Yahoo Personals – an attractive Match

Written by Nexcerpt on May 26th, 2010 in Dating & Online.

On July 21, 2010, Yahoo Personals will close. The site suggests that current members switch to Match. (The stove suggests that you switch from the frying pan to the fire.) Even as online dating changes, it stays the same.

The business pages are silent on one key aspect of this ongoing realignment: where are the pretty people? Is Match getting “better” — or is it merely choosing superficial quantity over superficial quality?

Here’s a bit of a compliment regarding Yahoo Personals, from my 2009 interview for Honey and Lance. (A second interview addressed problems with Match.com more directly.)

I poked around Yahoo Personals for several months; nearly all their profiles are real human beings! (Unfortunately, they allow old profiles to hang around for many MONTHS after they’re abandoned.) Yahoo is the Mama Bear of the scene. You can offer as little or as much about yourself as you want. You can search, or wait for suggestions. It’s fairly anonymous, but feels more like e-mail than the “20 Questions” slots psychologists have cooked up elsewhere…

For those looking online, the loss of Yahoo Personals is unfortunate. Yahoo offered a reasonably well designed site (much cleaner and faster than Match), skipping the random psychobabble (which drives Match competitors like Chemistry and e-Harmony). As a search-driven dating service, popular among young professionals, Yahoo Personals paralleled Match in many ways. And, essential to this discussion — let’s get right down to a core issue — Yahoo Personals had a relatively attractive membership. Overall, Match may have slightly prettier people, but Yahoo was nearly its equal.

Please don’t bother resisting this essential awareness. This is real stuff, in real life, for real people. Appearances are relevant; attractiveness is tangible; physicality matters. That element of motivation may not be discussed much elsewhere, but will be here. If you don’t care to acknowledge the amorphous but vitally human reality that men are “attracted” to “attractive” women (and vice versa) feel free to click away now, because it’s going to remain the topic.

The Ugly Truth
The Yahoo deal seems positive, but it contradicts a recent pattern Match has followed. Match acquired SinglesNet earlier this year. And, Match took over 27% of Meetic a year earlier. These may be defensible business decisions (made as they were, near Valentine’s Day ;-) but they seem indefensible from the perspective of a current Match.com member.

Although Singlesnet.com had decent design and functionality, it had one of the least attractive memberships online (competing with Plenty of Fish for the least beautiful average member). Based on a series of questions, Meetic added interesting insights into how you might fit with other members — but then made the mistake of revealing their photos! Meetic had more outliers (a slightly higher proportion of quite attractive women) and both sites certainly had members with wonderful physical features and appearance, but that was not the norm. Ever.

On subjective measures of member attractiveness, both Singlesnet and Meetic ranked very poorly in the industry — significantly below Match or Yahoo Personals. To put it bluntly, for members influenced by physical attractiveness, both Singlesnet and Meetic were disaster zones. Why would Match.com acquire so many new members (purportedly millions of them) who would not be attractive to their current members?

It’s simple: Match doesn’t make money when members succeed at meeting a partner. Match makes money when members spend months looking without success. If you don’t quite grasp that fundamental truth, you may benefit from this OK Cupid Blog about paying for online dating.

The more noisy the Match system and Match database, the longer current members will remain mired in a fruitless (and billable) search. Arguably, of course, merging Singlesnet and Meetic memberships could result in more connections among them, which might avoid ruining two otherwise attractive couples. (C’mon; ya gotta laugh…) However, that rather ignores Match’s obligation to its current members.

Where is Match headed?
H.L. Mencken said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Perhaps Match is in a similar position regarding the perception of physical beauty — perhaps they can profit by expanding their stable, without regard to member appeal. But, Match’s earlier acquisitions tilted the balance away from the relatively attractive core membership they had built through 2009. Once a preponderance of members are “below average” in looks, first its members (and then Match itself) will pay the price.

In that light, what to make of the new pairing with Yahoo? Pursuing pretty Yahoo Personals members could help offset the influx from the less attractive Singlesnet and Meetic databases. Match.com members may be able to skip irrelevant profiles, focusing instead on new faces enter via Yahoo’s platform. But, one thing seems clear: Match.com is doing all it can to get bigger, rather than better. Otherwise, it would have avoided Singlesnet and Meetic, and focused on a partnership with value, like Yahoo Personals.

Bottom line: nothing about online dating is the least bit logical, rational, or reducible to a system. Suggesting that we can measure, rank, or match what feels “attractive” feels almost absurd. However, I know “appeal” when I see it; it was sorely lacking at Singlesnet and Meetic. Given human complexity, it’s not surprising that dating services haven’t discovered how to do this work well yet. It may make sense that Match would ramp up focus on quantity, rather than quality. However, seeking volume, rather than appeal, renews the sense that Match has further abandoned goals of quality and user satisfaction.

PS: Lance was very cool about the interview process — an energy you’ll appreciate in reading the blog he co-authors with Honey. They regularly offer great insights from both male and female perspectives on Dating, Relationships, Pickup and Life.

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