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“Cupid, pull back your email”

by | Nov 30, 2015 | The Lighter SIde

Why online dating sites like Match.com may not be worth your time (or your money).

Maybe it was the fifth wink of the week that finally got me to wondering what it is about me that attracted such exotic and ill-grammared women. These women all with just one photo, a somewhat staged, shot in beautiful landscaped scenes, and each woman having similar physical traits, a waif-like frame, huge deerish eyes, and pale complexions, such that you would see in a woman from cloud-drenched European countries.

The similarities didn’t stop there…they were all teachers, all about 25, all with no preferences listed in their ideal mate except for a “good man,” and all unable to send emails through the Match app. Instead if I felt a desire to respond to their wink I needed to email them at addresses such as “LHO78 at g ma dot com.” Now me being as much a man of science as I am a man who at midlife lets the fantasy of a young woman having interest take hold for a few seconds, decided to email a few of these women.

What I got in return was a long, Kerouac-like stretch of text, lacking punctuation and grammar and basically saying that they were really not living within 100 miles of my hometown, but rather overseas and had to pretend so as to get around the Match.com rules. There was no attempt at soliciting money at first and while it became clear that there was a good chance there would be, I also figured maybe these were really women who were just hoping to find an American to marry and allow them to come to our land of opportunity.

(For the record I have met a few women here in the States who seem to be on the back end of such an arrangement, having separated or divorced their green card conduits and are now looking for somebody they actually want to be with.)

With that experiment now done, I began to look at the other features of this dating site that had made me wonder if there was any real “science” behind it.

At the same time I just happened to see Greg Blatt, the CEO of the parent company Match Group, which also owns Tinder and OK Cupid, among others, in an interview on a business show. He was touting the rise in advertising on their properties to account for 55 million NON-paying members a month that use their services.

Now on it’s face that 55 million number doesn’t mean much until you look at how a site such as Match.com operates. For years the service has been free for anyone to join, but to really make any use of it you had to pay. If you didn’t pay you couldn’t read or send emails, or know who sent you those little winks, or who had checked you out. Basically it was pointless to join for free if you ever really wanted to meet someone.

Being a paying member wasn’t much better, since the site never tells a user if the person they are writing to is a paid member who can see and read the email, leaving you to wonder if they just couldn’t see it or if they did and just never felt like replying. That is still how it works to this day.

But Match did decide to be benevolent and for an extra monthly fee, paying users could get “read notifications” letting them see if their email was read. So basically for more money, you could now become a borderline stalker and obsessive…writing emails, twiddling thumbs, and checking back to see if they were read. And many people do just that. (If you are seeing a trend where the name of the game is more nickel and dime than love and romance, you’d be right..and it gets even better.)

Recently Match introduced a new feature you can pay for where you as a paying member can email anybody and they can reply, regardless if the recipient is a paying member or not. Holy great news Batman! You mean for another 10 bucks a month I can subsidize the non-paying members and give them the chance to find that love they have been too cheap to find up until now? Well gee, thank you good Internet company, mighty fine of you.

Why does it offer this new miracle cure for communication? Because not only does Match get even more money from paid subscribers, but it can continue to attract the freeloaders of love and use those eyeballs to attract much more advertising dinero. Here’s what CEO Blatt had to say about that:

“So, now, we’ve got 55 million people a month that don’t pay us, but we have highly targeted demographic information — age, gender, geography,education, et cetera. So it’s a really great audience for us. And you know, we’ve done some tests this year in our ad side, and it`s really exciting for people. And we think it`s going to be big business.”

This cold, methodical view of love does seem to diverge from the stated mission of the company which in it’s recent SEC filing, touted much more lofty and humanistic goals:

“Establishing a romantic connection is a fundamental human need. Whether it’s a good date, a meaningful relationship or an enduring marriage, romantic connectivity lifts the human spirit. Our mission is to increase romantic connectivity worldwide.”

Ok, by now surely somebody out there is saying well of course they do all of this they are a business are they not?

Yes they are.

But the problem is that when they also try to pass themselves off as some kind of matchmaker, using algorithms and data to help users find those other love seekers that are a great match, the company opens itself up to such scrutiny. After all, the site even attaches percentages to the level of “matchness” you have with other users, something that you would think was based on some sort of unbiased and non-manipulated method.

And just to make one final point with my “man of science” hat on as opposed to my “what are the immigration laws for Russian brides?” hat, consider this paid feature Match offers.

Everyday a user gets a handful of profiles presented to them in what is called the Daily Matches. These are supposedly people that meet your criteria as well as you meeting theirs, and as such the likelihood of the two of you hitting it off is theoretically higher than if you just started emailing people all willy nilly.

Again, like most things on the site, this sounds like a smart, useful feature…taking the time for searching off of your plate and letting the app earn your money. Finally, something breaking in the paying users’ favor. But there’s a catch.

When you click on a profile you get a whole bunch of information about that person, things they like, things they want, pictures, etc. What you also get in the lower corner is the option (FOR A FEE OF COURSE) to have your profile show up in that person’s Daily Matches. Now the company says that this add-on can only be used for members “that share the same or similar profile interests”, but what that really means is unclear. What makes it even more troubling is that nowhere would that member know you paid to be there…they would just be left to assume that the powerful dating algorithms deemed you a match for them.

Robert Westfall

Robert is a writer, behavorial researcher and decision-making consultant. He is the founder of Instinct, a firm specializing in helping organizations be more human focused and planet conscious.  You can learn more about his work at www.TheHumanInstinct.com and follow him at twitter.com/WeAreInstinct

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