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Online Dating Advice: Exactly What To Say In A First Message (okcupid.com)
155 points by smokinn on Sept 14, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

Given that they measure "success" by response rate I'm not sure I put a whole lot of faith in the below quoted analyses. Perhaps the low "success" rate is because people reply w/ an outside service that OkCupid can't track?

"#4 – Don’t try to take it outside. Obviously, all successful OkCupid relationships outgrow our in-site messaging feature. But an offer to chat or of an email address right off the bat is a sure turn off. One of the things online dating has going for it is its relative anonymity, and if you start chipping away at that too early, you’ll scare the other person off."

Having used the site, no one puts contact information in their profiles. And a request to use the built-in chat system right away is a pretty sure sign that I'm not going to want to talk to someone.

I'd bet that, to a point, there's a correlation between the volume of text sent and reply rate. However, that might just have to do with the fact that a longer message is more likely to reference specific things in the person's profile that they find interesting (for example, I replied to almost anyone who showed interest in the fact that I bake bread and like kites).

given that okcupid doesn't charge for their services, it seems unlikely that a majority users are switching to out-of-site communications right away. There are no real incentives to do so.

Switching to out-of-site has two big benefits: 1. OkCupid's chat system is horrible, and results in lots of missed messages. 2. An IM handle gives an easy way to ping people later, the other person is subscribing to be IM'd by you in the future.

"how's it going. in your profile, you mention zombie metal bands. they're pretty awesome."

atheist zombies

that only applies if you want to pick up a Reddit user ;)

atheist vegetarian zombies??

Q. What do vegetarian zombies crave?

A. Graaaaiins

Just curious... why was I down voted on this? If its something that makes sense I'll try to avoid it next time.

Probably because the whole thread smells a bit too much like reddit with all the puns that don't add anything besides humor to the conversation.

It's a fine line.

i'd make the argument that the article submission itself is a bit too much like reddit, hence the reddit-like response from myself and others. i couldn't really think of anything very HN topical to say.

its an interesting post, for sure, but not what i'd consider standard HN fare.

This is really only marginally useful information. Interesting, but not as practical as it seems.

The writers' profile does not seem to have been taken into consideration. Rarely does anyone respond without first checking out the profile of the person who just sent the message. Is saying "hi" really a problem, or is it more that people who typically say "hi" also have a boring profile?

Also, getting a single response doesn't mean much. You might say "sorry" and a woman might respond "that's ok" but when you try to continue the conversation it'll go nowhere. Real life dating advice doesn't discourage saying sorry because you'll get ignored, it's discouraged because it makes you boring and lower status. If you can do it without falling into that trap, it works in real life. (Accidentally bump into her shopping cart and say "sorry" and then smile and change the subject)

My okc stats are: 26 attempts to initiate contact, 9 responses. 1 live meeting and 2 open threads(1 fresh, 1 getting stale)). I don't have numbers for people who tried to iniate with me, except that I've met at least 3 others.

So that means while I get a 35% response rate there's only an 11% meet rate after that (though it may be 22% soon). So 4% total. While getting a little feedback feels good and can be useful, a few polite responses is not generally what a user's goal is. How many messages result in meetings, that's what I want to know.

Not just that, but are people who start with "How's it going" generally writing better? There are a number of ways this data can be misleading... many of which fall under "correlation vs causation."

Some girls get a hundred emails a week from guys looking for hookups. How are the numbers affected by those high-volume shameless creeps who spam every girl who looks easy to them? I suspect that physical compliments are a bad idea, but these numbers don't help confirm that. Saying a girl is "pretty" could actually help, yet score low in this analysis because it's a creep marker. There's no attempt at persuasive analysis here, just like in the other recent post that was featured on HN. Or did I miss the part where they explained that they targeted a certain subset of messages for analysis?

oh yeah the girls get spammed like crazy. They get like 500 emails a week. Hell a chick I know didn't even provide a picture and STILL got over 100 emails the first week.

She was probably featured in the "new users near you" email okcupid sends out. I imagine it trickled off after that though.

It could be as simple as hot and sexy women get more messages and therefore reply to less as a percentage.

Fascinating data. The reply rate for messages containing "how's it going?" is almost twice that of messages containing "hi". In fact, "how's it going?" is the only string mentioned (apart from "Zeus") that actually pushes the reply rate up above 50%.

I wonder how well "How's it going Zeus?" would work.

Probably too well.

That guy's married, and his wife's the jealous type!

I found it enjoyable how well the use of the word "sorry" did. Seems true to life ;-)

I wonder if "god" faired so poorly because it was in lowercase, as it fails the first advice: "Be literate." Christians are careful to use it as a proper noun, God. So if the word christian faired well, and god did not, it seems like it's a turn off because you're probably not really a Christian as opposed to the fact you mentioned God.

Pretty sure all the comparisons are case-insensitive. Several are even explicitly stemmed for plurals.

I doubt it. I'm willing to bet that they did a case-insensitive search. Not only does it make more sense for making these charts, it's also the default in SQL and in most full-text search tools.

Then the discrepancy baffles me.

