Friday, April 29, 2011

Just when you thought you'd seen it all (unedited)

Earlier this week it was announced that Friendster is purging much of its user-submitted content as part of a rebranding of its site.

I'm not sure how many people know the name Friendster, but everyone knows Facebook. Friendster was Facebook before Myspace was Facebook. I had a Friendster account many years ago, thanks to my friend Monica. She's a social butterfly, and social networking is an ideal platform for her flights of fancy. She invited me to join Friendster, so I did. I don't know of any other friend who had a Friendster account, but I thought the idea of a social network was intriguing. I rarely dabbled with the fresh, new and exciting concept, but I was there, at the forefront.

Flash forward a few years, Myspace takes the world by storm. I eventually climb aboard the bandwagon, and use the fancy new social network a bit, but find that I hate, absolutely hate, how ridiculously it is run. I disliked Myspace so much that I deleted my account.

When I did that, I'm not sure if I had heard of Facebook, but eventually I reluctantly joined what would become the most successful social network of all time, expecting to hate it as much as I hated Myspace. I joined it as a means to stay in touch with the Halloween friends I made working at a local haunted attraction in 2007. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it, and now I log in 75 times a day.

There are online stories about how Friendster beat Myspace and Facebook to the social network party, yet shot itself in the foot. It's a fascinating read. (Friendster somehow evolved into the social network of choice in Asia, so all is not lost.)

In some cases being first to the Internet with a concept means you'll come out on top, but not always. Friendster may not have been the first major social network, but if had a significant presence long -- by Internet standards -- before Facebook.

The creators of Hot or Not, a website where you rate the attractiveness of people who submit their pictures to the site, were pioneers of the concept, although not the first, according to Wikipedia. When Hot or Not blew up, there were imitators, (the one I used most often was, defunct for many years now,) and the concept is replicated to this day by dating websites and other online destinations. But many of the early imitators are long gone, yet the owners of Hot or Not outlasted their imitators -- and outlasted the initial buzz that made them a trendy online destination for a few weeks -- before selling out a few years ago.

The creators of the website were brilliant in parlaying their 15 minutes of fame into something lucrative. They added the "meet me" feature, which allowed users to peruse photos by geographic region and contact the subjects of photos who consented to receiving e-mail from their admirers. The admirers paid a nominal fee for the privilege of sending a private message. I spent a few bucks making contact with a few local users, and ended up dating a woman through the site. This happened despite the fact that I have never been a big fan of the online dating concept, for several reasons. But that's another blog for another time.

I have perused a few online dating sites, and I know people who have had memberships at eHarmony and Match. I've never had a membership to any dating site that has a monthly fee, and I'm not about to start. (I have wasted my time with the best free dating site I know of, Plenty of Fish.)

On Sunday night as I was driving home I heard a commercial on the radio for a site I had never heard of: Cougar Life. Cougar Life claims to have more than 1 million users, and it must be doing something right if there's a radio ad campaign. The commercial sounded like a parody ad you'd see on Saturday Night Live. I couldn't resist perusing it when I got home, and my findings left me less than impressed.

I found one decent ad on the site, and thought that the woman was worth contacting. In order to contact her, however, I had to either buy a one-month membership for $40 or sign up for a three-month membership, billed in monthly installments of $30. I am not poor, and I'd have no qualms about spending $40 for dinner or drinks, but I'm not going to gamble $40 on the come, especially given my belief that the woman has been inundated with responses. Unless I stand out, I won't even get a response for my $40. Good luck to you, Susan, I will not enter the derby.

For a few years now radio stations have been promoting half off gift certificates to local businesses through their websites, if you're one of the first 100 to log in and complete a purchase when they go on sale. I've purchased several of those deals.

Then along comes Groupon. Just when you think you've seen it all, somebody comes along with a new concept for marketing retail discounts.

Earlier this week, completely by chance, I stumbled across a tweet for a new dating concept. The concept combines online dating and Groupon. Each day InboxCupid sends a personal ad to its membership, and the idea originated here in the Minneapolis area. Just when I thought I had seen it all...

I have no doubt the concept will be nationwide before long -- it has started with ads for singles in the Minneapolis market only -- or that there will be imitators putting their own spin on the concept. I like some aspects of the concept, but question others.

How it works: Singles can submit their photo and bio to the site for free. The bio will be sent to InboxCupid subscribers via a daily email, and will also be posted at the website. I'm guessing that your window of opportunity to contact the single of the day is limited to a finite period of time. To contact the featured single of the day you send a private message. To do that you purchase the privilege. It's just $1 to send a message. You can buy five message tokens for $4, and unlimited access during a one-month period for $10. Unless the site is going to build a more traditional database of singles, or you're desperate enough to send messages to everyone who is delivered to your inbox, the $10 monthly access rate seems unnecessary.

I really like the idea that you can establish contact with somebody for the low price of $1. Had Cougar Life offered a one-shot access fee of $10 or less, I probably would have paid it and sent Susan a message. Seeing nobody else worth my time, $40 was a bitter pill to swallow.

InboxCupid left me with a few unanswered questions. How do they know that the picture and profile submitted are legitimate? Do they have a way to verify the authenticity of the submitted material? Conversely, how do I know the ads are legitimate?

Given that dating websites have been known to fabricate profiles and responses in order to tempt users into paying for access to the site, how can I know that InboxCupid won't fabricate an ad to generate revenue?

I have no reason to suspect the site will engage in any fraudulent activity, but I'm naturally skeptical when it comes to online dating. I guess if the concept takes off, user interest will negate any need for the proprietors of the site to jeopardize their credibility.

I will assume every ad I see on the site is legitimate. If I deem a woman to be worth responding to then I'm sure she will get truckloads of responses. When that's the case, there's a good chance she'll never get around to responding to me. That's why I think the $1 access fee to send a private message makes a lot of sense. Most people will be willing to gamble a buck, I suspect, if they like what they see. And if they strike out, it's just $1 to try again. (I might argue that they priced the cost of sending a message too low.)

Would I consider submitting my profile or responding to an ad? No.

Many people use online dating sites to shop for a mate, and I'm not opposed to it, but I'm not crazy about the idea, either. Given that I'm no prize, I don't need a lack or responses to my InboxCupid ad to lower my self-esteem.

I suppose there's a small chance I'll spend a buck or two to respond to the daily email if I find an ad I deem to be highly intriguing. But I have little expectation I'll stand out from the crowd. I stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd, but that's another story.

No comments: