Interview with Gary Stock (Part 2)

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. This is the part 2 of the interview. Part 1 can be found here.

3. What exactly are the fake profiles and scams for? Are these guys trying to wrangle money out of people or just get emails in order to spam them?

There are so many different flavors of bogus profiles. I perceive them in two categories:  1) written by native English speakers, and 2) obviously NOT.

Among those who exhibit good grammar, diction, and spelling:  if they ask for your e-mail address IN their profile, they’ll send you spam.  Always useless; mostly porn.  NEVER offer your e-mail address in your first message unless you want more spam.   Also, if a profile is really short, don’t offer any information to them.  Same problem, these are  likely address collectors.

If someone asks for your e-mail address in their first message, that’s likely a marketing ploy.  That’s how MatchMaker International got my personal e-mail address — it exists nowhere else but in dating profiles and messages.  They set up a profile, had “her” gather addresses, and then followed up with a sales pitch.  Uncool.  I learned my lesson there.

In a far more nuanced way, I’ve heard from several courtesans — long term intimate partners for hire — who write very cordial and intelligent messages to attractive, successful men.  After two or three subtle but enticing exchanges, they offer a link to a web site, and you realize you’ve been finessed toward a cold call.  A bit unsettling… but flattering!

A couple of Doms have taken a similar approach:  from a “typical” profile, they talk up how great the personal connection feels from a distance — then reveal they’re available for one-on-one “sessions.”  No, those did NOT come from adult hookup sites — they were hidden in plain sight at searchable dating services.  It’s cheaper (and probably much safer for them) than the Yellow Pages.

I saw the same from a masseuse who needed to pay her son’s tuition, and was selling happy endings.  (If you’re nice, you can ask all sorts of questions, and women tend to answer them.)  She used a fairly mainstream site, ignored incoming messages, and simply sought out guys she felt she would be comfortable… ummm… helping.  Hehe… she was very sweet; I have NO idea how much help she was!

Profiles in the second category — with astonishingly poor English — you have to see to believe.  You needn’t know much about grammar to discern these. The words are out of alignment from repeated cutting and pasting; they have many extra blanks, or strings of words separated by irregularly spaced commas; entire sentences are repeated, or never finished.  They come from lazy people (note, I didn’t say “women”) whom you do NOT want to meet.

A few are webcam girls looking for guys to invite for private sessions.  Those are easy to spot:  the photos are raunchy, and the messages usually are, too.

I suspect most of the atrocious-English profiles fall into two camps.  Allow me to grossly generalize for ease of reference:  1) classic Nigerian 419 scams, and 2) Ukraninan brides.  If you really want to learn, go read Wikipedia, or any of a thousand websites dedicated to exposing them.  I’ll report what I’ve come to believe, which is built only partially on myth and superstition.

We recognize Nigerian 419 schemes from our e-mail,  “I am Prince Nazabouli TanJankir, prelate of the Bank of Zanzik,” or, “Am sorry to break to your news day, but forgive it me that I beseech helping.”  They either have money they’ll share with you, or want your help to escape from something.  Don’t be stupid.

I suspect a lot of Match activity comes from Ukrainian brides.  Whether there are real women behind it, or not, the intent may be much like 419:  to get you hooked on relationship potential (rather than cash proceeds) then ask for help to make it happen.

I may have saved one woman from this scam!  When we met, she warned me she was becoming close to a nice guy already — but I realized immediately she was relating a 419 storyline.  I began predicting what her guy would say next — and damn if he didn’t do everything I said!  (It still took her several days of listening to his escalating lies to grasp that she had been fooled.)  So, at least TRY not to be stupid.

One part of that scheme sounds particularly scary.  I dated one woman who described a male friend’s legal trouble after sponsoring a “fiancee” from overseas.  I Am Not A Lawyer (and glad of it :-), but once a foreign national has used your name as a reference, to gain permission to step onto US soil, you’d better hope they really love you, and have no criminals for friends.

4. Besides the scams, do you have any comment on the online dating marketplace overall? Any ways you would improve these services?

Geez… it’s NOT similar in any procedural way — but some of the human traits and behavioral hurdles are the same, translated into virtual venues.

