Create a profile on any popular Internet dating site, and one of two things will happen. If you are female, you will be swamped with illiterate mass-mailed horseshit from knuckle-dragging imbeciles who would struggle to pass the Turing test, while as a male you will be largely ignored by everyone save the occasional time-waster who might string you along for a few days before determining that you are Just Not Good Enough. The result is inevitable: most sites are a barren wasteland of abandoned profiles, comments by long-deleted users, and maybe a small core of long-timers who use the site as little more than an insiders’ social club.
Such a meagre reality stands in stark contrast to the advertising campaigns of dating sites, all of which paint their associated offering as a magical paradise overflowing with perfect soulmates all waiting to fall into your arms (or your bed). The internet, we are told, exposes you to a global community, where you can meet like-minded people without the limitations of geography, happenstance or conflicting schedules. So why then is the common experience of internet dating one of disappointment and frustration?
Matching algorithms are garbage
One of the purported advantages of using the internet to meet people, rather than relying on chance encounters, is the ability to use published information to more easily exclude people with whom you have no hope of compatibility. Yet, for some reason known only to themselves, dating sites seem only to implement coarse-grain matching based on gender, age and location, largely ignoring any other information that might be available. If you don’t want to have children, for example, there is no point in even reading the profile of somebody who does — but you will repeatedly receive such people as match suggestions.
This is even more puzzling when you consider that the one thing computers are really good at is sifting through large databases in search of information, so finding suitable matches ought to be trivial. One can only assume that there is some misguided policy at work in the minds of the site owners which assumes that major differences in lifestyle, future plans, philosophy or political views are considered unimportant, even though they are genuine deal-breakers for many people.
Like most of the internet, dating sites do not have an even split between the genders. If you are a heterosexual man and you join a site which has 9 men for every woman, you are just going to get lost in the noise, while a resident of the UK who joins a site with mostly US membership is going to be similarly frustrated. Unfortunately it is difficult to get much information about the demographic distribution of most sites, since they are generally more concerned with maximising their membership (and hence their revenue), whether or not those members have any chance of success.
They recruit from the bottom
It may be 2011, and with the advent of Facebook and Twitter the internet is not quite considered the nerd’s leper colony that it was in 1995; nevertheless, you can be fairly sure that Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts are not going to show up on Match.com. With almost no barrier to entry, most dating sites are replete with txt-speaking illiterates, pathetic whiners begging to be “given a chance”, narcissistic douchebags with lengthy lists of ridiculous superficial requirements and small-minded bigots with bizarre prejudices you didn’t even know existed. By the time you’ve ruled out all of them, what you are mostly left with is a homogeneous core of inoffensive but bland cardboard cutouts with little to offer beyond the same tiresome, generic clichés.
Writing sucks as a form of personal introduction
Sure, it’s great for expressing complex ideas, literary works and humour, but trying to get to know someone purely through online messaging is often a balancing act between coming across as boring on the one hand and offensive on the other. In a face-to-face encounter you can use body-language and other cues to tell if your conversation partner’s interest is waning or if that last attempt at humour touched a nerve, but in an online conversation the first you’ll hear about it is when they mysteriously stop responding to you.
There is no incentive to improve
Dating sites are generally funded in one of two ways: selling advertising on an otherwise-free service, or requiring a premium subscription for important functionality (like sending messages). What both of these business models have in common is that they benefit from customers continuing to use the site for as long as possible, which is the exact opposite of what will happen if they quickly find a match and leave. They are therefore in the curious situation of providing a service which will make them less money if it is too successful, which may go some way to explain why their matching processes are so breath-takingly inefficient.
Not that any of this makes dating sites entirely worthless — if you are a woman who by some glitch in the matrix doesn’t already receive enough attention in real life and feels that some additional ego-massage from random strangers on the internet will make up the balance, or a man who is too stubborn, desperate or just plain thick to realise that nobody wants to hear your hollow compliments and “hi hunni wanna chat xxx”, then PlentyOfFish or OKCupid may be just what the doctor ordered. As far as meeting interesting, rational, and intelligent people goes though, you will have better luck trolling Chatroulette.