Online dating is the second most popular way to meet other people, according to Amy Webb, a digital strategist and writer of Data, a Love Story, who talks about her online love story on TedTalk. Her talk, titled “How I Hacked Online Dating”, is about her discovery of a way to beat the algorithm that is used for online dating websites to create matches based on similar interests, which are provided on each user’s profile. She decides what she’s looking for in her ideal man, observes her competition, and figures out how to “master” her own profile based on the ways we can control how we are perceived online.
Before understanding the meaning of this “online dating hack” we need to understand how online dating works. Because it is solely based on user-generated content, the results depend on what information you publish about yourself on your online profile. The dating site uses an algorithm to match you with others that are similar to you based on that information and then, having access to their profiles, you can choose to message them to get to know them better.
What we like –> Who we like
Because online dating bases itself on similarities in taste in order to match two people, this suggests that how we express ourselves online displays our true offline identities. Hugo Liu, in his article, “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performance”, explains the way the lists of interests in social media network profiles display one’s taste identity. He explains that our possessions and consumption choices echo who we are and that we are aware of how this effects our impression of others. Online dating profiles match two people with the idea that what we consume and what we like to do says a lot about who we are and whom we are compatible with.
Webb realized that while content is extremely important when it comes to describing yourself accurately (for the algorithm to work properly), she says that it is also important to attract others with your profile (so others will want to contact you and get to know you better). When she initially completed her online profile she did it based only on the information she had on her resume, which ended up lacking appeal and failing. She then compared her profile to other women’s profiles and noticed a few recurring traits among them. Webb analyzed the tone, voice, average length, and other characteristics of these profiles and noticed that the more appealing ones had more positive words, a less total of words, nonspecific language, and showed more skin/cleavage on the profile picture. She accommodated her own profile to follow these traits and she instantly had more success, with more than 1000 emails from men requesting to contact her.
“Mastering” Our Profiles
What about these traits make us more approachable and what does this mean about the way we are identifying and displaying ourselves online for a certain purpose? Nancy Baym, in her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age, introduces the concept of “disembodiment”, what she uses to describe the relationship between our offline identity and our online persona. Online, we create a disembodied identity with our words and actions. This leaves us with new possibilities for exploration and deception where we can both explore a different personality and deceive others due to our lack of authenticity. Webb then used her manipulation of her disembodied identity to show the best, most appealing version of herself.
Webb, in the process of “mastering” her profile, was going through a state of reflexivity, a term Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell, discuss in their article “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities: Young People and New Media Technologies”. Weber and Mitchell claim that we adapt our online performance of the self depending on how we think others see us as well as how we see ourselves. We are constantly observing our own behavior and manipulate it according to how others perceive us. Zizi Papacharissi, in her article, “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter”, argues that this constant state of reflexivity leads us to being in a constant state of redaction. We constantly edit and update our profiles as we change our attitudes toward our identities. She posits that our self-presentations draw on “conventions and customs that reflect context and established ways of doing things” and that we always draw on outside factors to decide how to behave. This action she terms “reiteration” accurately describes Webb’s mindset while in her pursuit of marriage through online dating. She realized her resume didn’t attract her Prince Charming, so she changed her profile picture to one that showed a little more cleavage. At the end of her talk, Webb claims she “figured out her own framework and played by her own rules”, yet she actually just used other women’s strategies and general online dating conventions to her benefit in order to attract more men.
“I Liked You More Online”
What’s interesting about online dating is that the goal is to eventually physically meet the person that attracted you online, but what happens when these two personas collapse? Yes, by manipulating her disembodied identity, Webb increased the number of men who were interested in meeting her. It changed how others perceived her, but does this change reflect any significant differences between her dating profile and who she is offline?
Webb does not discuss this possibility when she says that her strategy worked when she finally met the perfect man for her. She simply changed her profile, was sent 1000 emails, and chose the one man based on what she specifically wanted in a husband. She did not say anything about what he felt once he met her. I would have liked to know what his perception was of her when he decided to contact her when seeing her profile and then if that changed when he went on her first date with her, got to know her, and finally proposed to her.
-Melisa — @melisa_dmstri