Random AsidesSkepticism

Fun with OkCupid: You Can’t Spell “Dating” Without “Data”…well actually, you can.

I’ve had an active OkCupid profile for about four years now, ever since a couple of geeky friends from my hometown recommended I try it out to meet some new people after moving to Buffalo, NY. I mention that the old friends are geeky because that’s one of the things that attracted them to OKC over similar sites (besides the fact that it’s free)—it seems to draw a geekier crowd than sites like Match.com or eHarmony, and it’s actually run by data-nerds. My friends specifically highlighted the OkTrends blog, which pulls together data to show, for example, that there’s a strong correlation between mentioning “atheist” in a first message and getting a response—way stronger than other beliefs words like “christian” or “jewish,” and apparently “god” is correlated with fewer than average responses. The data also show a strong correlation between women who don’t enjoy exercise and those who say it’s difficult to achieve orgasm, among many other interesting correlations.

Data: I am just trying to be helpful...

In addition to the fact that I’m pretty busy in general, I’m in a relationship (we met on OKCupid!) and not interested in additional romantic entanglements. My OKC profile is set for “new friends” and “activity partners” of any gender. But over the last year, I’ve received about a dozen messages that made it clear that some dudes (and they were always dudes) are committed to the birdshot approach, perhaps sending dozens of messages out to many potential connections. (I’m told this may be because there are waaaay more men than women on there, but I don’t have anything to back this up at the moment.) Since I don’t get messages that often, I always respond, although over the last year I’ve tailored my responses in an attempt to be more helpful to the hopefuls. I now share some of the data I’ve seen to try to help these potential new friends in their efforts to connect effectively…but for some reason, this doesn’t seen to work so well, as we generally quickly reach a point where they stop responding. Not sure why. Below is a sample of exchanges from the last two years.

From: bi—— (46% Match 63% Friend 52% Enemy)
Hi how are you and can I get to know u better

DebGod: You can, but I’m not sure it’s a good investment of your time. It looks like we’re not a good match on some important issues. For example, I’m a queer progressive atheist activist, while you identify as conservative/right wing. However, if you’re up for a really interesting conversation over coffee or beer some time, for fun, I’m willing to meet up!

No further response.

From: ny——
Hi…I read your profile and it sounds like we have alot in common. Check mine out and let me know if I’m your type. (I hope I am!) I’d love to chat with you and get to know you better…if you are online now feel free to message me on aol or yahoo at cr——. Hope to talk to you soon!


DebGod: Hello!

Your message is somewhat generic, so I’m not sure if you actually did take a look at my profile. I’d think offhand that you wouldn’t think we have a lot in common. For example, yours says that you’re Catholic, but I’m an atheist. You have kids, but I’m not interested in having kids. I’m not exactly classy or refined, and if you thought I’d be a “princess,” you’re mistaken! :)

I’m atypical, and I’ve learned from experience that that’s not what most guys on OKC are looking for. I’m letting you know because I realize there’s a good chance I’m not actually what you’re looking for, and you may have made an error.

But don’t let my assumptions from experience stop you, if I’m wrong! If you’d like to pursue this possibility, feel free to message me back. Otherwise, I wish you luck on your search and hope you find what you’re looking for!


No further response.

From: DebGod
To: bw—— (37% Match 75% Friend 35% Enemy)

Hi! You said, “Hint: if you stop to look at any guys profile you should at least say hi, not interested or not sure maybe, it gives us some indication on what you think!” Well, I haven’t had coffee yet today, but I figured I’d bite.

I think we are a terrible match! Ha. You have some interesting hobbies, but our worldviews are wildly different. I think that numerology and astrology are not at all accurate, for example. I’m a queer liberal progressive atheist activist, and you seem like you have some old-fashioned ideas. :)

It’s cool you make a bunch from poker, though. That’s something I don’t know how to do at all.

Good luck out here in OK Cupid-land!


No response.

From: dm—— (44% Match 52% Friend 24% Enemy)
Hey how are you? My name is —— and I thought you were really cute. Do you have any favorite things to cook or eat? Do you like to travel, if so where have you been or you would like to go? Well I think we have some common interests, and I was seeing if you want to talk sometime?

DebGod: Hi! I just read this and appreciate that you reached out. But your message is so generic that it leads me to think that you just sent the same message to a dozen different people on OKC, hoping some of them would respond. I would like to engage in conversation and communicate with people here, but I want to make sure they have some sense of who I am first.

