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Until about five or six years ago, online dating’s reputation was — well, call it colorful. It has come a long way, but plenty of people, even enthusiastic users, still have (reasonable) concerns about the process. It may be fitting, then, that the best of the current crop of dating sites is the one that emphasizes humor, openness, and a friendly atmosphere — namely, OkCupid.
The Appeal of Online Dating
The appeal of online dating is obvious. Rather than relying on the social Brownian motion of your life to eventually bump you into someone interesting, you use computers to filter through the melee of neuroses and libidos to connect with interesting people more easily. It’s a good idea, and one that amounts to a multimillion dollar industry — in fact many dating tools exist that try to streamline the process. As with most things, the practice is a little grimier than the theory, and men and women both have complaints coming to grips with online dating. Still, there are plenty of people interested in casting their digital lines into the proverbial sea.
What Makes OkCupid Different?
As things stand, many of the options available for online dating are very similar. Match.com, eHarmony, ChristianMingle, and their ilk all offer marriage-focused services at a steep monthly fee and often with a religious bent. Many of them are focused on the idea of identifying a viable ‘soul-mate’ by using Meyers-Briggs-style personality tests of questionable validity. The consequence of all this is a rather intense atmosphere, which can be off-putting.
OKCupid differentiates itself from this competition in two key ways. First, the atmosphere of the site (instilled through a cute user interface and a laconic sense of humor) is a good deal friendlier and lower-key than most of its competition. Second, OkCupid mostly eschews personality tests in favor of user-generated questions and machine learning resulting in more reasonable questions — not “Are you soul mates?” but “Will you get along?”.
OkCupid appears to be run by a gaggle of statisticians, and it shows through in the quality of their matching algorithm (if you haven’t seen their wonderful statistics blog yet, it’s well worth your time). It’s also free, which is itself a big advantage over many of its competitors (higher barriers to entry for dating sites tend to produce a more-desperate-than-average userbase).
Layout & Usability
When you open the site, you’re presented with a landing page that shows you a carousel of cliff notes on potential matches, and a feed of recent activity: people entering and leaving relationships, editing their profiles, and uploading new photos. From there, the standard online dating features are readily available: you can revise your profile, you can view matches, and you can send and receive messages.
The interface of the site (arranged in cheerful blues and whites) is appealing if not spectacular, and by and large the interface just works — the site is very stable, and it rarely takes more than a few click to get anything done.
The humor also represents a refreshing change of pace: the body types available range from ‘skinny’ to ‘fat’ to ‘used up.’ You can sort your matches by ‘recent’ ‘match %’ and ‘enemy %’; the latter shows you the people their algorithm predicts you are least likely to get along with. It’s charming and helps break the ice.
OkCupid’s value is in its addictive question and answers, which will be a major part of the interactions on the site. When you sign up for an account, the system forces you to answer 50 user-generated questions to give it some basis for your matches. You’ll find yourself answering many more questions; ones that run the gamut from the utterly silly to the bizarre to the deeply personal – not out of an abstract desire to get more statistically valid matches, but simply because the unending stream of questions has a Skinner-Box-esque appeal. It’s a great time waster, which can be problematic when you find yourself seriously considering your opinions on eugenics at four in the morning.
The site has a number of other minor features which are fun, but supplementary to the reason you’re at the site. You can visit the ‘tests’ page which has a battery of user-generated personality tests (closer to silly Facebook personality tests than eHarmony’s nine dimensions of compatibility). You can also go to My Best Face and have your vanity validated (or crushed) by strangers on the Internet, who’ll rate your pictures by attractiveness and compare them to the average.
The OkCupid community is notable for its diversity. It runs the range from demure Mormons to kinky swingers with polysyllabic gender identities. This diversity can be problematic, as it means that the community of people looking for low-effort hookups can drown out more serious dating. Staying on OkCupid for any length of time is an exercise in filtering the signal from the sweating, horny noise. Still, you can pretty much rest assured that no matter what you’re looking for, there’s somebody out there looking for the same.
Obviously, online dating won’t fix all your romantic problems. It won’t fix your weird nose or make other people any less messy or complicated. It might, however, make the process of meeting people go a little smoother. And, if online dating is where you’re at right now, OkCupid is the best service, free or paid, available on the market today.