Gary Stock is author of unblinking.com and CIO of technology innovation firm Nexcerpt, Inc. He’s also an online dating veteran and an experimenter and critic of the technology and systems behind the online dating sites. I first discovered him after he left a comment on my post about spotting fake Match.com profiles and then reading his Bad Match series of posts about the scams that are rampant on online dating sites. If any readers are doing online dating or are interested in the subject, I highly recommend reading his posts and then checking out this interview. Take the 10′ and read through this entire thing, because it’s packed with good insight and gives good examples of what the online dating experience is like. This interview is broken into two parts.
1. What is your personal experience with online dating and how did those experiences lead you to write the Bad Match series of articles? When did you first realize there were scams going on?
I’ve been using online dating services for about twenty months. I’ve always had memberships at two or three sites simultaneously. In total, I’ve had active profiles at over fifteen services, but at least ten services were completely useless to me. I think they would be equally useless to mature professionals.
To qualify that, let me skim my background. I’m divorced, two years ago, after being married 22 years. I did graduate work in jazz and spent years playing gigs; became a computer spy for NSA, which was very cool; then filled some corporate roles, which was very boring! I sold an Internet startup in the late 1990′s, and protected nearly 180 acres around my home for the rare plants an animals that live here. Now I spend a lot of time volunteering on land use issues and working on wildlife and habitat projects.
I’m very active and fit at 52 years of age, but women I date say I look 40-ish. (They hate me at college reunions. Tip: get great genes and stay outta the sun :-). All my adult relationships have been with women some years younger — though I’m only interested in women who are smart, strong, and very self-aware. And a bit slim. And sorta stacked. (OK, so I know what I like and am ridiculously honest about it! Hey, that’s A Good Thing(TM) ;-)
Since 1996, I’ve been building and operating sophisticated web tools. My current venture is Nexcerpt, a news clipping service, but I’ve worked on many search and database systems. So, although my focus is on meeting a great partner, I find myself analyzing how dating systems function. I see patterns, and want to understand them. That’s what prompted me to write the Bad Match articles. I gathered a lot of data and thought it might help members of Match — or its staff — to know what I saw.
As to my experience, the large, mainstream sites were a good introduction. I poked around Yahoo Personals for several months; nearly all their profiles are real human beings! (Unfortunately, they allow old profiles to hang around for many MONTHS after they’re abandoned.) Yahoo is the Mama Bear of the scene. You can offer as little or as much about yourself as you want. You can search, or wait for suggestions. It’s fairly anonymous, but feels more like e-mail than the “20 Questions” slots psychologists have cooked up elsewhere.
I had active profiles at e-Harmony and Chemistry for all of 2008. Neither service allows you to search their database, which drove me a little batty. Personally, I consider the lack of to search (or poor search options) to be a serious design error. It reflects assumptions by the designers — at a very basic level — that I cannot know what I want. (Since they didn’t design for search from the beginning, it’s likely they now face hardware and/or database limits that would prevent them from offering it. But, they wouldn’t offer it anyway. More on that later…)
In place of search, they present you from one to seven “good” prospects each day. That’s it. Unfortunately, that list seems based exclusively on how you answered introductory questions. Who you vote up or vote down later has very little influence over what they offer you, even after you provide volumes of very strong feedback.
Imagine you asked 1,000 men whether they would renew a fairly expensive subscription to see photos of women whose profile they’d read. Now, imagine you asked the same 1,000 men whether they would renew to CONTACT women whose pictures they had SEEN. I’m guessing 300 would sign up to SEE photos, and 700 would sign up to CONTACT women they’d seen. What do they think is gonna MOTIVATE guys to renew? Words? Seriously?!? OK… end of rant. :-)
Both sites also make the communication process “easy” (often, literally, multiple choice) and “safe” (you can close a connection permanently with a coupla clicks, with no worries about blowback). But, of course, that also means you’ll be lucky EVER to get through the process and actually MEET someone — because members there seem less inclined to take a risk, or to be very open.
That safety at e-Harmony and Chemistry means many women there (by self-selecting for low risk) are relatively vanilla. However, even for all their psychological tests and filters, both sites DEFINITELY allow some women in who are *crazy*! Hehe… and not always in a good way!