So I’m asking, please, if you message me back, I hope you write something that indicates that you’ve actually read my profile and are trying to communicate with me as an individual. :)

More info about me:



Thanks! Maybe I’ll hear from you again?


Nope, didn’t hear from him again.

From: th——
Hey how are you? Text me if you want 716—— j——

DebGod: Hi! We don’t seem to be a good match, and I’m not sure why you contacted me. Can you send me more info?



From: br—— (24% Match 39% Friend 62% Enemy)
Hello, How was your day?

DebGod: My day was okay, but could have been better. How was your day?

br——: My day was good. I have Sunday and Mondays off. it allows me to have one day during the week to get things done.

What do you like to do outside of work?

DebGod: Hmmm…There hasn’t been much life for me outside of work recently. June and July are busy months for me at work!

When I get the chance, I like to go hiking. I also like to hang out and play Trivial Pursuit or go to bars occasionally. I enjoy taking walks around the city at night and seeing what I can find.

I used to play guitar and draw more, but I haven’t taken the time to do either of those things recently. What about you?

You included almost no personal information in your message to me. What is it that made you reach out to me? Was there information in my profile that made you think we’d be a good match? Just curious.


br—-: The no personal information was an oversight. I was on on my phone typing back and i like to keep it short sometimes.

I like to go golfing, I go to bars once in awhile with my family members. I rarely drink so I tend to stay away. I like to go to the movies, I walk my block twice a day 4 days a week.

[more personal information]

I tend to stay in most nights. Do try to get out once or twice a week with friends. Family and friends and very important and family is the base of everything else.

What I noticed about your profile. Too me it starts with a good conversation. By all accounts you seem well grounded in what you want.

DebGod: I am pretty grounded, yep!

I guess I should share more info about myself? Here’s some:



I’m also here and there on YouTube. :)

Hey, I guess I should ask, as I’m an atheist activist type: your profile lists your religion as “other”. What do you mean by that?

br——: Great sites and a quick youtube search brings up lots a few videos.


Religion has been complicated for me. I grew up catholic. I dont believe in some of the views of the church. I do not go every week/month or year. I did visit a church in PA called Real Life. It was interesting.

That is why it is other

DebGod: Thanks for sharing. I just spent more time looking over your profile and match questions, and it’s apparent that we’re actually not a good match at all. I mean, it says we’re 64% enemy! :) So I don’t think either of us should spend more time with this.

I wish you luck on your search for a good match here.


br——: You too nice talking

DebGod: :)

From: bl—— (67% Match 28% Friend 11% Enemy)

DebGod: Hey!

bl——: how r u

DebGod: Pretty busy at the moment; and you?

No further response. This kind of exchange happens pretty often.

From: jo—— (19% Match 35% Friend 50% Enemy)
looking for some fun?

DebGod: Hello! Cryptic message. What does this mean?

jo——: …lol idk

DebGod: Are you messaging me because you’re looking to hook up with someone for casual sex? That isn’t really what I’m going for on here. We don’t have a high match percentage, so I figure that’s probably what you’re aiming for, but it’s not for me right now. Good luck with that, though. :)

No further response.

From: do—— (73% Match 49% Friend 31% Enemy)
Hi what going on

DebGod: Hi,

We don’t look like a good match, so I’m not continuing this further. Good luck to you on here!


From: Nyk——
Hey what’s up, I was looking thru profiles, saw your picture and think your really Beautiful. Curious to know more about you, where are you from?

DebGod: Hello! Philadelphia. You?

Nyk——: Kenmore, what do you do for fun?

DebGod: Some of those answers are on my profile already. You?

No further response.

From: le——
Hi, how are you? :)

DebGod: I’m doing well today!

Your message is so very generic that I wonder if you even read my profile. The OK Cupid blog showed a correlation between writing messages that indicate that you’ve read someone’s profile and are interested in contacting them specifically, and getting responses more often.

These data might be helpful to you:

I recommend taking a look at the “Bring up specific interests” section.

I hope that helps!

No further response.

From: ho—— (74% Match 80% Friend 17% Enemy)
Hey how are you today? :)

DebGod: I’m doing well today!

Your message is so very generic that I wonder if you even read my profile. You mention on yours, “I also spend a lot of time thinking about why people respond selectively when they are on a dating/ friends site. whats wrong with at least making a new friend ?” Well, the OK Cupid blog showed a correlation between writing messages that indicate that you’ve read someone’s profile and are interested in contacting them specifically, and getting responses more often.

