Friday, November 15, 2013

Proposed Revision to the Online Dating Platform

A long while ago, an acquaintance and I, when we were both single and using a popular free online dating site, often discussed ways to improve the efficacy of the platform. (Disclaimer: This post has most to do with straight, male-female couplings, so forgive me if the language seems one sided.)

One of the topics we came across was a terrifically fun article simply titled, "Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating." Well, as far as it concerned us, as single men, it accurately reflected our experiences and we didn't find any surprises.

As we saw it, the main issue of the article had to do with what they called a feedback loop. My understanding of the loop based on my experience with the site is thus:

1. Men are usually expected to make the first move when initiating contact with a woman, and we do.
2. The women get a lot of messages, more attractive women getting more messages, the more attractive they are. This is coupled with the fact that most women don't initiate messages. (We were pleasant, attractive guys, but we only got maybe–lifetime total–a handful of messages from women who contacted us first.)
3. Because the most attractive women are usually both busy and in high demand, and because there are only a finite number of available hours per day, many women can't or won't respond to every message they receive, even the pleasant, well thought out ones.
4. Men get discouraged after their pleasant, well thought out messages go ignored, and no one writes them first.
5. Seeing that they have to do all the work, and that hard work isn't paying off, men send messages that are less well thought out and start to look more like form letters.
6. Women see worse messages and respond even less often.
7. The cycle continues.

Well, I have a few ideas to help minimize these issues in the form of rules that sites might consider instituting to ensure a more pleasant experience to all users (not just men).

To both men and women but mostly men:
  • All initial messages have to be at least 150 words and spell checked
  • 10 message per day limit
  • Users get to flag messages that look like form letters, and if a user is accused too many times of sending form letters (on first contact or not), they get suspended.
To men and women, but mostly women:
  • The first time you communicate with someone, your message has to be at least 150 words and spell checked.
  • Respond to at least 50% of your unread initial messages first, every time you sign in with at least a 150 word response (as above), or you can't search, look at new profiles, or receive messages and your profile is made invisible.
  • For each qualified message you initiate (>150 words, non form letter) to a new person, for that sign in session, you're excused for one inbox message you have to respond to. And if you have no unreplied-to messages, it gets saved for when you do. 
This way, the super attractive women who get too many messages a day, but who only have time to respond to a few, are rendered invisible, and can't continue to receive messages until they've put a dent in their inboxes. This will free up the site to give more "air time" to the women who don't receive AS many messages, so they'll be more likely to respond (because they have fewer messages to respond to). This also encourages men because they'll know that the women who are being shown to them in searches are AVAILABLE and not so inundated with mail that they can't or won't respond. I like this platform because men who send messages will know that there is a stronger incentive to reply than just politeness since if a woman ignores too many messages, she'll lose privileges. It shows she's actively interested in finding someone. (By the way, this paragraph is 156 words.)

What happens if a person receives messages from someone they KNOW before responding they don't want to hear from? (Say they know the person already, and aren't interested, or the message was simple hate mail.) A few options: They can ignore the person for a little while, but probably not indefinitely, or, respond to the first message with a polite refusal, and if the person continues to message them unpleasantly, they can be blocked. Or, they can flag it as hate mail.

Note: Improper flagging, i.e. using it as a cheap means of avoiding politely declining good messages written by people they're not into, will result in reduced privileges.

In action: Say a person gets 10 messages on Monday, A-J, they can't do anything until they've responded to at least half of them. Suppose A-E are messages from people they're not interested in, the next time they log in, they have to reply to 5 of them, F-J for example. Let's say they do, and continue to use the site. Tuesday, they sign in and there are 10 new messages again: Still, A-E, but this time, K-O. They have 10 messages again, but suppose K-O aren't all winners either. To continue to use the site, they'll have to reply to at least 5. Most likely, they'll reply to a couple from A-E and a couple from K-O. Suppose message "E" was just abysmal, and he/she wants nothing to do with that person. As time goes on, it will be more and more difficult to ignore Writer E and other unpleasant writers to continue using the site, because they'll always have to have their inbox at least half responded to. In this model, due to the second restriction in the girl's category above, the more messages she gets, the less likely she is to remain visible. And when a person maintains an exchange with another user (or several users), that person will have to write an ever increasing amount of mail to remain visible.

This really forces a person to choose who they write to and respond to carefully based on their initial impressions from their profile. This is win-win for everyone.

NOTE: These restrictions on initial messages (length, etc.) don't apply to messages to people you've already contacted who have written you back, but since you have to reply to new messages from "new" writers before you can reply to new messages from "familiar" writers, if you've got a good thing going with someone familiar, and you keep receiving "new" messages, it gets harder and harder to keep your options open while maintaining that contact. This should help take out a lot of the BS that permeates online dating.

This is a system that I believe would make life quite a bit easier for people who receive a lot of messages. It would give more exposure to those who don't already receive a lot of mail. It also is a system that requires all messages have some thought and personality put into them, and incentivizes people to write better messages. It also makes it difficult (for a person who doesn't get many messages) to nearly impossible (for a person who gets a lot of messages) to ignore a person's message indefinitely.

What do you think of my plan?

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