Online dating or internet dating refers to using the internet, and generally some sort of matchmaker, to facilitate a relationship usually belonging to a romantic spectrum, dating, hookups, just sex. In the scope of this paper evaluating the patterns on online dating, the matchmakers in question are: Match.com, OKCupid.com, AdultFriendFinder.com, and Tinder (iOS or Android app) which is mentioned briefly.
As I began thinking more seriously of the domain in front of me and exploring the various websites that would be interesting to look into, I noticed that there is a divide between a more romantic/relationship site and a more casual/sexual site. I thought it would be interesting to evaluate the patterns that the sites may or may not take advantage of and to, additionally, see if there was a difference in patterns used between the two genres.
As research into the sites progressed, a distressing trend started to become apparent. For the most part these sites are located behind login/account barriers which is a pattern in itself. This had three noticeable effects on my attempt; the wayback machine (https://archive.org/web/) failed for all sites, accounts were created for 3 websites (Tinder excluded), and finding images from a previous version were always of questionable provenance. No account could be created for Tinder due to the fact that Tinder only allows a login through Facebook with an account that has 50 friends. This reviewer does not have that prerequisite at their disposal. The wayback machine captures snapshots of websites and organizes them on yearly calendars. Using the wayback machine to try and look at previous designs was unsuccessful. Landing pages could be seen but it didn’t allow any further knowledge to gain.
I thought it made so much sense at the beginning to compare the two different sides to the online dating coin but as I began compiling and writing my findings down, I became worried about the overly mature content that needed to be included. With that also, my own thoughts on the matter will impact how I interpret the designs and patterns before me. To address just the visual aspect of this, images with adult content were censored, the pictures hidden, words struck through. It makes sense that I should also describe how I view the sites in perhaps simplistic terms. I think people have a right to happiness. I also hope they do it in an ethical way. And as class has been demonstrating lately, our would is becoming more and more decentralized and finding similar individuals in such a place is getting difficult. As a last point, I view privacy, both mine and other individuals as very important. This will be briefly discussed when it comes up in the evaluations.
Basic Website Information
Finding accurate data about some aspects of dating sites is difficult because it can be intentionally occluded. Users participate in a site if they feel that the site offers compatible users that they might eventually meet or partner with. If the site does not maintain a large user base it can make a user feel like their time would be better spent on a site with a bigger user base. All numbers in this section are estimations from various sources.
Match.com is reported to have an estimated 35 million unique monthly users. Match.com was founded in 1993 and went live in 1995 as a free beta. While Match allows free users and paid users to comingle in their dating pool a subscription is needed to use the site in a successful manner. A subscription fee can cost between $23.99 and $17.99 a month depending on how many months are purchased at a time. Subscription provides a more balanced user experience, allowing an individual to contact individuals, respond to email messages, and get better search results.
OKCupid.com has an estimated 10 million unique monthly users. It also has free and paid versions with the paid users being given better tools to find matches but otherwise not restricting on the use of the site. The paid version is referred to as the ‘A-List’ and provides a more advanced search ability, message filters and receipts, invisible browsing and some other account features. Subscription costs for OKCupid range from $19.95 and $9.95 based a similar concept of more moths purchased, the cheaper the price.
AdultFriendFinder.comhad an estimated 30 million registered users in 2006. This is a slightly different metric than the one reported for OKCupid and Match and one that is quite old. There are numerous membership options available for purchase that range from $19.95 to $9.95 with various add-ons costing between $18.95 and $8.95 a month. These membership options allow the sending of messages, flirts, looking at complete profiles, commenting abilities, and priority customer service.
Tinder has an estimated 10 million daily users. This is again a slightly different metric than the other three sites being looked at. Additionally, Tinder is only available on the iOS or Android mobile platform. This evaluator was unable to create an account for this service due to how the login process works. The app appears to be free but the Android version made reference to a possible in-app purchase. These claims could not be verified. I had fully intended to use Tinder in all evaluations but the lack of ability to use the app made the thought of using it as examples appear dishonest. Images can be searched but context cannot always be understood. I would rather use a site and understand than guess and be incorrect. For these reasons, Tinder does not show up frequently in this report.
