Tons of my clients use OkCupid, and sometimes I have access to their profile backends for when we’re working on new writing, or when I need to see detailed info on their messaging or browsing history. The other day, I was working with one such client and I noticed something weird.
Two specific questions seemed to be missing from his profile: “The first thing people usually notice about me” and “The most private thing I’m willing to admit.” (OK, to be technical, those aren’t actually ‘questions’ but you get the idea!) At first I thought it was an experiment, but I’ve since determined that all new profiles have these two questions removed.
Now I’m not surprised to see these ones stricken; after all, people often answer both in a boring, boilerplate manner. But even so, offing those questions can make for a crappy experience for other more creative singles, especially when that change is rolled out poorly.
“The first thing people usually notice about me”
This question often gets lame generic responses like “my eyes” or “my smile” (with “my hair” trailing not that far behind). While these types of response may be true, they’re also sappy and kind of self-involved-sounding, haha. They don’t do anything to set singles apart when 95% of the site’s users say the exact same thing. So I get how OkCupid might have run user responses through some kind of keyword-recognition algorithm, determined that everyone sounded like a lame 80s Glamour Shots ad, and said “to hell with it.”
However, savvy singles have found ways to use this field to their advantage by coming up with quirky, interesting replies that show a bit more personality and differentiate them from their competition. This can take many forms, from describing a unique mode of transportation (a special aqua Dutch bike with a giant basket covered in plastic kitten decals? A skateboard even though you’re a boring 44-year-old software company middle-manager in khakis and a polo shirt?) to disclosing a disability (this is a convenient way to gently scare off people who aren’t comfortable, say, dating someone in a wheelchair) or calling out a large number of tattoos.
It can also help weed out the self-involved (just like the still present “I’m really good at…” question). The tone of the answer can convey a world of info. People who say that you’ll notice “my biceps” or “my luscious lips” or even “my giant cock” are definitely a different dating demographic than those whose response is more along the lines of “How I never, ever type two spaces after a period” or “that I’m shooting pictures so I don’t actually have to talk to people,” ya know?
“The most private thing I’m willing to admit”
The goal of this question is to get people to open up and be vulnerable more than they are usually inclined to do in a dating profile. OkCupid has a good intention here, since showing a little humanity makes it easier to connect with a profile and start up a conversation—but without any examples or guidance, users are often intimidated, or they feel that the site and therefore its other users are somehow being too prying or asking for too intimate a revelation here, so they post some lame cop-out answer like “ask me in person” or “I’m not putting that here.” Again, easy to see how the site might have decided it wasn’t worth keeping this section.
But creative and savvy users see the value in this question, too! It begs for a deftly wielded humblebrag—some little statement or confession that *seems* private and secret and potentially negative, but is actually reflective of your strength of character somehow.
I often see straight men or butch lesbians confessing to liking something typically considered “girly” in our confused modern society, like the color pink for example. In doing this, what they’re really telegraphing to other users is “I’m enlightened and secure enough about my gender and identity that I can playfully confess to having interests that don’t conform with surface expectations.”
This question is incredibly useful at subtly showing off how very cool you are, all under the framework of making it seem like the reader is learning something intimate about you, which is more likely to facilitate a conversation, which is the whole point of the entire site. :)
Having missing questions makes you look bad
Here’s the thing; it makes sense for a dating site to remove questions that don’t work well, especially as we trend towards shorter profiles in general. BUT, OkCupid did nothing to communicate this removal. So older users are still grandfathered into having these questions appear in their profiles, while newer users simply don’t see them, and there’s no explanation about this discrepancy. Singles familiar with OkCupid are likely to therefore assume that newer users simply didn’t answer the questions. (After all, how many non-online-dating-coaches have a bunch of different active profiles like I do, or pay attention to these details and differences?)
When online daters see someone with very few questions answered, they usually assume either “uncreative” or “lazy” (or both). When we see specific questions unanswered, we think “this person might have something to hide.” It’s a little tiny red flag that they may be somehow inferior to all the other options, if nothing else because they felt like they a) had nothing to subtly brag about, and b) had nothing to intimately share, and therefore c) gave us nothing to latch on to as a conversation starter.
I’m not sure what the perfect rollout would have been—maybe they should have informed existing users that it was sunsetting those questions and then made them invisible as of a certain date. Maybe they should allow new users a way to answer them electively. Maybe they handled it just fine and I’m the over-analytical one (ding ding ding!). But I bet good Bitcoin there is at least one tattooed pierced bespectacled feminist chick out there wondering why the hell an otherwise seemingly cool and liberated cute plaid-Western-shirt-wearing hipster dude had no snarky-yet-insightful “most private thing” reply in his profile. And that right there is a crappy user experience for both of those imaginary caricatures. :(