Generally there are two monitizations for a third party; first of all being an affiliate and sending traffic can be big bucks (I paid for my wedding as a referrer for SexSearch and AdultFriendFinder - I'm not ashamed because I didn't use necessarily shady practices to accomplished this). With big bucks, I mean an easy $45 (at the time) per signup, more if it were a female registering. Having a day making $2k wasn't unheard of.
The second, shadier method, is that there will be "service providers" posing or automating profiles on these sites. The "service providers" (escorts, phone sex, porn sites, rival "dating" sites or plain our scammers) attempt to get the people to use their service by enticing the end-user and making them believe they are a real person. This is generally overlooked because for these new unpaid accounts, their curiosity gets the best of them when they can't read these private messages they are getting, and they end up paying for an account. (It was even beneficial to me, even though I wasn't luring anyone in to paying for an account, these service providers would convert them for me).
The thing that backfires is that so many of these service providers will hurt the quality of a site by making users instantly see that something is wrong - just like in the parent article. It's in WooMe's interest (if they are indeed not doing it themselves) to take control over this kind of misuse, and not let it get out of control - they will just lose real users, and in the end money.
Just trying to understand who other than WooMe would have an incentive to spam on their site.
1) User signs up for free on WooMe
2) User is enticed by fake account to signup because the picture alone suckered them in, and the unknown of their message just made it too much.
3) Fake account tells user to check out their profile on fake account's website
4) Fake accounts website is a redirect with affiliate code to rival site
5) User signs up for rival site, thus giving the commission to the fake account's holder.
It sounds like a lot of work, but it's all automated and easy to pull off.
Edited for formatting
Keep in mind this is all playing on human emotions; sex or the desire to be wanted being a huge one; and for some lonely souls out there, it makes them easier prey. My history with doing affiliate programs with that industry has proven that if marketed correctly, it can be a very rewarding business, and even with some seriously scary a/b tests (let's just throw the term farm sex out there) you can still get good conversions. People's desires and curiosity gets to them - and in to their wallet.
The actual luring tactics do seem predatory and that's why I worded it like that - simply because I have witnessed how others were going about things.
Give the investors the benefit of doubt.
That site is a total mess now - full of ads, spam and upsell. It is totally unusable.
The sentiment (in the US, at least) still seems to be towards less regulation at the moment. Enforcing ethics as well as laws would seem to require even more regulation, unless you have a magic potion that will convince all business directors to self-regulate all at once!
Better to have the market, and market players like TechCrunch, sort out this type of low-level malfeasance.
I agree that this kind of "malfeasance" is not really worth any more attention from regulators.
I don't know how you would do that.
If we socially scorn businesspeople who only focus on extracting value without adding any, if programmers who work at those sorts of companies feel ashamed rather than proud, we won't eliminate the behavior, but we can certainly make it more expensive.
That may be how things are, but that doesn't mean they have to be. There's no law of nature or 'business' that dictates that is how it should be, like there's no other weay. It's all a human choice. Some people choose to act this way.
How can we change this? Simple, don't interact with folks that choose to act this way.
We're talking about VC funding here. No company goes after VC on day one. All these companies that get millions in series whatever rounds are mature and have some revenue coming in, or at least a plan to turn their userbase into dollars. If a company is mature enough to seek VC funding and also needs that investment to dig themselves out of a hole, then I don't think they're worth investing in. That's all I'm saying, hopefully it makes sense.
When I co-founded a company we boostrapped by finding a contracting client who we managed to negotiate with so that they would pay us immediately in cash before the end of the month. So for the first few months we still managed to pay our salaries, make a profit and we had no overheads as we were working on the client site.
After we had some cash in the bank we got an office and purchased our own kit so we could work off site (the client wasn't bothered as long as the work got done). Eventually we got to the point where we decided to focus on product development and we got VC money and moved to only having product related revenue.
So yes, I think we did break even on day one.
Kind of funny that the article calls it "bait-and-switch, from the horrible kind" while linking to an internal-ish overview that says "best of all it’s free".