It also needs to be stated that the same parent company owns Match.com, OKCupid.com, and Tinder. Finally, while not a number specifically dealing with users of the site, Alexa rankings can demonstrate how popular or how many visits a site has in a given period of time. Alexa reported the following rankings: Match.com – 412, OKCupid.com – 483, and AdultFriendFinder.com – 512. The lower the number, the more visits a site has.
Registration / Login
To better evaluate the pattern and anti-patterns chosen by the four previously mentioned sites, it was originally decided that accounts would be created with all of them. This was done with an email address and demographic information created solely for this purpose. Unfortunately this process did not work with the Tinder App. We will start with them and explore the other sites use of the Anti-Pattern.
The only method with which to sign up with Tinder is through Facebook. There is no other option. When looking into possibly creating a fake or dummy Facebook account solely to get to use the app, numerous websites mentioned that Tinder will refuse to function properly and show zero matches unless you have 50 Friends within Facebook. This proved to be too big of an obstacle for this evaluation. On a personal note, this reviewer does not participate in this Anti-Pattern. The usual use of this Anti-Pattern is one where there are multiple login options and using another site’s credentials is just one option. Having it be the only method available pushes this pattern much further than has previously been seen. On the technical side, how much of a user’s account is tied into the Facebook account? Tinder has the disclaimer that it will never post anything to Facebook but is that the biggest concern? They essentially have unlimited access to your account. It does pull your friends list and use it within the algorithms it uses to find you matches.
AdultFriendFinder does not use this Anti-Pattern in their signup process. OKCupid uses the Facebook login Anti-Pattern.
OKCupid also shares the same disclaimer about the posting policy.
Match uses it only with the option to pull in pictures from Facebook after you have gone through a very lengthy login.
Registration for each site followed the similar account creation process although there were some differences. Match had the longest signup process of over 12 different pages of information to be filled out. They first asked about what you were looking for which covered 5 pages of checkboxes and drop downs. Below is a screen shot of page 3 of that section.
After finishing the process of what you would like, you are asked to fill out 8 pages of questions about yourself.
Which makes Match the most comprehensive in their information collection. Does this run afoul of the commonly held thought of only asking for the bare minimum of what is needed? We’ll see in a bit that OKCupid handles this concept in a different manner.
On the other end of the spectrum, AdultFriendFinder has a short registration, 2 pages, which seem designed for the purpose of the site. To just meet people quickly.
(Removed adult images)
A very brief of collection of what you want and who you are.
Finally we have OKCupid which seems to follow AdultFriendFinder in simplicity to get an account but then limits interactions until the user completes more sections of their profile. OKCupid asks for the information in the image above (discussing the Anti-Pattern) and a username:password combination to create an account. This is then the page the user sees.
This leads us to our next section.
Site Use / Initial Steps
When attempting to view a potential match’s profile pictures in OKCupid, the user is shown the following image.
With this, OKCupid uses Onboarding to gently ask the user to divulge more information, fill out more sections, and upload pictures. The benefit is implied by being able to view more of the site and interact with users in a better fashion while also allowing the matching algorithm to better find you a match with the increase in data. The other sites lacked this specific process and instead have quite busy home screens that throw the user into things.
(Mature content removed)
AdultFriendFinder does have a banner at the top telling you that you could take the tour. This is not so much a tour but rather a very vertical website that mentions the features and displays excessive salacious images. From an interaction standpoint it did not appear to be very helpful.
Profile Creation is handled differently among the three main sites reviewed. Match has the most in depth and initially time consuming process. As previously discussed, they have over 12 pages of questions to answer which build the profile and begin the match making process.
The three main sites all allow a profile picture or Reflector. Match and AdultFriendFinder have the image in the upper left corner while OKCupid has the image in the upper right corner.
For the Profile proper, AdultFriendFinder and Match take the approach of showing small snippets of data. For example, AdultFriendFinder shows if your age is within the match range of the person you are viewing, same with gender, body type, and some other statistics. On the lower right side of the below image.
On the left side of the above screenshot there is mention of Testimonials which I will discuss further down.
Match follows an almost identical display of the same information but replacing Testimonials with Verifications instead. The site implies this is a recent addition.
