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Thursday, May 06, 2010

The unified theory of online dating and porn

Playing with flowers by Dr. Hemmert from flickr (CC-ND)

Most information in this post is based on absolutely no citable sources - it's either private original research or outright ass-pull, and I won't even tell you which is which to protect anonymity of certain sources. Wikipedia protesting is futile. Now the subject of the post is:
There is huge gender asymmetry in online dating behaviour

In case you haven't tried online dating, and/or haven't set up large number of research honey pots it looks like this:
  • Everyone writes profiles with basic data, a few pictures, and a few fairly generic paragraphs about themselves.
  • Men message every woman with whom they see even a remote possibility of attraction developing - which is to say every woman with average-or-better picture (this implies that men who type faster get laid more - as if there weren't enough reasons to learn to type fast already). Unless there's something immediately disqualifying in profile like text-speak, in which case even pretty pictures won't help.
  • Women get swamped by these messages. They are invariably rather generic like they profiles, and few get a reply. Fortunately the criteria seems to include proper spelling, for another easy win.
  • Out of this maybe some conversation develops, and maybe some actual dating happens.

So what causes this asymmetry in messaging behaviour? First, we can reject a few ideas outright:
  • While this looks like a self-reinforcing equilibrium (men who don't spam don't get any replies, women don't have any reason to spam if they're getting spammed anyway) - this is not one of two possible self-reinforcing equilibria - the same result is reported on almost all dating sites.
  • Alexa insists that ratio of men to women on most dating sites in quite close to 50:50, and so do all dating sites. So it's not one gender being more numerous.
  • Another obvious theory would different age-dependent attractiveness curves for men and women - nearly every man, regardless of age, is attracted to 18-24 year old girls. This theory is easy to test, as attractiveness curves cross, and old women are far less attractive than old men - so the theory predicts that for 40+ demographics women would spam men with generic messages. My honeypots strongly disagree with this. And neither there is much spam by women with inherently low chances like those with children, no Photoshop skills, or bad spelling. wasnt me by ariffjrs from flickr (CC-NC-SA)

No, this is something gender-specific, and independent of attractiveness. Now the last wrong theory is that men simply care more and women are not that much into all the relationships and/or sex thing. And this would be completely wrong - just look at evidence of what kind of sex/relationship fiction men and women consume, and how much.

Men mostly consume visual pornography. Videos and photos of attractive women, some of it is outright "porn" of them having sex, but very large proportion of such material is simply attractive women posing, often mostly or even completely clothed. In other words - a suggestive picture (or even a myspace shot) of a non-nude woman fits very well within male porn consumption patterns.

And what kind of porn women consume? Yes, some of them watch "porn" porn, there's even a tiny category of porn specifically made for women - but this is a tiny niche. Most women read their porn. Romance novels, Twilight, slash fanfiction - these are all mainstream women's pornography.

And here we hit a major problem - because while content of women's dating profiles has what men need to feel a tiny initial spark of attraction - suggestive pictures - contents of men's profiles have nothing. It's almost as if it was exclusively men who designed dating sites, and these were the men with least clue on what women wanted (geek jokes go!).

I don't know how to turn this insight into dating site design advice - it is much easier to teach people how to make myspace shots than to teach them to write decent slash. And even if everyone was a good writer, it takes minutes to read through large blocks of text as opposed to seconds to look at a few pictures and decide, so it might not work within typical dating site flow.

So perhaps this theory is useless. Or perhaps whoever figures out how to exploit it makes the new Facebook.

And here's some misandrous, misogynist, and generally spiteful advice:
  • Men - learn to type. If you cannot fix the spam problem, you can at least outspam others. Have some quality copypasta ready. If you can program, Greasemonkey away better dating flow. Outright spambots might be too easily detected, but feel free to take the risk.
  • Women - learn to Photoshop, and Photoshop your pictures mercilessly. It really doesn't matter that you won't look anything like your picture. Also keep your profile brief and generic - if pictures are good profile serve mostly negative selection function. Feel free to lie outright.
  • Everyone - all browsers have built-in spell-checker, use it.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant. The times I've actually had the impetus to browse a dating website, I was usually motivated by suggestive pictures and really just wanted to see more. At no point did I ever actually join one. One question: If dating websites were redesigned to appeal to the attraction cues of women, would the competition and spamming roles switch genders or become more equal?

taw said...

Anonymous: If both genders were equally interested, high volumes of spamming wouldn't be necessary.

The closest to such site I have ever seen was Craigslist, where good ads get fairly decent volume of responses. It's nowhere near the spam level, as good ads are far more difficult to make than revealing pictures.

Curiously, while I've seen some really good ads by men (and these are small minority), I don't remember ever seeing a good ad by a women there - they just put pics + something generic there, or some awful fetish stuff.

Raisins said...

Alot of the points you brought up about spam and not geting replys

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