Thursday, January 20, 2011

Online dating is about game theory — not looks

Flawed business model behind Web site for the hot misses the point
By Helen A.S. Popkin

smiley checkers chess Pictures, Images and Photos
Since when do über hotties need a specialized online dating service? If evolutionary psychology and People magazine teach us anything, it’s this: When it comes to hooking up, the only thing the most attractive of the species need do is walk outside.

Hence the intrinsically flawed business model behind HotEnough.org, a matchmaking Web site exclusively for “fit, good-looking people.” Access to this database of desirability is granted to those ranked 8 or higher by HotEnough.org’s current members — those symmetrical few who themselves land on the high end of the Bo Derek periodic table. Only then are you allowed to pay $9.95 a month for the privilege of e-hitting on the site’s 1,000 or so members.


Do I read bitter? I assure you it’s only because I’m generally filled with black and hate. There’s no special loathing reserved for the attractive insecure, and certainly the Internet has been nothing but great to me. EBay tchatzkahs, dogs, and yes, even eligible (and handsome) bachelors, I find whatever I want in six clicks or less.

Strategy is the key to my success - honed from an embarrassing amount of years lurking on bulletin boards and social networking sites. As more people post their personals, online dating has gone from just trying to hook up to deeply layered game theory. Niche sites like HotEnough.org may seem like a tempting, time-saving filter - eliminating the risk of dating, or Heaven forbid, falling for, a genetic inferior. But like so many other things on the InterWeb, it’s an illusion.

HotEnough.org is going to fail, and not because it caters to a niche crowd. Hey, I read “The LongTail: Why the Future of Business is Selling More” by Chris Anderson (OK, I just read the Amazon review). This millennium, it’s all about serving niches. Certainly, there are plenty of successful specialized, online dating sites outside of the big catch-alls like eHarmony and Match.com, JDate, FarmersOnly.com, Gothic Match and Green Friends.

HotEnough.org is going to fail because Darwin says so. Any skin-deep beauty seeking love on the Internet is guaranteed damaged down to the bone. Yeah, yeah, they’re soooooooo busy, they “just don’t have time” to meet attractive equals offline. Guess what? Making movies is a major time suck, yet Johnny Depp sure didn’t meet Winona Rider, Kate Moss or Vanessa Paradis in cyberspace.
Non-psychotic pretty people don’t seek peer validation from exclusive dating sites.
They’re busy adopting third world orphans and designing clothing lines for H&M.

Meanwhile, for us above-average-to-ugly people, the Internet is a viable and respectable place to find love or something like it. It’s what Al Gore intended. Unlike those out-of-touch few who doubt the Internet’s ability to help you find a real world mate, I totally buy the empirical proof. Heck, I am the empirical proof. The Internet provided me with at least two decent relationships and countless ego-boosting flirtations. (Seeking peer validation is perfectly acceptable for us 7s and under.)

The Internet helped me hook up with an OK guy who we’ll call Boy Millionaire. Charming and hilarious, Boy Millionaire looked great on paper (I saw his tax return). He also came with a complete leather-bound set of emotional issues — just like I like ‘em. Alas, it was not to be. After four and a half months, I ended it via e-mail. (Don’t judge me — it’s what he preferred.) Still, it counts as successful. Our brief infatuation excised me forever from an offline icky gum-on-your-shoe relationship that I previously failed to end on my own. Is there nothing the Internet can’t do?

I found my current gentleman friend on Friendster - a broke-ass Brooklyn artist of the conceptual variety. For Art Boy, I deviated from my usual e-flirting strategy and contacted him first. There was no way of knowing if he was “hot enough” or what, because instead of a photo, Art Boy posted an illustration of himself as a cartoon. I really like cartoons. Three or four years later, we’re still together, which counts as successful, too, I guess. Of course, Art Boy came with his own beautifully engraved bound volume set of issues. But hey, that’s me. There are probably plenty of well-adjusted potential mates to be found online … if that’s what you’re into.

To be fair, finding what, or who, you want online is made easier or harder by your geographical location. Many national online dating sites feature a smorgasbord of eligible lovelies in New York City. Change your search location to say, Tampa, Fla., however, and it’s humanity at low tide.

Of course, there are plenty of online losers within the New York City tri-state area. You just have to know the signs. For example, anyone who lists “9/11” as their “most humbling experience” is a poseur. Same goes for anyone claiming “Confederacy of Dunces” as their favorite book. Fine, if that’s your favorite book. Hey, it could happen. But if you list it in your profile, you’re trying too hard to look too cool.

Whether you’re creating your online profile, or scanning through those of others, online dating is a tricky business at best. Hot or not, online dating isn’t about you. It’s about who you want to be, and who you want Imaginary You to date. Just like offline dating. Except in the real world, you can’t use Photoshop.


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