OKCupid is the only site to offer a substantially different presentation of the profile. It continues to display the same basic statistics that the other sites use but also allows the user to write significant sections in their own words.
Tinder profiles are much lighter which might be explained by either the fact that it is a mobile only app or its preference for quick matches. They appear to only offer name, general location, age, last activity date/time, interests, and a small bio.
We saw with Match and AdultFriendFinder that each profile mentioned Testimonials. With Match, 6 different accounts can be linked to the profile to show that ‘You are who you say you are.’ The same promise is echoed here that what data you divulge is ‘safe.’ I followed through with the verified email option which then just indicates they have verified it is a legit email account I have access to.
If the rest of the interactions follow the same procedure, I think this could present a false sense of security for individuals who come across the page. None of the accounts are difficult to make new ones of but perhaps it is just the work that would be required which would dissuade most individuals. With using this Pattern to try and protect users from less trustworthy individuals who wish harm on the users I appreciate the effort but I don’t know if it is truly effective.
With AdultFriendFinder, the process is blocked from my account because I am not a paying subscriber. I would think that testimonials in that fashion might be more effective. I say this because only paid users can leave testimonials and the cost to try and game the system might be quite high.
Finally, I found records that OKCupid used to have a similar system in place in the past.
These were removed at some point, my research indicated in early 2012, but the reasoning behind it wasn’t found. I found discussions taking place on forums and within google cache that suggested they served no purpose beyond ego stroking.
The below screenshot covers the personal dashboard of the three websites.
The dashboards for both Match and AdultFriendFinder have a lot of activity within them which need to be, essentially, micromanaged. Both of these sites constantly try to get you to purchase a paid membership and some of these options will require this before it tells you what/who is contained within. For instance, clicking on ‘Viewed Me’ for Match tells you this is not available for this account type. The layout then of all these buttons that can be clicked on seems disingenuous to me. Options offered solely to tell you that you can’t use them. Would it work better perhaps to have them greyed out or perhaps in their own section, Premium Members? This still illustrates the concept of the functions you are missing out on without the frustration of clicking, waiting, being frustrated, hitting the back button.
The following image details an older layout of OKCupid where the personal dashboard was across the top of the screen. I think the current layout, dashboard along the left side, is a cleaner look and is easier for users to use. I would guess that research was done on this though or could be done.
The image contained profile information and a guide to improve it, I removed it.
The block spots were already on the image.
Along the top of the current layout, a user has the following options: Find a User, Profile, Settings, Sign Out, and Join A-List.
I think in general usage cases only the first two would see use. Even with that said, Find a User is for very specific searches and Profile might only be used when updating your own.
Of the three main sites, AdultFriendFinder is the only site to have a blogging or journal feature.
In the past, OKCupid had a journal feature but was retired because of lack of use.
In a setting such as this, an individual needs to ask the purpose of the journal or blog and does it lend itself to helping the ultimate goal of meeting someone. This goes into a bit of microblogging as well. From articles I read, I know that updating information or pictures on OKCupid caused the profile to be featured in a recently updated section which is prominently displayed on the home page. I would have to guess that it might work the same for AdultFriendFinder. The lack of options to make these changes/broadcasts on Match makes me question if there is a similar option somewhere else. Getting more exposure is also part of the way these companies make money.
As is visible, Match offers a package to have better viewing of your profile for a fee. If they allowed this through broadcasting of any variety it might take away from this value. I feel that the ability to broadcast flows into the idea that a user has an identity that they control on the site. The decision of a site to remove the ability to broadcast implies, to me at least, that the user does not have a real voice in the matter.
Searches, Signs of Life, Privacy, and Testimonials (Again?)
Searches and matching are a fundamental aspect on online dating websites. Moving further with this concept are the ideas of Signs of Life and Testimonials (Again?). Being able to find people and the assumption that you will connect with them is part of the draw on these sites. Conducting searches with varying attributes and statistics will bring possible matches into your view. Identifying that a user account is still recent is called Signs of Life. How do the various sites demonstrate this?
The three main websites do a good job of showing how recently a member has used the site or if they are online now. There can still be problems with this though which I will get to later as it ties into Testimonials (Again?).