What WooMe is doing is nothing different than any other adult "dating" website in that they send messages to users with the hopes of getting them to sign up with a recurring charge (that the company hopes they forget about) and then immediately cut off almost all of this instant contact that the paid user just received. Then about a week later they'll send out a mass mailer to a set of demographics with more fake messages just to string that person and get them to continue forgetting about that recurring $24.99 charge.
Don't even get me started on upselling.
Although this TC article is hardly news for anyone who has examined the WooMes of the world for even 15sec., I find the fact that WooMe is outed as a scam and that OKCupid is acquired by Match.com to be hugely vindicating.
By providing users an honest, transparent service that legitimately helps them achieve their aims, you CAN and eventually WILL profit and grow. The damage in investors betting on companies like WooMe is that 1) they scam bunches of online daters and turn them off from the whole industry, they disappoint and lie to people 2) other entrepreneurs see big investment and media coverage for a company like WooMe and think they should chase after that model and mold their businesses to what investors want rather than what users want. 3) ultimately, investing in WooMe doesn't create any long term value and is a waste of time/money and starves other legitimate businesses of opportunity.
Just because a company is getting investment $$, press, meteoric growth, etc does NOT mean it is actually delivering anything of value and/or helping its users achieve their goals. There is always opportunity to win against ANY competitor by doing those simple things.
I know of a few people who scrape profiles off of dating site A, create new profiles using that data on dating site B then message users on site B asking them out. A requirement for going out on a date with them (they're obviously posing as an attractive female and messaging males) is signing up to a service that does a background check to verify that they're not dangerous. Affiliate network payout per conversion on background check = $20+ USD
Doing that at scale = you are making $2,000+ USD/day
And if the messages are real, I'll be a monkey's uncle.
If I was running this kind of operation I'd probably ensure some conversations continued for a couple of messages after users paid up, just to make sure they didn't cancel or file chargebacks. If I assume men preferred their hot women to pass the Turing test I could probably outsource the flirting to someone in the Philippines at $5 per hundred messages.
Are these messages coming from WooMe internally or are they SPAM submitted from "Russian bride scams"? Either way, I'm staying away and warning others!
Reddit did the same thing starting out...the only difference is that they didn't try to trick you into paying.
The value a user of a dating site gets is the PROSPECT of going on a face to face meeting with another person.
If reddit engineers were good enough to make an AI to post great new great content everyday along with insightful comments and analysis, I'd still go. Hell, that might make me want to go even more often.
If I found out a dating site users were doing the same with messaging, that completely precludes me from getting the value I really want from the site, thus its useless.
The most underhand variation of all I've encountered was sms.ac (ironic acroynm) which suckered you in with Bebo-style friendspam to join their "free SMS" network, at which point your blank profile started receiving unsolicited reverse charge "flirts" from random non-humans.
They took $17.4 million dollars of VC with no real hope of showing a return to their investors. They got desperate and this is the result.
If they close it down, yes, their main brand will be protected, but so will everyone else's. There's no competitive advantage whatsoever in doing it.
looks at blizzard outside
After you pay for your account, it immediately asks you "do you want the site to introduce you to people who may be of interest" or something like that. A little later, I looked at my Sent folder and saw that I had said "hi" or "what's up" to dozens of people, many who are not local or I otherwise would not be interested in.
One of the services WooMe offers is to automatically introduce people they think will get along. They do NOT make it clear its the system doing the introduction, nor that its automated. But what is clear is these are all real people on the site, no fake accounts.
So yes, no person sent a hello to a horse in the middle of the night. But that doesn't make the whole thing fake. It mimics a scam, but is not.
Imagine if after signing up for Facebook for the first time, FB sent you 10 friend requests within minutes of people they thought you knew - one step further than what they already do with suggested friends. Is that a scam? Or is that a ham-fisted attempt at helping you get started using the site?
