Gary Stock: UnBlinking



Bad Match

unblinking

Over the past six months, I've watched the quality of performance and profiles degrade, and now conclude that online dating site Match.com has jumped the shark. Several basic features that worked only a few weeks ago have simply stopped functioning, at least in my quite typical paid account. And then, the scammers began appearing in droves.

Earlier in 2009, Match seemed somewhat better than its corporate sister, the then badly broken Chemistry.com. The two are now on par in their disability. (Chemistry.com doesn't work much better, though the interface was cleaned up slightly after that review.) I'm astonished that dating sites remain this FUBAR, given all the money they take in.

As a paid member at Match (just as at Chemistry), I've written to technical support repeatedly, explaining the most egregious errors, and recommending corrections. I've pointed to specific code errors, and precisely how to correct them. After several months, one is no longer a problem. How could I know what's wrong with their code? Easy: the errors are so basic, predictable, and transparent.

Yes, I could become accustomed to how slow and brittle Match is.... if those were the only concerns. However, the recent enormous increase in completely bogus profiles on Match tipped the balance. I feel obliged to draft the Match obituary now. It may be needed any day...

Please use QuickTopic to share your comments. [Usability note: All links open into the same target window.]

2009-07-01  

What's the opposite of Match?

I'll repeat essentially the same caveats I wrote about Chemistry, as they apply to dating sites, broadly. First, everything here is my own opinion, based on my own experience (although they could happen to any user). It seems that other people may have met great partners at Match.com. I strongly suspect they'd have been just as successful by throwing a dart at phone book! However, no one is testing and documenting that strategy on thousands of people every day -- and the methodology would be touchy -- so we may never know.

Second, I agree that a funky website is a relatively trivial issue in the scheme of things. There are millions of poorly designed sites! (And, there are many things worse than poorly designed websites.) But, few web services advertise nationally throughout the media, as Match.com does. Few have the potential to waste so many people's time and money. Few touch their users with such potential unpleasantness, by intentionally creating hope in poorly implemented technology. Match seeks to be a major public venue, and claims to help fulfill fundamental human needs -- thus the service needs to live up to its hype.

Finally, yes, I did discover some interesting women through Match.com. However, I had to slog through thousands of profiles to find them, and the bogus profile tally is growing rapidly. Generally speaking, I feel more productive at Match (more interesting profiles for my personal style and interests) than at Chemistry -- but that's because I can actually search Match (to the limited extent that feature functions). Still, very few so-called "matching" profiles prompt any interest. The Match algorithms simply don't respect many meaningful comparisons. And, because all other men can search, and initiate contact, too, the most interesting women's mailboxes are jammed full of form letters and "Hey baby!" crap, which tends to dissuade them from reading or answering any of it. At least, that's what women on Match have told me.

Members at Match have another equally frustrating characteristic: they are less willing to talk by phone, and to meet in person. Some women will do one or both, but -- compared to other sites I've used, with similiar profile data, photos, and writings -- they are less willing to move forward. It may be due to something about the design or process at Match (its cumbersome and "anonymous" flavor), though I suspect it reflects self-selection by women who decide Match is the answer. Expect no more, likely less, actual voice-to-voice and face-to-face discovery from women at Match.

Dangerous characters, indeed.

My first few days at Match were among the most frustrating -- until I figured out how to work around the coding errors in their messaging system. My years of validation and testing experience came in very handy. After I wrote to Match repeatedly, and spoke on the phone to support staff, it took only a few months for it to start working. To demonstrate how broken Match was early in 2009 (wikipedia suggests Match has been online since 1995, and in its current form since 2006), I'll explain the error that persisted until quite recently.

After searching a few hundred profiles, I discovered five women I wanted to write to, using the internal messaging system. I wrote light, personal notes to each of the five -- but only three of the messages would go through. The other two always returned a useless little error box, saying "Even dating has its difficulties."

Even dating has its difficulties. We're having trouble processing your last request.  Please return to the previous page and try again.  Return to previous page Search for your latest matches

I wrote to tech support. That earned me an automated form letter, containing a variety of useless FAQ echoes.

I phoned tech support. They logged into my account, but could see nothing wrong. They "escalated" my issue somehow; it merely disappeared. Clearly, I was on my own.