Several other very serviceable sites had so few female members there was no point. For example, PerfectMatch seems well thought out, and of quality, but when you receive one match a month it’s of little use! The same was true at BrainiacDating.com. Nicely done, and possibly a great scene — but nobody there!
PlentyOfFish is the least trendy of the bunch, but has an enormous membership. Unfortunately (and I mean that, with apologies for how this sounds) membership in my area is…unsophisticated. Do the words “trailer park” mean anything?
At PoF, you can set your zip code to a metropolitan area and search there. The urban areas at PoF tends to be more attractive than the rural ones. That may merely reflect the demographics — but it’s evident.
OKCupid, probably the best technically designed site I’ve seen, is also the most responsive. Big mainstream sites can allow glaring process or interface errors to exist for weeks. But if you report something odd at OKCupid, it may be fixed the same day! If you suggest a new feature, it may actually appear! It’s as if folks there know how to write code! (Hehe… read their “About” pages — that’s exactly why the site works so well.) You’ll see a similar effect at PlentyofFish: responsive to problems and the buttons always work.
That points to a fascinating difference. Those two sites — OKC and PoF — are also the only two sites to appear virtually spam free. There ARE bogus users on both; I’ve seen several. But, if you report a fake profile, usually in minutes it is GONE. That just doesn’t happen anywhere else, in my experience.
Finally, some sites are OVERFLOWING with bogus profiles. Mate1.com, True.com… yikes! That’s where I first saw the most dishonest stuff! Fling.com — OMG, don’t go there! Epic FAIL! I suspect that the only humans using Fling.com are men, and the webcam girls who are stalking those guys’ credit cards. Look out!
I’ve used and studied other “adult” sites, too. They all exhibit similar technical problems — but I think that scene is another topic entirely…
2. Have you had any success with online dating?
Definitely. Whoever you may be looking for, they’re somewhere online. (Look out though, on the edgier sites some want to charge you for their time! :-)
Seriously, I’ve met some smart, beautiful, very interesting women whom anyone would be proud and happy to call a partner OR friend.
You MUST keep in mind, though, this is a ridiculous numbers game — the higher your standards the slower that game will be! I have absurdly high standards, which means I wade through a lot of profiles, and even many great “offers,” without becoming involved. I want to meet a really exceptional woman.
Such women are swamped with inquiries and offers — some disgusting offers, many stupid inquiries, but still swamped. Those odds work against DECENT guys on most sites! Most women simply don’t need to work for, or make, initial contact in the way men typically must.
In 20 months, I estimate I’ve skimmed some 200,000 profiles very briefly — as a search listing, or by reading a first paragraph. Among those, perhaps 2,000 have been intriguing enough for me to read the entire profile. Almost always, when I found it worthwhile to read, I wrote an original message to that woman. About twenty percent respond. I believe that’s a very high response rate, primarily because (women tell me) my messages are both thoughtful and humorous.
Among those few hundred, several dozen evolved into phone conversations. Among those dozens, I’ve met nearly twenty in person. Half of those became personal, passionate, intimate — whatever you’d call that phase of discovery. Among all those, only two really caught me up in JUST the way I wanted.
I dated M for several months. She easily could have been my Last First Date! But, M was facing hurdles — both health and work — that made a relationship awkward. I wanted to help; it was impractical or beyond me; sadly, we stopped.
Eight months later, the moment I met S, I believed she was exactly the woman I’d been hoping to find! She expressed similar feelings about me. After hours of talking, it felt magical! I presumed my online days were over. But, I believe she was reliving a deeply grim experience from a past relationship. The next day, I revealed an error of mine that triggered enormous suspicion in her. Her reaction was rapid, brittle, and final: she refused all further communication. (Moral of the story: NEVER use a text message to raise a new issue you could wait to discuss in person!) That was very painful — perhaps for both of us. But I’m glad I found out early! lol
I’ve had some disastrous discoveries, too — women who were not mentally stable.
My best advice: go slower — with both information and process — than you might want. Speed seems to make it too easy to ignore your gut. Trust your intuition. I have always sensed the crazies coming, well before meeting them; my gut was always right. And, I’ve always sensed the great connections from the very first contact. Always.
This is part 1 of 2…
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