It's clearly not a scam. It's just really really borderline on the ethical side. I've never used a dating site of any kind, so I have no idea what is normal in that industry.
what a chauvinism!..
we focus very hard on getting people to talk to each other and interact and we have a number of features on the site, driven by users, that make that happen.
Ironically, the user featured in the pic is one of the longest standing and most active on WooMe.
"wooMe is the most fun you'll have online for FREE!"
"get started now! it's 100% free and takes 30 secs to sign up"
Doing a Bayesian update on the claims of automated bot messages, with the fact that the company is willing to make obviously untrue statements on its front page, it seems reasonably likely that they would be willing to lie in other places too. I realise that claiming to be free probably increases conversions, but you shouldn't pursue conversions at the expense of basic ethics. Would you shoot a puppy to increase conversions too?
So, at the moment, I'd evaluate as 80% likely the claims in the TC blog post. Still waiting to read nicferrier's responses to http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2170210 though.
I can only imagine what the bounce rate is when you put the payment details after the signup for a nerfed account. You can't do much until you upload a photo of yourself and by then they have already gotten something from you: the appearance of activity and photos they can dangle in front of other users. What do they call that again… bait for the lobster trap?
Use of Information Obtained by WooMe
When you register with WooMe, you create your own profile and privacy settings. Your profile information, as well as your name, email and photo, are displayed to people in the networks specified in your privacy settings to enable you to connect with people on WooMe.
Profile information is used by WooMe primarily to be presented back to and edited by you when you access the service and to be presented to others permitted to view that information by your privacy settings.
You know, it is certainly possible that those messages are all either spam accounts or real people trying to make the money they paid worthwhile by meeting someone. Then again, pyramid schemes are perpetuated by real people trying hard to make their investment worth it too.
Also, the user featured in the top picture personally contacted me, and while I never claimed her profile was fake (but mine obviously was), it turns out she's pretending to be someone else on there (confirmed).
It's easy to say I fabricated the story, much harder to prove, isn't it?
I wouldn't be calling you out if I didn't think you really need to take a good look of how what kind of shady business you're running.
We didn't do anything to stop these getting to you, as you say elsewhere in this thread. Since you weren't top online anymore (and if you're not engaging you also drop off the top of the 'online now' list) you just didn't get these messages anymore.
As for contacting us... well, I'm sorry, I guessed we dropped it. I've been trying to track down your email and I can't find it.
edit but apparently 'Jen' does. Screencast here -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOtBmqqKVcc
(Thanks to my Appsumo purchase of Screenflow which saved me 50%!)
If someone signs up and realises they've been duped, they probably won't even contest the CC charge due to a variation on the Small Penis Rule: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_penis_rule
They'll just cancel their account to avoid being rebilled.
And actually, they handled the cancellation process well (at least for me).
I called them up and said I want to cancel because "their site is a scam" and in a no-nonsense way the person started helping me undo the payment (without defending the site). Since I paid through PayPal, I did have to dispute the payment via them (which took a month or two) but I eventually got all of my money back.
So I give the company (or at least the person I talked with) props for their cancellation process, although not everyone may experience it that way.
You put a tiny fake-ai-chatbot on the page to help with conversions.
Here in Toronto, I interviewed once with a dating site similar dating site similar to WooMee /* on second thought I won't link to them */ who "Seem" to be doing similar things (this is of course only alleged misconduct, as I have no proof)
There are also numerous accounts of the dating scam sites out there. I read one story of a "Sugar Daddies Dating" site that charged huge fees to sign up, then when you did a chargeback, they'd refer you to collections for many times what you originally pledged.
So it's either pay up or damage your credit rating.
http://maxkle.in/how-elite-dating-sites-scam-people/ Max Klein has a good account of one such scam.
It's actually an experiment with a 3rd party to see if an automated response system converts people to our paid service well.
Stop treating the people on this site like we're simply misinformed teenagers crying wolf.
From your website: "it's 100% free"
If you really WANT snake oil I guess I could find some and get it to you.