You need to pay close attention to what women say and what they do — those frequently differ, even when all they’re doing is typing. Be as courteous as you can, without being stiff (so you’d better do it naturally).

You need to enjoy yourself regardless of whether a woman is doing the same.  I do not mean ignore what she would enjoy — quite the opposite.  Have fun!  But, if she isn’t comfortable yet — with sharing information, or certain methods of communication, or any level of physical connection — just chill the hell out. Don’t make a big deal of it. Take a break, whether in time or topic, and check back later at the same level as before.  Don’t give up, but don’t escalate.

As to improving the services, I’ve talked about this with most of the women I met online. I believe all the existing services are fundamentally flawed, and always were.  And now, for my next act — if I haven’t done so already — I’ll eliminate any hope of seeming humble :-)

My impression is that these sites rarely have had someone with my skill set involved in their conception and design.  (Or, if such a person was involved, they were not given the respect or resources they deserved.)  For years, my job title has been “Technical Compass.”  I explain what everyone says, to everyone else, because people typically can’t cross disciplines in essential ways.

I can sit in a room filled with marketblather — “How will we leverage this lead to monetize eyeballs?” — and walk away knowing what it actually MEANT.  I can sit in a room filled with geekspeak — “If we normalize the template, can we trade more indexing for less swapping?” — and leave with a full understanding.  Those two crowds should NEVER be permitted in the same space.  Once they mingle, unmoderated, a project is screwed.  They NEED a translator!  That’s my role.

Now, add to THAT mess the troubles contributed by a third crowd — Psych majors!  Holy Mazola!  That project will fall FAR short of expectations.  Tag on some interface designers — who can barely relate to any of the first three crowds, and who always come late to the party — and the result WILL be a disaster.  And thus online dating usually is, for all of us, as users.

I see no site that has solved that problem well.   So, they haven’t solved the online dating problem, either.  I believe NO site that “finds compatible people” accomplishes much beyond random chance.  I believe none of them “find” ANYTHING.

Imagine this experiment:  select groups A and B, each containing 1,000 male members of Match.com.  (Yeah, I know, “Hehe… I said “male members… hehe…”)
ANYWAY… send Group A the profiles of five women who match them best — using Match.com’s algorithms — every day for six months.  At the same time, send Group B the profiles of five women chosen RANDOMLY from the same database, with utter disregard for whether they match in ANY way!  After six months, I believe  ”success” (as measured by the number of initial messages, responses, contacts, calls, dates, and relationships) would be NEARLY the same for both groups!

If you were to make one TINY adjustment for Group B — send profiles of women within ten years of age, and of the same race — I predict the degree of “success” across the two groups would be statistically identical.

OF COURSE, no site would ever do that experiment with real users!  They’d learn how trivial all their theories and efforts have been — and WOW, would they get their asses sued!  ROFL!!  But, until someone does that, we won’t know.  The matches I see are SO incredibly weak… I’m sticking by my story! :-)

Face it, the services all know their weaknesses.  They’ve made business or market decisions (not always wise ones) to preserve those weaknesses!  For example, I would be all OVER e-Harmony if they made it searchable; they won’t; they can’t.  Doing so would defy their “security by obscurity” sales pitch.

Very safety-conscious women will cling to e-Harmony and Chemistry until the day the sites become searchable… then run away in droves.  Why would e-Harmony risk that, simply to make more love connections between people?  Why would Chemistry let me FIND the woman I want — in a few clicks, or a few days — when they could charge me for MONTHS before revealing her?   Duh!?!  They don’t profit by FINDING me someone, they profit by making me WAIT!

Not that searchability is the purpose of life.  I have a personal rule that I will NEVER search (in public engines like Google) for a woman whose profile I see online.  I MUST not do that.  I’m simply too good at searching and finding data online.  I’d show up at our first date knowing how much her mortgage is, who her family supported in recent elections, which friends of hers are under indictment — I mean, this is NOT stuff you want to mistakenly let drop when you meet someone!  Haha…  No, I’m telling you:  don’t do it!  You’ve been warned!!

If I could wave a magic wand ONCE, and make all sites do ONE thing, they would REQUIRE users to reveal their height and weight!  What a relief that would be!