These data might be helpful to you:

I recommend taking a look at the “Bring up specific interests” section.

I hope that helps!

No further response.

From: em—— (67% Match 56% Friend 0% Enemy)
hi how are u

DebGod: Hello,

If you’d like to increase your response rate, I suggest writing more than that to people you contact for the first time. It will show that you’re actually interested in them as individuals, and not just spamming dozens of people at once with a cookie-cutter message.


em——: Hey I know but I just wanna start by asking how they are. I don’t wanna be rude at the beginning

DebGod: I can understand those motivations, but after talking with a lot of people who dislike such impersonal and short first contacts, I’d wager that it’s considered less polite to send such an impersonal message.

Check out the advice on here, for example, as it may be useful to you:


Rule 4
Bring up specific interests

There are many words on the effective end of our list like zombie, band, tattoo, literature, studying, vegetarian (yes!), and metal (double yes!) that are all clearly referencing something important to the sender, the recipient, or, ideally, both. Talking about specific things that interest you or that you might have in common with someone is a time-honored way to make a connection, and we have proof here that it works. We’re presenting just a smattering: in fact every “niche” word that we have significant data on has a positive effect on messaging.

Even more effective are phrases that engage the reader’s own interests, or show you’ve read their profile…

Good luck out there,

No further response.


Debbie is keenly interested in secularism, skepticism, magic and deception, LGBTQ issues, language and perception, and general geekery. She works at the Center for Inquiry as director of outreach, director of African Americans for Humanism, and intro-doer for Point of Inquiry. You can find her on Twitter: @debgod.

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  1. I am told that the original incentive for starting OKC was to gather data that could then be analyzed by the folk running it. I forget where they came from, might have been Princeton but some of my MIT friends know them.

    I signed up to kick the tires and see what was going on and if it was more or less likely to end up causing the problems that have appeared in other sites. It matched me up with a friend from MIT and the IETF who was also looking at OKC to see what it was like, how it works, etc. So it does seem to be fairly good at matching like with like.

    One of the things I have found rather worrying about perceptions of Internet risk is how off the mark they have been. When we started doing the Web in 1992, my main security concerns were fraud in online shopping, physical attacks when people meet through an online dating site and various types of politically motivated violence. I didn’t see much risk to kids on the Web back in the days when you had to be a grad student to get access. It was an adults only club at the time. But when they did arrive, it seemed rather obvious that they were going to be a much bigger risk to each other than at risk from adult predators.

    The risks that the establishment would have us worried about were kids seeing porn on the Internet, then scares about adult pedophiles ‘grooming’ kids in chat rooms. The risks kids pose to each other were ignored till pretty recently.

    People still don’t seem to have got the message that when a 120lb female is meeting an unknown male who turns out to be 6’3 and 300lb, they are at a significant physical risk. And they also don’t take into account the fact that online interactions are exceptionally good at creating a false sense of security. People think that they can trust someone they have known online for months. But the Internet filters out the non-verbal cues people use to assess risk and build trust in real world situations.

  2. I recently attended a friend’s wedding to a guy she met via OKCupid. Both are observant Jews, nerds, and gamers and found the site an excellent way to meet people with the same set of interests.

  3. Apparently I registered an OkCupid account back in 2006 (I have no recollection of this, but they did!). So I went in last night after reading your article and updated my account and added photos. It was fascinating. Within 5 minutes of adding photos my profile had gone from 0 views to 6 views.

    I figured I might as well set up an account in earnest because it’s been a few months since I ended my last LTR and it might help me to move on in a more healthy way if I start dating. I did find the profile of a person who was a 95% match and who seems like a great guy, so I figured what the fuck why not and I sent him a message. No response yet. =/

  4. My wife and I get a lot of these kinds of generic contacts on our swingers site profile. These examples of your responses to bird shot fishermen (if I may do a bit of metaphor mixing) have given me ideas how to respond next time. Thanks!

  5. I got an OKC account in 2011, and I’ve met people I never would have come across in the real world. Overall, it’s been enjoyable. And I would suggest that if you want to get more looks on your profile make random changes to it, that will put your profile its recent activity.

