Common Problems in Online Dating–And How To Fix Them

ProblemsOnline dating is more popular than ever.  One third of all marriages these days came from online dating.  The stigma of meeting someone over the Internet has faded.   But it’s not all candlelit dinners and walks on the beach.  Online dating certainly helps people find potential dates, but it doesn’t always help people find good relationships.  There are a number of common problems out there, and there are ways the online dating industry can address them.

Problem:  Women Get Way Too Many Messages

On sites with unrestricted messaging (such as OkCupid and Plenty of Fish), women get way too many messages–sometimes 50-100 per day if the profile is particularly attractive.  That’s just too many to deal with.  This turns into a problem for men, as well–it’s much harder for a man’s message to get a response.

Some sites deal with this by only giving you a few matches per day (such as eHarmony) or only one (such as Coffee Meets Bagel).    This certainly helps reduce the onslaught of messages, but a lot of people still want to feel they have more options.

Solution:  Provide Feedback

One way a dating site could help is by noticing male users who have a poor ratio of messages sent to message replies.  The site could give them advice on the best way to craft their messages, such as this blog post from OkCupid’s OkTrends blog, and this TED talk by Evan Marc Katz.

Of course, lots of people will still ignore this advice, so in addition, dating sites could crowdsource this issue.  By allowing women to rate messages–with categories such as ‘overtly sexual’ or ‘generic’ (‘hey girl what’s up’)–the system could track this information.  If a user gets too many ratings in a particular category, he could get a warning/advice, and if he continues, the number of messages he’s allowed to send could be restricted.

Problem:  Men Send Creepy or Unsolicited Sexual Messages

Some men send messages that are sexually explicit to women they’ve never had contact with, or after only a few brief interactions.  This can be annoying at best, but can be very disturbing, and has driven women to quit online dating sites entirely.

Solution:  The Scarlet Letter

Dating sites should allow its users to easily (and anonymously) let the system know when they’re getting these type of unwelcome messages.  Users could check a box on the offending user’s profile labeling them as an “inappropriate message sender”.  If the user gets this feedback enough times, his profile would be labeled as such, so that women would see he’s prone to that type of behavior and avoid him.  If it continues, the number of messages he’s allowed to send could be restricted.

This feedback would be anonymous, of course.  In addition, if this happens after the messaging has gone off-site (e.g. you exchange phone numbers and he starts texting unwanted images), there should be a way to provide that feedback as well.

Problem:  The Current Algorithms Aren’t Working

Although places like eHarmony, Chemistry.com and OkCupid claim to have algorithms that will help you find your match, there is no proof the algorithms actually work.  It’s true many relationships are formed by people meeting on these sites; what’s unproven is whether the site’s algorithms have anything to do with this.

Part of the problem is how difficult it is to predict compatibility between two individuals.  Having things in common (or not) is not an indicator that two people will find each other attractive.  The industry needs more couple-level data.

Solution:   Post-Date Feedback

There is e a LOT of data from online dating, but one place it’s really lacking is post-date feedback.  It’s hard to get people to provide that info, and there is no way for an online dating site to track user’s behavior once they move to offline interactions.

But this data is incredibly important.  Who did you go on a date with?  A second date?  Who did you find compatible, but without chemistry?  If the dating site could add this information to its algorithms, it would have a huge amount of potential to improve its matches.

If the dating site has “freemium” services, these can be used as incentives–the more dates you rate, the more perks you receive.  The site needs to be smart about its user experience when asking for the feedback.  It could notice if you’ve messaged with a particular user a lot, and ask if you’ve been on a date yet.  For sites like Coffee Meets Bagel, it could send a text the next day with a short survey (maybe two questions) to see how the date went.

It’s important to make the survey short and simple.  Anything longer than a few questions will become annoying very quickly.  Timing is important.  The best incentive to provide feedback, of course, is to show it’s working–over time, your matches should improve.  What could be more motivating than that?

No Need to Smell Sweaty T-Shirts Anymore.. Just Spit in a Tube

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InstantChemistry uses DNA to determine compatibility

Back in February, I wrote about my idea of using pheromones to help predict chemistry between online daters.  Not surprisingly. it turns out there are several companies doing just that:  GenePartner, LoveGene, and InstantChemistry.  You order a kit, spit in a tube, and send your DNA off for analysis. (Better than my suggestion of taking a blood sample!)

The premise is simple:  couples with different immune systems produce healthier offspring, and thus we are naturally attracted to a person whose immune system (measured, in this case, by something called the MHC: major histocompatibility complex) is different than ours.

GenePartner got a lot of press back in 2009, but since then they’ve been pretty quiet.  LoveGene, based in the UK, has been around for a couple of years but seems to be getting off the ground just now–they’re getting more attention in the news. 

But InstantChemistry has been getting the most buzz.  In addition to measuring the immune system genes, they look at another one:  the serotonin transporter gene.  According to InstantChemistry:

When couples respond very strongly or differently to emotional situations, research has shown this creates conflict in relationships.  Over time, couples reported decreases in their relationship satisfaction if they had conflict in how they responded to emotional situations.

Because of this, they claim to be able to use DNA to “discover your relationship compatibility”.   You and your partner can both take the test ($215) and see if you match.  And if not, “we give you ways to potentially mitigate and improve your relationship.”  They are definitely upping the game with their offerings.

They’ve also partnered with some online dating sites, such as SingldOut.  SingldOut launched in July, so it’s too soon to see if it’s working for their daters, but Business Insider reports they’ve sent out more than 200 kits already. 

I love the idea of finding ways to predict chemistry between two people before they meet up in person.  It’s an important thing to know and you often can’t tell just by looking at someone’s profile or even talking on the phone.  I hope this is one more tool to make it easier for people to find love.

Sweaty t-shirt parties, by the way, continue.  (They are also called by the more appetizing “pheromone dating”.)  I enjoyed reading a first-person perspective on attending one of these parties by Katherine Templar Lewis.  When she finally got to meet the guy whose smelly t-shirt she’d picked (#112) she did in fact find him attractive.  But it only took a few minutes of conversation to discover, sadly–they didn’t have chemistry.