Duben 26, 2004
Assignment 4: Match.com Mistakes
Brief assignment 4: Browse Match.com, Gay.com’s personals, Spring Street Network (via Nervc.com or TheOnion.com or http://www.springstreetnetworks.com/) or another dating or friendship service and analyze: How do these services support/fail to support dating and/or friendship?

Analyze the service with particular attention to the analysis of ‘profiles’ using Goffman’s concept of the presentation of self. How well does this analysis derived from face-to-face encounters apply to online encounters? Can it be modified, or are these fundamentally different kinds of encounters?

Analyze the service considering the issue of deception and identity.

I spent a lot of time exploring Match.com’s services before my two giant misconceptions about these services came to light. Each foolish misconception involved limits to my self-presentation through these services.

The First Misconception: I can express myself freely on Match.com through a photo

Photos are probably the best way to transcend the awkward stilted boxes of information that dominate personal profiles on most dating and social networking Web sites. (Do you drink three times a week, or socially? Are you here to find friends or “activity partners?” Etc. Have the words “activity partner” ever left your lips, other than times when you were making fun of online social services?) The photo on Match.com is like the tie on the standard-issue 1950s grey corporate suit: it’s the only “color” allowed and it’s pretty much the only place where you can really make yourself stand apart.

- - -

But Match.com strictly polices and censors its members’ photos. Match.com doesn’t just cut out lewd or offensive photos, they apparently block photos whose style or fashion don’t match their corporate tastes. Like this one:


This photo is far too raunchy. Match.com won’t let me publish it in my profile.

This is the default mug shot that I use to represent myself nowadays on many social networking Web sites. It’s not a particularly well thought-out photo, it’s not particularly sharp or attractive. But it’s hard to see how it could be considered obscene or offensive. Here’s how I chose this photo: at some point I wanted a mug shot for some service (Friendster I think), so I browsed through the photos on my hard drive. Of the three contenders, that was the best thing I came up with. I cropped out the head shot and that was that. Now I just post it wherever a photo is needed.

So I submitted it to Match.com and waited. And waited. A few days later I got a form letter saying that Match.com won’t let me use that photo, that in photos they don’t allow any obscene content or images blurred beyond recognition, that they won’t accept illustrations or photos obviously doctored using image-editing software. (Of course all that was swaddled in smarmy propaganda about how Match.com is committed to serving its customers and keeping this a safe place and so on.)

But none of the prohibitions in the form letter, or in the on-site photo instructions, seem to apply to this photo by any stretch of the imagination. (I mean, “obscene” is notoriously subjective, but I doubt even the most tightly-wound tightass would find anything in my poor little mug shot obscene?) I followed up and got back a couple more worthless form letters, then finally I got a response from what seemed to be a human being. First the human paraphrased the form letter, then when I pressed for specific reasons why –my- photo was rejected, I was told that it might be too small. But it was larger than many of the photos I could see in other people’s profiles! I was told that perhaps my sunglasses obscured my face too much and made me unrecognizable. I gave up. My Match.com profile lies dormant and photoless.

If Match.com forces its members to post photos that look like they came from old high school yearbooks, is it any wonder that so many Match.com profiles come across as boring and dorky?

The Second Misconception: Match.com Mobile will notify me when I'm near other matches

I was jazzed to hear about the new Match.com Mobile service because I assumed it was something that it definitely isn’t. I thought this would be essentially a glorified Lovegety, I thought someone in the online dating and social networking business had finally made that obvious leap and built a modest little bridge between online and offline social worlds. I thought that finally I could play with the special search and match and notification benefits that come with online social services, that I could supplement my cramped and unrealistic online profile with my infinitely more subtle and flexible and human face-to-face self presentation, and that I could supplement my "given off" face-to-face signals with more "given" signals, from pieces of a profile constructed and presented via computer mediation. I was wrong.

I thought that Match.com Mobile would allow me to publicize parts of my Match.com profile in the real world with other members through our mobile devices. I thought it might let me set search criteria and to notify me when my phone comes within bluetooth range of a Match.com member whose profile meets those search criteria. I would love to play with a service that notifies me when people who share my interests are nearby. Such a service would not be very difficult to implement.

I’ll have to look elsewhere. Match.com Mobile is a crippled version of the same old Match.com. It fails to take advantage of any of the real benefits that mobile devices bring to the table, and it fails miserably to work with (or even work around) the constraints tied to mobile devices and the people who use them. It’s essentially the desktop Match.com hastily crammed onto a tiny screen without a keyboard; the old features haven’t been properly redesigned for the new platform and the obvious features you’d expect to see in a mobile version are missing. Hint to Match.com: “write once, run anywhere” doesn’t really work even on the back end; in interface design, that philosophy will destroy you.

This isn’t at all clear from the Match Mobile marketing hype. Phrases like these cover the Web site: “Flirt anytime, anywhere with Match Mobile,” “Connect anonymously with singles near you on your mobile,” “Search other local singles” and “Flirt on your phone.” All of this seems to imply that members can discover and “connect with” and flirt with other members whom they pass near by as they wander the offline "real" world with their phones. So the first three times that I got notifications on my phone that Match Mobile “found” other members and when these people started sending me chat requests on my phone, I started looking around wherever I was at the moment, trying to spot the person who wanted to chat. Then I realized that these people might be on the other side of the country at the moment; the service wasn’t taking into account our current locations or our proximities to one another. Apparently, Match Mobile just notifies you when another member registers for the services and reports a home city vaguely close to your own. Talk about missed opportunities!

Wrapping it up

To answer the other assignment questions:

  • Match.com has at least two neglected means at its disposal to reduce the constraints on how well it supports dating and friendship: through allowing people to express themselves freely through photos, and through allowing people to supplement their online representations with their real-world representations through real-world proximity notifications. Match.com fails to support dating and friendship in these ways.

  • Goffman's analysis of face-to-face encounters can apply to online encounters too. There are many properties that offline encounters share with online encounters, but in many ways these types of encounters are fundamentally different as well.

  • People can and do deceive others by placing false information in their profiles on these services. Face-to-face "reality checks" can make this sort of deception more difficult, but that doesn't come into play because such reality checks are not possible with Match.com Mobile.

    (Sorry Match.com; I don't mean to beat up on you. But hey, it’s an assignment.)

    Posted by sean at Duben 26, 2004 08:58 PM | TrackBack (0)
  • Comments

    I remember the first time i put up a party picture on Match or one of these sites and they told me that i was not allowed to put up pictures of lingerie and that i should only put up images with clothes that i'd be willing to wear out. I fell on the floor laughing. If that's the restriction.....

    It's moments like this when we can think back to the Woolgar paper we read in 204. These sites are working actively to configure the users, determine proper norms externally instead of letting the users construct them internally. This is bound to work for some, but who gets shut out in the process?

    Posted by: zephoria on 1. Květen 2004 9:48

    I think you're bang-on re: the match.com mobile philosophy issue. People *always* use new technology to solve old problems without regard to
    a) location
    b) information volatility
    c) data volume
    d) "appropriate" transaction types

    Most of my research and experience in this area has been in the enterprise and telecommunications provider arena, but it's not surprising it's applies to the C2C/P2P arena as well.
    -- dhk

    Posted by: Dave Holmes-Kinsella on 2. Květen 2004 18:28
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