  6. Huh.. Glad to see someone is getting use out of these things. At least one researchers reaction to these sites was: “Almost as useless as speed dating.” They tend to exaggerate their success rates, the people successful at it probably don’t even bother looking at the data much, since the data just… doesn’t tell you the important things. One of the factors they pointed out was that everyone thinks they have a sense of humor, but.. putting that into data is pretty useless, since it doesn’t tell you if its Three Stooges, British Comedy, or even, for example, racist diatribes they find funny. They did run an experiment though, in which they went real geeky, dropped the participants into a sort of *very simplistic* virtual world, in which they basically got to pick a shape, and color, then wander between “rooms” which contained different types of music, and other stuff, and all of the participants would wander around, and chat about what was going on in the room. This had interesting effects, which you don’t get from a one on one chat (which may as well be an extended speed date, in some respects), you get to see what their interests really are, but also how they deal with other people in a social situation.

    Basically, its the “unquantifiable” details that probably matter more, and.. other than some minor experiment, by a few people studying random things, none of these sites have realized that its more complicated that just throwing data at a wall, and hoping it sticks, no matter how complicated the data. And, as a result, statistically, they are only slightly better than speed dating, and.. statistically, those are next to useless. lol But, heh, there are always (sort of like with anything else of the sort they sell), enough successes to do advertising about how great they work, without, you know.. mentioning how many people are still floating around in the pond, without matches. But, until/unless someone comes up with something better…

  7. I’m married to a guy I met from OKC, but other than him and a boyfriend a couple years back, it’s been a desert of “hey whats up” and “Would you be interested in a threesome?” Also the generic fishing messages.

  8. One other thing OKC does is explicitly allow polyamorous people in, so their numbers have a bias towards the sort of people who are openly poly. It also lets you filter out those people, and is relatively good at letting you filter out wildly unsuitable people.

    I found OkCupid was a useful way to find out more about people, and a few times linked up with people through FOAF pointers to profiles. Finding people directly has never worked for me, but the online dating world is changing fast enough that five years ago probably makes my experience almost irrelevant.

    A couple of times I’ve been on first dates with people and we’ve spent time on our phones looking at each others profiles and that’s been entertaining. As with Trivial Pursuit, the fun is less about the answers than in why the question was broken. So many questions are phrased badly or just unanswerable because of the assumptions they embody. “if god told you to do X would you?”… well yes, because anything that can prove to me that they are a god is going to be in an excellent position to persuade or compel my obedience. But I’m not going to answer “yes”, because that’s not what the question/er assumes I would mean by my answer.

    There are a few “key questions” that I can’t answer for those sorts reasons (and think answering reflects bady on the answerer), but people always want to know. A couple of the a***hole detection questions are like that – any answer assumes that I would put willingly myself in a situation where for example I have just sexually assaulted someone. If you are someone who has experienced that I’d prefer not to have sex with you either (IRL I’d put it more firmly).

  9. Haha, you’ve had some interesting conversations on okc. Reminds me of my experience there… I stopped using it years ago, pretty much use skout and cliqie.com now. Skout has it’s fair share of creepers still. My girlfriends use cliqie.com for actual meetups since it has two-way matching so you avoid creepers, plus you meet up/match in groups so it’s less sketchy

  10. This article had been sitting in a tab on the side somewhere, so I’m probably late to the party, but here’s my 2 cents anyway:
    The one thing that bugs me about online dating is the same thing that bugs me about real life dating: Clearly (in heterosexual exchanges anyway), the guy still has to make the first move and strike up conversation. And I just suck at striking up conversation, whether face to face or in writing. Perhaps the problem is that I’m trying to be too original, or sound more witty than my sense of humor is capable of supporting, either way, I get very few responses, except on those rare occasions where a girl initiated contact.
    On the flip side, I think for women it’s just a constant barrage of inane 3-word messages interspersed with the occasional slightly longer but generic birdshot-fishing-spam-message. And somehow, I have to make sure my message stands out by having enough content that it’s clear I’ve actually read someone’s profile and invested some effort, but not too much that it I look like a creep who’s scoured their profile for every bit of available detail.
    At that point, I’m leaning towards: “fuck it, I’ll just remain single and become the weird neighbourhood cat-guy”.

    1. I guess something beyond “Hi what going on” and a five-paragraph note might be best? One or two paragraphs! I think that’s in line with the recommendations. I’m a bad judge, I guess, since I respond to everything. :)

  11. I generally ignore generic messages, but when people whine at my about WHY ARE YOU ON HERE IF YOU NO WANT SEX I tend to have fun knocking them down a peg before blocking.

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