Your site either uses fake accounts to trick legitimate users into paying to view messages from these supposed hot women looking for dates with horses and guys who have just signed up yet haven't provided any personal details...or you have a very serious spam problem where bots are running rampant across your site with hordes of fake accounts trolling for new profiles to scam (or a combination therein).
As evidence, I just logged in to my woome account, which I haven't logged into in maybe 3 years, and immediately I got a request for a video chat from http://www.woome.com/sallyl3462/ . Who wants to get laid tonight? Sally does!
I don't think that's what robin is trying to say tho.
We are simply trying to make introductions happen as much as possible because that's what people use woome for. To meet new people.
It seems to work, to my knowledge our users are generally happy we have good time on site, repeat vistits and viping.
It's not that hard to spot users messaging new users during the first few minutes. If one user does this multiple times, just ban him.
1. Delete the fake bot accounts
2. Re-word your homepage so that it is clear to users that you need to pay money to do anything useful
3. Come out and say 'in an effort to ramp up user engagement we went too far and made a mistake. apologies'
I signed up for your site years ago. I have slowly watched it progress from something useful to a totally degenerate spam and bait site.
(Edit: I will add that if it is your affiliates who are doing the spamming, then ban them and put in better controls. I just logged into my account and got 3 messages in less than a second)
Horses for courses not withstanding.
I can only see what these supposedly real women are trying to tell or ask me until I pay up. That's all fine and dandy, but there's no point in pretending that real users were just all jumping on the opportunity to meet a horse in such a short time period.
It would really be interesting to create a second account, or even a second paid account, and see if any of the messages were exactly the same.
Speak straight. Do you or do you not send automated messages or messages from fake accounts in an effort to entice visitors to sign up?
Yeah, that's a "real" dater.
" After a user "friends" someone, we pop up 6 "other people like him" and the user can select up to 6 people to "say hi" to. Again, we try to focus on 1) relevance and 2) online now in populating those suggestions."
Does that mean that a user has to pay for his curiosity just to see a bunch of "say hi" messages?
Hi $name, thank you for messaging me. I'm new to this site, so can you please tell me the process on how you send me that message, where did you have to click, etc? I am still trying to figure this out, so if you could tell me what buttons you had to press to send the message to me, I'd appreciate it, it would help me get started. Thank you ahead of time, $name. P.S. Have you read any good books lately?
And then, to be even more sure, create a couple more accounts through proxies and see what kind of messages they get. Do deactivate them after.
See, while it does look like some sort of bait-and-switch, at least try to verify it. Maybe at the very least they've got a very persuasive feature where new members do get popped up, and there's a user initiated "Poke" like feature (that appears as a message on your end), so that would put them somewhere in grey-hat tactics out of the black-hat area.
are the messages fake? again, yeah, probably. but its also concievable that one or two are "lol a horse" type of messages. kind of depends on how the site itself works.
this is how a lot of dating sites work. no contact unless you pay, no receiving messages unless you pay. its also how classmates.com works, not just dating sites. and one of the reasons they were sued recently is due to business practices similar to this.
> pretending hot women are dying to contact you even though you're obviously not date material (unless they're into horses), the unsolicited emails
again, this is probably true, but there's no proof of it unless the dude signed up and found out for sure. more data required.
> the corny live chat box and pop-up message when you try to close it
shady indeed, but they're not the only place who makes use of this.
For all I know, one of the Nigerians in my spam folder really is sitting on piles of cash, but I don't think it would be good investigative journalism to give them small sums of money to test how many of them aren't lying.
for the average consumer, obviously, you would want to avoid it. for TC doing some journalism on a company they once supported and gave praise, PR, traffic, and the buzz to get funding, i would've expected a bit more.
but maybe thats just me.
like i said in another response, they're almost definitely doing shady business. call them out on it. but call them out on it with facts, not speculation. TC is supposed to be tech journalism (sometimes, at least). do due diligence, get some proof and report on it.
I realize that women responding instantly to a horse picture is obvious, but why not nail all the nails in the coffin? Seems like an easy step to pay for a month of an account to read the emails.