I had a friend recently join an Internet dating site. After hearing complaints that the guys showing an interest in her were not the type of men she wanted to attract, I offered my communication expertise to spice up her profile. After creating a fake profile titled “I fuck on the first date” and sending my friend a message, I began perusing the site, you know, solely for marketing research.
What I first noticed was the lack of distinction between profiles. Being a student of digital communication, I applied Anderson’s long tail model to the people on the site. Everyone on the site had the same interests (skiing, movies, music, going out, and other things that everyone likes) most likely in an attempt to appeal to the largest audience. But appealing to the largest audience doesn’t actually help people find “the one.”
To better understand the long tail model, let’s quickly digress to people’s taste in movies, also a common date activity. Netflix compares movies you’ve rated to other users, providing suggestions from people that gave the same rating to movies we’ve both already watched. If I rated Ran three stars, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure 4 Stars and Ping-Pong 5 stars, Netflix would suggest highly rated movies from people that agreed with my ratings. Since no two people will agree on everything, Netflix provides a statistic called “similar to you,” indicating the percentage of movies agreed upon. As I browsed the site, I realized that most people agree with about 50 percent of my ratings. These movies are usually the blockbuster movies of the moment, Transformers, Harry Potter, The Star Wars, etc. that everyone sees or has heard of. Its the equivalent of asking people if they liked movies in general, I bet more than 80 percent of people would agree. Now if I said like movies directed by Akira Kurosawa, probably 10 percent of the population knows who that is, and fewer people like his work. The long tail model says that the majority of the population has quite a bit in common (due to pop culture, being educated by a federally regulated institution, etc.), but as people start to experience less main stream things (specialized degrees, location they grew up in, religion) their commonalities decrease.
Tying this back into dating and the long tail model, most people like about 50 percent of the same things. When you get into the more obscure work, the Kurosawas, do you realize how different and varied your tastes actually are. The dating sites (match.com in this case) use a simple search to match people up based on their interests. If you put “movies” as your interests, you’ll likely get everyone on the site when you really want someone special. It’s akin to trying to find the flick Interstella 5555 by typing “movies” into a Google search.
My advice to my friend looking for love on the net, post your obscure interests. The guys that send you date requests are exactly the same because you list very nebulous, general interests. Tell people you like reading romance novels instead of saying “books;” instead of being an “adventure seeker,” let people know that you like walking the dog late at night in rough parts of DC; say you love Ohio State athletics instead of “watching sports;” and rather than telling people you like “a good time,” let them know you laugh the hardest in Judd Apatow comedies. You’ll find people that have a lot more in common with you. As the saying goes, “It’s the little things.”
Crazier still, the people in the casual encounters section of the craigslist personals have it right. They tell you exactly what they want on a date. Maybe with too much detail. There is a difference between unique and perverse.
As my friend had been on Match.com, a service that truly is a Google search for “singles,” I decided to see if eHarmony would provide better results. eHarmony’s advertisements claim it matches people based on a series of detailed questions that provide worthwhile results. Now, for the final part of this entry, my honest answers to eHarmony landed a rejection notice. I’m not joking. Below is the screen shot. I guess I’m either a psycho or I’m too far out on the long tail for a decent match. That’s probably why I’m single.