I wonder how well mentioning religion to a person who puts religion on their profile vs mentioning to someone who doesn't compares. They say "Christin" doesn't help as much as atheist, but I would bet that people who put "Christian" in their profile respond more...

On their first post on this subject, I asked if they were going to do some response modelling based not only on the message, but on profile features like spirituality, math ability, desire for love, etc.

No reply, unfortunately.

No reply, unfortunately.

There's a joke here somewhere...

Maybe khafra should have put "zombie" in the first post?

The main problem, I think, was opening with "hi ur pretty"

OKCupid seems to attract a hipper crowd more likely to not be religious, compared with eHarmony which has a pretty clear Christian vibe to it which would likely attract users who would reply more readily to 'god' than 'atheist'.

Well its probably true that eHarmony will attract more Christians than OkCupid. But I wonder if Christians or atheists are more likely to try OkCupid.

According to Wikipedia, 78.4% of people in the US are Christian.


I wonder what the numbers show for OkCupid members.

Compare "Oh, hey, I see you're a Christian too." and "I hope we can grow and enjoy God's love together.". The latter seems to connote much more devotion than the former. I would bet that "God" is more likely to be used in a devoted sense than "Christian". I would further bet that the devoted can find each other at church and/or devoted language from a man to a woman in the first contact doesn't come off well. (Disclaimer: poster is an atheist who was raised Christian but does not intend to bash religion in this particular post.)

Might also be because of things like "god damnit, ur hot". I got the feeling that they didn't really look into confounding variables, like common sentences that trigger multiple rules.

Right, that's more or less what I was thinking.

I agree with "I hope we can grow and enjoy God's love together." being a little freaky to tell someone online.

"God" is also sprinkled fairly liberally around some common phrases. "Oh my God" comes to mind, shouldn't be hard to think of a dozen others on your own.

I can't stay if these conditions are accounted for, of course.

Wow, atheist +42%, vegetarian +41%! I'm set :D

It's not +42%/+41%; it's 42%/41% average reply rate, whereas the overall average is 32%.

Ah, you're right. Unusual graph format, would be helpful if they labeled the line.

"Scientifically, this is because it’s a little evil sounding."

This data can be misleading. Girls probably get way more messasges and guys send more messages. The reply rate for messages sent by a man is probably much lower than for messages sent by a woman.

A man in more likely to call a woman "pretty" than the other way around. Thus the reply rate for "You're pretty" is low (30%, the average rate is 32%). But the reply rate for man-to-woman messages is 27%. So saying "you're pretty" probably helps.

I know they took precautions on protecting user privacy, but there is something a little bit unnerving about analyzing personal messages without written consent.

You put your data on their server. Life is generally much clearer if you expect people to act according to their interests.

I don't mean to suggest that users don't. I'm just saying its a bit unnerving.

As a data scientist, one needs to constantly ask themselves ethical questions concerning that data they are working on. Just because it exists, doesn't mean you should munge on it. I know its quite the temptation, because it's what I currently do!

I prefer to create an outlet where users are willingly giving up that information to be analyzed. They can still act according to their interests, but at least they know what will become of their information.

That would turn out just like internet polls showing Ron Paul winning in a landslide and security blog polls showing most people memorize a unique 14 character alpha-numeric password for every site they visit.

This is the right way to anonymize the data -- publish only aggregate data, rather than anything which can be analyzed individually. If you don't expect everything you do to be anlayzed, you need to stay off the internet.

The answer to privacy issues is user education. Asking companies to behave nicely will lead to users being extremely vulnerable to bad actors.

Sure most people don't read these things, but you agree to them when you sign up... http://www.okcupid.com/privacy#obtained

Can someone explain to me why this is still not dead, while the link to 50 Lectures on Brain Anatomy and Development, Neuroscience, and Psychology is dead?

Interesting. And predicatable?

I suspect that incorporating the second date conversion rates would skew this data significantly since vegetarian atheists are rarely alike.

I just concocted a message on okcupid with almost all these phrases and I got a reply in 30 minutes. It works.

Interesting data, but lots of fallacies in the analysis. Correlation/causation is just a start.

funny. was just searching for this article a couple of hours ago but couldn't find it, and now it's popping up on the frontpage again.

HN is the last place I expected to see online dating tips.

And yet, it's the first place were I expect to see "HN is the last place I expected to see..." posts.

Think of those posts as an immune response. Without it, the content of the articles and quality of the comments quickly matches that of Digg.com. Without enough of it, you get Reddit.

I met my current girlfriend on OKC (dating for a bit over a year), its a great site :)

Someone had to say this: how is this (even remotely) HN material? Let me guess: it's about "hacking" dating. Yeah, right. And rape is about hacking sex?

Data analysis and trending is topical to this audience. There are a lot of startups that could use techniques like this to increase return visits--instruct your users how to be more successful.

It also analyzes what sort of language people tend to be receptive to (at least on dating sites... possibly elsewhere, too).

This could be useful if you're trying to create a rapport with users on your own website (albeit through one way communication).

Yeah, I wonder how "How's it going?" or "Yo" fare against a simple "Hi" in customer relations. Maybe there's something to be said for making that less formal.

That's an intelligent answer. Thanks for clarifying.

Don't hackers need love too?

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