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How I Would Not Run a Dating Service – Observations on Tawkify

Tawkify is an online dating service that requires men to submit a photo, answer ten questions, and then await a match from the honed, laser-guided algorithm of the whimsy of its founder, E. Jean Carroll.

For $8 per “match,” $15 for three matches, or $99 for a paternalistic hand-holding program, E. Jean will impose her will on you by deciding who you should date – blindly.  Under the veil of anonymity, you submit your photo, job information, and other personal data to be perused by Ms. Carroll, who describes her methodology’s rationale, and prospective customer base, thusly:

[Men] have to have pictures because I have to see what they look like. But one of the reason why so many women signed up is because they’re protected. Nobody sees their picture. So creeps and jugheads and assholes are not sending them messages. (source)

Being a tremendous asshole myself, I take some offense to this attitude.  But worse, the “match” Tawkify provides is a once-a-week seven-minute phone call (source).  That’s it.  And, there’s no guarantee that the other person will show up for the call (source).

Ferdinand Bardamu at In Mala Fide first posted about Tawkify to question why men would use a service that condescends to their desire to see and know about the people they may be meeting.  Indeed, it is more than slightly infantilizing to have someone who preemptively believes you’re a “creep,” “jughead” or “asshole” to try to make matches for you, and only on a weekly basis.

Others took up the call:

Feeling the heat, E. Jean took to the blogosphere with the following offer: Make a comment on a critical blog post and get a free Tawkify match!  Well, that’s great, except that it’s idiotic.  First, the bell on demeaning men who might want to use a service as awkward and inefficient as Tawkify cannot be unrung.  Second, E. Jean admits in her BetaBeat article that she primarily does the matchmaking and has little capacity for scaling up (compared to, say, a matching algorithm designed by MIT grads like the kind OKCupid uses).

If you’re picking the matches, how are you planning on scaling? Say it really takes off?

No, we’re keeping it small and select. (source)

This puts E. Jean into a box (unless she later claims the free offers came from an impostor).  Either she can ignore the resulting requests for free matches, or she can lose money accommodating everyone who wants to try her service for the lulz.  Neither option is particularly appealing, and I would venture to say that this overture was not well-planned.

There are enough problems with running dating sites and services that don’t face the limitations of Tawkify.  Sites like PlentyOfFish and OKCupid must contend with the DMCA and zealously protect their turf under 47 U.S.C. § 230.  There are also potential issues with 17 U.S.C. § 1202 if the terms of use do not effectively grant the site control of the images they host (even if they are uploaded by their putative owners).  Then there is the challenge of avoiding putatively fraudulent activity, such as (allegedly) having your employees go on fake dates with service subscribers.

Since Tawkify is a commercial enterprise, and E. Jean, an Elle Magazine commentator who has sought publicity for the Tawkify service, is undoubtedly a public figure, I can unabashedly say the following: Tawkify is a terrible idea.  I would not use this service, and an analysis of the service’s basics should dissuade anyone else from doing so:

-You’re paying >$1.00 per minute for one phone call with someone you have never seen, know nothing about, and who may even terminate the call before the full seven minutes expire.  The old 10-10-xxx numbers from the 1990s seem like a better value proposition on a per-minute basis.

-Did I mention you don’t see who you’re matched with?  Men are visual, more so than women, and this is a huge problem.  Don’t worry, one woman sees you in this process: E. Jean herself.  And her reaction to your appearance factors into your fate.  Hope you’re not a “creep” or “asshole!”

-The matches come only once a week.  I can log in to an online dating service 24/7 and send a message to someone at any time, and the recipient can respond (or not) at any time – not just for a 7 minute period on Monday.

-Lack of scalability = fewer matches.  If OKCupid gained 2,000 members overnight, its algorithm would be able to instantly score my compatibility with them based on the data everyone submitted to the site.  If 2,000 women joined Tawkify, it would be days or weeks before E. Jean went through their information, processed it and analyzed if any were good matches for me (to say nothing of other users).

-Paying for any kind of matchmaking service is stupid.  Decent services are available for free.  Also, know what else is free? IRL.  Yes, real life is damned inexpensive, and you too can meet women there!  Best of all, you can see them, sans MySpace angle shots, and talk for more than seven minutes without a third party’s authoritarian control over the interaction.

Now, if Tawkify had some kind of tie-in like random chatting a la Omegle or ChatRoulette, or even a VoIP feature (as opposed to text-based IM’s) and otherwise operated like a large online dating site, I’d be more optimistic about it.  But, since it revolves around an anachronism like the phone, and relies on an unreasonably limited interaction schedule, I don’t know how it survives in this day and age.  This is to say nothing of the expressed misandrist views of its owner, E. Jean, which should dissuade any male from doing business with Tawkify at all.  I say this out of no specific ill will toward E. Jean, but rather because I’m such a devout equalist.  (see, e.g., Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” comments about Sandra Fluke and resulting advertiser desertion)

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