By now, I had noticed a very peculiar (and unnecessary) error message whenever I replied to an incoming message. Inexplicably, when you receive a message at Match, and choose to reply, the message you received is hidden from you. Contradicting the standard of every decent e-mail client on the planet, the message to which you are replying is not copied into your composition window (so you could actually reply to it) nor is it even displayed for reference. [Surprise: this was fixed -- marginally -- in mid-September, 2009!]

So, since I happen to enjoy actual two-way communication when I'm getting to know a woman, I manually copied her message into the composition window. Then, in that age-old convention, I broke her message into lines preceded by the "greater than" sign (> You wrote...). Whenever I tried that, Match would respond: "Potentially dangerous characters were removed..."

Potentially dangerous characters were removed from the Message Characters like * are not allowed

The unnecessary part: they could simply "escape" these characters (tell their code to treat them as safe characters)... but they don't. The peculiar part: if you include more than one such character on a single line, their code automatically removes the first such character in each line, and then sends the message, still containing the rest of the "dangerous" ones! LMAO!

Noticing how goofy that was, I suddenly realized what was "wrong" with my unsendable messages: they included "dangerous characters"! (And, who would want dangerous characters on a dating site! :-) In fact, I had used the "equal sign" (yes, this frightening little bugger: "=") in my two blocked messages. (C'mon, guys... I was writing to two women who listed "Brainiacs" as a turn-on!) I discovered in seconds that both the equal sign and the plus sign were blocked. That is, if you happened to include either character in your message, Match would refuse to send it, and report back only "Dating has its difficulties."

Several months after I carefully documented and reported that severe bug, something happened to correct it. (It must have been the source of hundreds of complaints and thousands of lost connections over the years!) However, as recently as early July, I found that my "Daily 5" (the women Match recommended to me) could not be displayed, as it returned the same error message. I strongly suspect some woman had created a profile that contained two such dangerous characters on one line; Match stripped off the first one, and saved the second one -- so her profile would never display correctly. Wow! She must wonder why no men ever look at her profile!

I called Match tech support (actually, you can't talk with tech support; you talk with someone with no technical knowledge then they relay whatever they heard to the actual tech support), explaining my suspicion, and the audit trail of identical errors. A few days later, the "Daily 5" that had blocked viewing disappeared, replaced by an entirely new set of five. In other words: rather than clean up the contents of that "dangerous" profile I had discovered, they simply deleted all the "troublemakers" from my queue. So... I suspect She of The Dangerous Characters may still be the loneliest woman on Match. Drat! A woman who uses plus signs and equal signs in her profile, and I can't see her! :-)

I've seen an array of other technical glitches at Match -- some very deep, some simply silly. On the silly side, along with the Daily 5 (in your account) you can request e-mail that recommends twelve more matches per day. As a rule, one or two of those twelve are profiles that no longer exist. That is, literally: you receive an e-mail at 12:15 (containing profile pictures and brief descriptions of twelve matches); you click to one of the profiles at 12:16, and Poof! in the 60 seconds between the mailing and viewing, the profile disappeared! Yes, of course, the profile had been gone for hours or possibly days -- but then you gotta wonder why Match included it in your e-mail!

Another more immediate silly glitch occurs regularly during searches. Perhaps you ask to see "More like her" -- other profiles having elements in common with one you like. The matches are displayed, ten to a page, with a page counter at the bottom -- very typical. However, as you browse, the counter may wander from 50 (the maximum) to 22, then 38, then 50 again. There is a freakish tendency when moving from page 10 to page 11 (I could not make this stuff up!) to receive the message, "We can't find any more matches like her" -- which will remain true for a few minutes, or an hour. Then, suddenly, matches 101 through 500 are available again, as they had been when you started.

They should put a Match to the whole thing.

Given the many fundamental technical weaknesses, I'm concerned by the growing trend at Match. They've recently been inundated with completely bogus profiles, and the system appears to have no defense against it. If they can't identify static "dangerous characters" in text, one at a time, how will they deal with this enormous challenge: a constant flood of new bogus profiles every day?

