Remember when OkCupid was cool?

Remember when OkCupid was cool? Before it turned into a Tinder clone? When you could actually search for people, using a plethora of criteria (age, gender, race, location, smoking, drinking, religion, diet, if they have children, etc, even keywords on their profile), sort the results, and browse through them at your leisure instead of just being served random people? When there wasn’t a limit on how many people you could like a day? When you could rate people out of 5 stars? When you could bookmark people? When you could see who had viewed your profile? When you received and could read messages as soon as they were sent instead of having to wait for OKC to show you the sender in Discover[i]? Before there even was a Discover? When you had to use a pseudonym? When Match ratings had some semblance to reality and wasn’t just a random number? When there was an Enemy rating? When there was a Friend rating? When you could see when someone was last online, giving you an idea of how likely they were to reply (if they hadn’t been online in over a month, it was a safe bet that they wouldn’t reply)? When it actually told you straight up on profiles how likely someone was to reply (using a traffic light system: red=nearly never replies; amber=sometimes replies; green=always replies)? When it had your personality traits (based on your answers to questions) in a bar graph on your profile? When the questions were categorized and you could easily sort through them? When it encouraged you to complete all the sections on your profile by limiting how many people showed up on your home screen? When profiles included a blog? When it had tests? When the home screen showed you people who’d recently updated their profile, uploaded a new picture, answered a question or taken a test? When you could send virtual gifts? When it had the Psychologist Game? When you could suggest edits to other people’s profiles? When you could use a mark-up language on your own profile to make text bold, italic, underlined, struck through, or any combination of the four, add hyperlinks, [tag your interests], [[tag your friends]], and there was even the handy little OKC Staff Robot who told you how to use the code? When it had analytics, insights, and actual tips for getting the most out of the service? When it was more of a social network than a dating site? You know, when you could use it to actually meet people? Before IAC (InterActiveCorp)/Match Group bought it for between $50 and $90 million (reports vary) and proceeded to strip it of all its cool features and turn it into a clone of their existing Tinder app? Before all the other controversies that happened after the IAC/Match Group takeover? When it actually worked for its users, instead of just being another cash cow for IAC/Match Group?

OkCupid used to work because it was designed to work. It had an underlying philosophy that set it apart from all the other dating sites from the time. That philosophy was to make its users happy by not putting restrictions on basic features. After all, a happy user is likely to return; a happy user is likely to use the site for its non-dating-specific features (tests, blogs, finding friends, etc), even after they’d found a partner (I personally used OkCupid for various things with three of my former partners who I found through the site); a happy user is likely to tell their friends about the site and get them signed up (I remember a former partner telling one of her single friends to sign up because she found me on there (I might be embellishing that a bit; it was really because of how cool the site was) (side note: that partner also got her mother to sign up for its non-dating-specific features, mainly for finding friends and people to talk to)). It was a good philosophy, and it worked. Unfortunately, with the IAC/Match Group takeover, that philosophy was scrapped. Now, it is designed specifically not to work. The aim now is to make it harder for users to find dates. If a user doesn’t find a match, the longer that user is on the site, and the more money IAC/Match Group rakes in through advertisements and through users buying subscriptions to unlock basic features that were once free. But don’t just take my word for it. This was all outlined 11 years ago in a 2010 OkCupid blog post by one of its co-founders, Christian Rudder, titled Why You Should Never Pay for Online Dating[ii]. The post derided the broken pay-to-play philosophy of Match.com and other dating sites. That blog post was removed when IAC/Match Group took over the site in 2011; however, you can still read it on the Wayback Machine.

Online dating is no longer fun. A common phrase you see on dating site profiles is “give me a reason to delete this app”. In fact, this is such a common trope that IAC/Match Group use “designed to be deleted” as the tagline for their Hinge intellectual property. Users hate what online dating has become under IAC/Match Group’s stewardship (and, yes, IAC/Match Group owns most dating sites/apps, including OkCupid, Match.com, Tinder, Plenty of Fish, and, as mentioned in the previous sentence, Hinge, as well as several others). The swipe culture we’ve seen IAC/Match Group implement since it created Tinder in 2012, and has migrated to most of its intellectual properties since then, has ruined online dating because you’re no longer in control of who you see and who can see you. Your happiness is at the mercy of IAC/Match Group and their algorithm, which is designed specifically to keep you on their site as long as possible. The longer you are on a dating site, the more ads IAC/Match Group can force on you, making them money, and the more likely you are to buy premium packages out of sheer desperation (go on, have a look at the hundreds of likes you’ve received from fake accounts that we won’t show you in Discover; it’ll only cost you £19.99 a month). Because IAC/Match Group’s goal is to keep you on their site as long as possible, there’s no incentive for the company to find you a match. In fact, finding you a match explicitly goes against Match Group’s business model. This makes users feel like online dating is a chore, not the enjoyable pastime it once was. As a result, users don’t put the effort in, and they get little in return. This creates a vicious cycle of discontent. Couple this with the fact that IAC/Match Group only cares about raw numbers, so will not only allow fake accounts to bulk up their claimed userbase, but will actively promote them (unless they’ve liked you) to stop you from finding a match, and the problem is exacerbated.

This swipe culture, has another, more serious downside. It fuels male resentment and has led to the rise of the Incel community. Incels see their lack of success with online dating as a result of their own unattractiveness and what they perceive as the shallowness of women, not realizing that it is actually the system that is broken, not them or the women they pursue. This, tragically, has resulted in numerous killings of women by misguided men. We’re not victim-blaming here, nor do we want to minimize the tragic loss of life. None of the women who have been killed by these frustrated men are to blame for having their lives cut short. We’re saying that these men are victims too: victims of a culture that is forced upon them by a greedy corporation that cares little for human life.

It’s safe to say that IAC/Match Group’s monopoly in the online dating market has ruined online dating for everyone: men, women, and non-binary alike. On top of this, other, smaller services, such as Bumble – which hoped to tackle the problem of male fragility – have only made matters worse by taking the toxic elements of swipe culture and putting even more limitations on it, leading to more male resentment. Something has to change in the world of online dating. Someone has to step up and make the change happen. We need to go back to the old way of doing things.


[i] While writing this, OkCupid updated their system so you can no longer send an “intro” on the app until both users match, in the same way that Tinder does it. However, it appears that intros can still be sent on the website without matching first (for now).

[ii] https://web.archive.org/web/20101006104124/http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/why-you-should-never-pay-for-online-dating/

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