Online Dating Site Reveals Rules for "First Contact" Derived From Data

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Okay, so I've been on an online date or two. (And by that, I mean a date that occurs in the "real world" arising from first contact on an online dating site.) I'm currently dating a very nice lady I met via OkCupid, a quirky dating site that's most notable because it's free (although there is lately a no-ads paid option, but they are surprisingly non-pushy about it). The site is also notable because its person-matching system is dependent on questions submitted by the community of users, and the mathematical algorithm they use to derive matches is made public. This is nerdy, nerdy stuff indeed -- it appears to be a dating site for nerds, run by nerds. (Compare this to market leaders like eHarmony, which are very expensive and very proprietary -- free, nerdy, and open begins to sound pretty cool.)

So OkCupid recently published their study of 500,000 "first contacts" between potential daters that occur on the site, in the form of brief emails sent on the site from one party to another. OkCupid writes:

Our program looked at keywords and phrases, how they affected reply rates, and what trends were statistically significant. The result: a set of rules for what you should and shouldn't say when introducing yourself online. This is the second post of our statistical investigation into the optimal online dating message; a note about how we protected user privacy is here.

So I won't spoil the results (read the study here), but I will quote Rule #6 in its entirety:

#6 - If you're a guy, be self-effacing.

Awkward, sorry, apologize, kinda, and probably all made male messages more successful, yet none of them except sorry affects female messages. As we mentioned before, pretty, no doubt because of its adverbial meaning of “to a fair degree; moderately” also helps male messages. A lot of real-world dating advice tells men to be more confident, but apparently hemming and hawing a little works well online.

It could be that appearing unsure makes the writer seem more vulnerable and less threatening. It could be that women like guys who write mumbly. But either way: men should be careful not to let the appearance of vulnerability become the appearance of sweaty desperation: please is on the negative list (22% reply rate), and in fact it is the only word that is actually worse for you than its netspeak equivalent (pls, 23%)!

Read the rest and also check out the OkCupid blog for some very frank, and very interesting, discussion of statistics as applied to online dating.

September 18, 2009 - 1:10pm
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