When I say "bogus profiles" I mean entirely deceptive, and potentially criminal profiles. I mean people (not necessarily of the gender they indicate) perhaps from another country (where laws may not matter) who misrepresent everything they say (in their profiles and in personal communications) to get "something" from you. Some of the more notorious would be referred to as "419 scams" -- your basic, "You may be is surprised at to hear of my letter and I Pray it may not to communicate badly of you" e-mail, but in the form of a personals ad. Instead of hoping a few people will reply to e-mail from a Prince in Nigeria, they know many people will reply to a nubile/handsome young thang who drops a "Wink" in your private account. Makes sense, really.

This is a problem on most dating sites. One account of mine (at one of the more unmoderated sites), routinely recorded ten to twenty bogus winks (including hugs, smiles, kisses, and so on) or more for every legitimate profile view! That is, on an average day, one or two women might actually display (and possibly even read) my profile. During that same day, up to fifty women would try to call my attention to themselves by clicking a gesture of wink, smile, wave, hug, or kiss. Upon inspection, it was obvious (in case you hadn't guessed) that virtually all members in the latter category had bogus profiles.

This is a serious problem for many sites. Some of the worst offenders appear to be 80 to 90 percent bogus! The "Bottom of the Bogus Barrel" would feature Mate1, Meetic and True.com. Just don't waste your time signing up, logging in, or looking there -- really!

In the Half-n-Half Bogus category, expect all the FriendFinder clan, with Adult Friendfinder being particuarly nasty -- in many ways.

Some of the more well-monitored sites have legitimate profile tallies above ninety percent. I noticed only about one utterly bogus member per week on E-Harmony, Chemistry.com, and oddly enough, SugarDaddie.com -- which, other than low bogus tallies, has nothing in common with the first two! lolz

In the upper echelon -- with virtually zero bogus profiles -- are two of the more serious "non-commercial" sites: OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish. How can these free sites police themselves more effectively than some of the most expensive sites? Apparently they actually want to keep out bogus members!

I must admit that I find very few of the female members of those two sites interesting, and even fewer attractive. (Ed: Yes, by all means, do send me a note telling me how shallow I am.) But, odds are, even if you're not thrilled by her profile, it's likely to be the profile of an actual person, likely female, and likely the one in the photos.

"Match" should NOT mean that many profiles literally MATCH!

I am outgoing, playful, active, affectionate, hard working and independent.  People say that I am also funny, graciou, and intuitive.  I am direct, often sassy and I don't play games.  I am also woman...

As noted above, Match.com is suddenly brimming with fake profiles. During the first half of 2009, I routinely used a search feature they call "Reverse Matches." Match.com offers 500 profiles, saying, "They're looking for you." My habit was not to leave results in "Original Order" (meaning based on obscure algorithms) but rather to sort the results "Newest First." My hope would be at least to see new faces, since the algorithms alone weren't accomplishing much.

I am outgoing, playful, active, affectionate, hard working and independent.  People say that I am also funny, graciou, and intuitive.  I am direct, often sassy and I don't play games.  I am also woman...

Beginning sometime in the few days before 01 July, 2009, the newest members "looking for me" essentially all became -- not half, or three quarters, but nearly one hundred percent -- bogus profiles. Five hundred women "looking for me" -- nearly 100% fake.

I am outgoing, playful, active, affectionate, hard working and independent.  People say that I am also funny, graciou, and intuitive.  I am direct, often sassy and I don't play games.  I am also woman...

On 01 July 2009, I scanned all fifty of the newest profiles "looking for me." I am certain that precisely zero were legitimate -- a significant number were simply copies of one another! The same profile text appeared on four of the fifty new profiles made available.

I am outgoing, playful, active, affectionate, hard working and independent.  People say that I am also funny, graciou, and intuitive.  I am direct, often sassy and I don't play games.  I am also woman...

I reported these four, and they were removed within a few days. One matching profile remains in the database (in Doniphan, Missouri) for a member active "over three weeks ago." That could mean 22 days, or 22 months; Match doesn't provide more clues than "over three weeks ago." But, it's interesting to note that either that's the profile the scammers lifted, or that the scammers were testing at least three weeks ago.