The next best thing — for sites that use these — PLEASE provide DEFINITIONS for “Body Type”!  Lord a’mighty!  ”Average” is being used for “30 pounds above normal.”  ”Curvy” can imply either “well-built” or “obese.”  ”Athletic” often means, “I wish I weren’t so flabby.”  Perhaps only a quarter of the women on some sites use the words to mean what they ACTUALLY mean.  I must imagine the misuse is as bad among men — or worse.

An alternative, to avoid that ugly intersection of meaning and intent:  require at least THREE photographs that would be recognizable as the SAME person.  (And NOT three nearly identical FACE shots!  Duh!)

Also, require at least TWO MORE full-length photographs, with no obscuring furniture, no outdoor apparel, and no other people.  I’m not asking for swimsuit shots or cheesecake, ya know — I only want to believe I MIGHT be able to recognize this person from across the room!

5. I understand you have had contact with Match.com about your articles… describe that conversation. What do you think will come out of it?

A VP of Global Customer Care had e-mailed me, and offered her direct number, so  I phoned.  (A woman sends you her number, you call! :-)  She seemed genuinely interested in my observations, and said others had discussed them at meetings.  She did seem to appreciate the details of my experience.

She asked for suggestions I might have, so I provided a few, derived from the de-duplication work I’ve done in monitoring news articles.  For example, I want my clients to see only the “original” version of an article — not copies from every front page in the world.  In a similar way, Match wants their clients to see only the “legitimate” version of a profile — not copies of it made by every scammer in the world.  Such problems have been solved in other arenas, for other datasets.  But, I don’t see the solutions being applied in online dating.

What will come of it?  Specifically at Match:  unknown.  It’s notoriously difficult to “redesign” an existing system with a large user base.  If their design internals are excellent, they may be able to add strong protocols for reducing spam.  But, many signs I see at Match are not of excellent internals, so they have their work cut out for them.

When I spoke with their VP, I did mention other, less technical approaches — but the goal online always is to scale quickly and uniformly — to automate every process.  That requires code — and yes, there ARE people who could write it.   But, whether Match has them, or will get them… again, unknown.

More generally, in a few years, sites that achieve bogus profile removal through good design and technology will still be around.  Sites that don’t, won’t.  As my article asks, if you can’t identify spammers when they’re still stupidly obvious, how will you even HOPE to see them after they get GOOD?

6. Do you have advice or tips for people looking to improve their profiles or overall success on a dating site?

Now you want me to give away secrets?  LOL… OK.  Well, I can describe what I look for in a profile.  As I said, I have rather high standards — but women who adhere to higher standards should have their pick of guys. Post recent, clear, candid photos of yourself in different attitudes, settings, and dress.  I’m visual.  Most guys are — it’s factory equipment!  This is important.  It needn’t be stunning or sexy… just show how you look!

Be forthright and clear about yourself and your desires.   I LOVE seeing an intelligent woman play that up, rather than down.  I’m attracted to a woman who admits she likes to flirt.  All that tells me she’s aware of who she really is — that she’s alert to the effects she may have on ME.  That’s rare, and cool.

Reveal your best features — intelligence, height, creativity, figure, passion, strength, sophistication, sarcasm. Whatever you feel good about, or others compliment you on or remember you for, get it in the profile. That’s HUGE!

Must I say, “Be funny”?  If you don’t do it already, you won’t know how.

Not sure why I’d help my competition, but… guys, seriously.  You gotta STOP with the shirtless shots, the cars, the boats, the dead animals.  Most women think you’re complete idiots.

And, guys:  if you EVER send a one-liner that says, “You are SOOO hot!” or suggest a sex act in the first three message exchanges, you deserve to be alone.

  • http://dadshouseblog.com dadshouse

    Online dating truly sucks. I see scams all the time. I had a horrendous blind date recently (blog link below). But I have run into hookers and massueses and Ukranian brides and video chat girls on sites like match.com. It sucks.

    The best way to meet women is in real life. That’s where chemistry really occurs.
    .-= dadshouse´s last blog …Blind Date – Ugh =-.

  • http://casualencounters.com/blog/ Janak

    Yeah I think it’s possibly even worse than Gary suggests. You really have to do some crazy shopping around to get anywhere with it.
    .-= Janak´s last blog …Weekly Roundup – Top 10 Casual Sex Links from Around the Web =-.

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