Privacy can be very important in the current climate on the internet. Today I just read about an individual who had his job threatened by what he said online and it was nothing worthy of that course of action. A person’s dating or social life has the potential to cause a great deal of damage in the wrong hands, so it is imperative that these sites allow their users to protect their account and who is able to contact them.
All three of the websites allow the blocking of users and other general settings information.
AdultFriendFinder – Blocked members list is shown in the options that can be chosen
OKCupid – uses the term hidden users instead of blocked users. It is a tab at the top.
Testimonials, Again! Online dating offers a second view of the testimonial coin. My impression of this Pattern is that it generally refers to the people on the site. But with Online Dating, the character and trust worthiness of the site itself are also up for interpretation. In 2005, 2009, and 2010, Match.com was sued as part of class action lawsuits which alleged various issues such as fake profiles, misleading customers, fake emails, and other issues. If the site does not appear to do the one thing it sets out to do, maintaining a strong user base will be difficult. AdultFriendFinder has also faced allegations similar in nature but no court cases. Perhaps it is because Match has been sued with such frequency that they implemented their ‘Success Stories’ blog postings.
It should be briefly noted that this is the only place that I remember seeing the Sharing Pattern within this review. (Match’s Success Blog)
OKCupid has a similar page detailing the success of their users.
I feel the concept of an identity in a virtual form has the potential to offer a lot to the user and perhaps even the community. We’ve seen more and more personalization on websites and everything is becoming a social object. I feel that having this identity and being able to show it to potential matches would only help in the process. I felt that among the three sites, different identities were allowed to grow within the culture and reach of the site. This ranking and the comments here are my viewpoints after doing this research.
I felt that OKCupid had the most freedom for users to create their own identity on the site. There were numerous sections they could fill out in their own words, it wasn’t covered in this evaluation but there are also quizzes and tests to be taken which can further create their identity. I think we have all been guilty of taking silly quizzes online. I feel like the removal of the journals should have harmed that identity but their reasoning indicates that isn’t the case.
It might be my own views but I felt that AdultFriendFinder offered the second best ability to make an identity. As their site covers something which is generally thought of as taboo, their allowance of users to be comfortable in discussing and showing what they are interested makes me think that this would bring about a strong identity for users.
Lastly, I get the impression that Match is not interested in the unique identities of its users. There are very few opportunities for the user to customize their page to show who they are. And very few instances where the user can write and show personality.
One of the most telling facts about the domain on Online Dating only came up in the background information. One company owns three of the sites mentioned within this review. The idea that a company would own so many different online dating websites suggests that there is a lot of room to make a home for different types of users. To, additionally, have different messages and different site identities to attract all the different people.
What is clear from the review is that each site caters to a different type of individual. AdultFriendFinder is more interesting for people just looking for hookups and offers an experience that does not concern itself with a long winded profile of the user whereas Match is more focused on long term relationships and attempts to cover this by asking pages of and pages of questions when you first sign up. This isn’t meant to imply that you can only find one type of relationship at each site, mainly how one might describe the feel of it. OKCupid takes a more casual approach and allows the user to shine through with their own narrative and perhaps that is why I liked it as much as I do.
The companies need to beware though. Limiting the uses to artificially push paid solutions can lead to great amounts of frustration from users. Especially if free solutions to the problem exist.
OKCupid offers a site which, visually, reflects a more modern web design philosophy (not touched upon in this evaluation) which might better mix with the demographic of casual relationships and not looking to settle down. I am thinking of users in their 20’s to 40’s. Match has a typical old school approach to its visual design which might make the older demographic feel more comfortable using it. This could definitely be explored more with research.
One last thing needs to be said. As for reengagement; Match sent me 24 emails in less than a week, AdultFriendFinder sent 8, and OKCupid sent 2. I think this reflects my assumptions about the nature of the relationship a user would have with each site.
Match Subscription Image
OKCupid Subscription Image
AdultFriendFinder Subscription Benefits
Comparison of online dating websites. Retrieved 10/5/2014 from Wikipedia
Alto, Bonny. Most Popular Online Dating Sites. Retrieved 10/4/2014 from About.com