller site like OkCupid but hadn’t been to RSVP.

And further, there’s eHarmony. I actually like it, bizarrely. They have a personality matching system, which I’m fond of (that’s why I joined OkCupid in the first place, just to see how it worked. And then didn’t come back for two years) and works reasonably well. I took advantage of their “free communication” weekend, where you can send messages (which normally requires you to subscribe) but cannot see photos (which requires you to subscribe) and frankly, it was oddly liberating. They don’t even post body-shape information, so you aren’t tempted to reject someone because you don’t like the look of them straight off. (This is not a “ugly people need love too” thing. I didn’t say it’s better this way, just different).

As mentioned, eHarmony has a subscription model. You can’t search or browse for people, you have to wait for eHarmony’s magic psychologist computer to send you people who might match. So far it’s had better percentages than RSVP as far as sending me sports-fanatics who think Reading is in Berkshire. It has sent me a couple of Melbourneites, who’re apparently in one of the very northern outer suburbs, about a 600km round trip if they want to go into town, but less than 50km from Canberra…

I guess for what it is, eHarmony’s not doing too bad a job. Sure, for a subscription site, trickling people to you makes sense, rather than letting you find everyone one the site whom you might match in the first week, and then cancelling your subscription before it renews.

It’s kinda like World of Warcraft in that respect. You can’t do it all in a month, and every month after the first makes you less likely to quit as you’re that much more invested. (Trust me, I do this sort of stuff for a living. WoW is like a finely-tuned poker machine, except poker machines are required by law to have a certain payout level. WoW only rewards you until you reach critical mass of social investment, and then feeds off you like some kind of video game leech. Which is completely different from Earthworm Jim…)

However, unlike WoW, I think it’s way too expensive for what you get. I’ve paid ’em once, unsure if I’ll pay ’em again. I have the rest of the month to decide…

Anyway, I guess OkCupid’d better have a turn. I like the site. The matching system is actually really good (by and large), it lets you define “near” and sticks to it, except when it emails me matches, who’re all universally a few hundred kilometres away, and frequently not looking for a relationship anyway. I suspect the email matching thing is ignore criteria in order to find three new people to email me.

Which actually leads in to the problem. My match list here is something like 13 people. I think I’ve messaged all the ones with whom I might have something in common, and a few with whom I have almost nothing in common. I’ve messaged a few people who haven’t been on the site in months. I keep coming back here partly because I’m actually in the middle of one conversation (interrupted by Christmas) and because I had one success here, and am hoping lightning will strike me twice. (Except without the zappy, painful static bit).

So OkCupid gets to be analogised to ArmA 2. It’s a great game, wonderful community which lets me choose to associate and search for the sort of people I want to associate with, and little-to-few of the sports-obsessed, team-killing, V8-racing-watching and crashing-the-only-damned-wreck-helicopter-into-the-sea douchebags that populate such popular dating sites as OkCounterstrike. The downside is that there’s a hundred billion CounterStrike players (all of whom have used the word “fag” as a pejorative in the last 20 minutes) and only a dozen of us playing ArmA 2, on a 30-player map. (And I must confess, I haven’t played ArmA 2 in months, Aion‘s release was too close on its heels and I don’t have the hard disk space for both. Curse you Steam and your over 100gB of steamapps!)

I am starting to see why if I turn off the “visited in the last month” filter on OkCupid, the list goes up to 60-ish. (RSVP went up to something like 500 for comparison. So same level of increase). I guess many of us do it. We come to the site, look around, message everyone who catches our eye, either succeed or fail, and go back to bar-hoping. (It’s a pun, not a typo.)

And I suspect if I lived in a bigger city, I’d be doing better. When I turn off the distance filter, my match list goes through the roof. I sometimes am tempted to message out-of-towners in places that’d be fun to live, but I’m also sometimes tempted to eat nothing but chocolate for a day (three 100g blocks of dark chocolate is below my daily energy intake goal, so this isn’t as crazy as it sounds) but I don’t do that either.


So, anyway, I wish all the people using online dating sites would use OkCupid instead. It’s attractive, useful, provides actual matches with a number that seems to work, doesn’t make you pay and therefore doesn’t produce arbitrary obstacles to ensure you pay more.

Alternatively, I wish I lived in a bigger city, where OkCupid had more people, maybe?

I’m actually really happy with this post. I might go attach it to my real blog, once the web server’s fixed.


One thought on “Where we're going, we don't need pants

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