On 01 July, 2009, though, at least half a dozen profiles "looking for me" had been copied, verbatim, under two, three, four, or more user names. All were listed as "NEW!" and most were still online. It's possible someone had signed in from fifty different hacked connections -- but it seems more likely Match doesn't bother to check that the same IP address had just created fifty profiles.

As of this writing (05 July, 2009), one of those same bogus profiles has been added again, under a new user name: Princess Ayglya. The Match Princess, Ayglya

Don't worry about privacy issues; the model in that shot was ripped off long before I wrote about it here! In fact, the photo Princess stole has appeared on several other bogus profiles over the past few days. A very popular look! Among bogus profiles on Match this week, one displayed the same photo I've seen posted by scammers on at least four different dating sites, beginning as early as January, 2008.

I parked this article the first week of July, to give Match time to get their house in order before making this review public. They did nothing. As of this writing (18 August 2009), that blast of bogus profiles has become a steady flood. Even the most obvious, well-known patterns of abuse are still present. They now constitute between forty and sixty percent of all new users per day, among those considered a "Mutual Match" for my profile.

As evidence that some sites are much more serious about removing bogus profiles, consider this. The morning of 01 July 2009, I reported several bogus profiles to Match by user name. It took several days for Match to remove those. I had also sent suggestions about how to discover the other bogus profiles (based on obvious similarities). Even though many other bogus profiles would have been easy to identify (and delete) with simple queries, Match left them active.

By comparison, one week later, there was an influx of bogus profiles at OKCupid -- 30 were visible simultaneously at the top of my new member list. Around 08:00 am, I wrote to report several by name, and all were removed before noon the same day. "Big deal," you say, "OK Cupid did it faster?" Not just that: they were faster and they followed through to assure the quality of their database.

I sent OK Cupid essentially the same suggestions I had sent to Match about how to scan for other bogus profiles. Match didn't apply the suggestions, leaving at least fifty bogus profiles online, even though they knew how to find them. However, OK Cupid heeded the suggestions, or came up with their own technique, then found and deleted all of the 30 other bogus profiles created that same morning. Bravo, Cupid!

What's the solution? Maybe Match needs to get a programmer on staff? It seems inconceivable that so many errors could persist over so many months if anyone there had coding skills -- or access to a consultant with some. Once that person is on board, they could construct tests for any of a dozen blatant symptoms of fraud:

  • multiple new profiles from one IP address (either a scammer, or a psycho, both of which you might want to avoid)
  • posting a previously known photo to a profile alone (md5 is a pretty cheap hash)
  • reuse of lengthy identical text strings (if hashes escape you, try regular expressions)

The profiles contain astonishingly blatant grammatical errors and clearly diagnostic linguistic conventions that would be extremely easy to score. I won't specify them here -- because I don't want to provide a training course for the scammers. (OK, I'll point to just one of the most common and ridiculously obvious: if the term "God-fearing" appears, it's worth two points!) Simply read a few profiles, and realize: no native English speaker was involved in their creation.

Take a clue from any of dozens of open source tools that rank input against a variety of tests: Spam Assassin is a decent example. Store a set of test results for each of a dozen criteria, then flag profiles that score five or more points, and subject those to manual review. Along with a half dozen HUGE "God-fearing" text red flags, you might add points for each of:

  • 3 pts: one IP address creating multiple new profiles within 48 hours
  • 3 pts: female member age 25 to 30, seeking men up to over 70 years
  • 2 pts: female member age 25 to 30, seeking men up to 50 to 70 years
  • 2 pts: no photo
  • 2 pts: any one photo matching a known hash value
  • 2 pts: no answers to specific short questions (left profile column)
  • 1 pt: no answers to "About my date"
  • 1 pt: exactly one photo

I'm fully aware that any of these characteristics could be legitimate. Multiple people might share an IP; women might like older guys, or prefer not to post a photo, and so on. The point is that -- if these criteria are well-designed -- the more criteria are met, the less likely that profile is legitimate. If one IP creates six profiles in two hours, all for women age 25, seeking men 30 to 60, none with a photo, answering no questions... how likely is any one to be a legitimate user? Almost certainly not legitimate.

C'mon, folks... this is basic stuff! At the moment, signing out of Match returns the message, "With 20,000 members joining daily, chances are your someone special could be signing up right now..." What are you going to do when half of those are bogus profiles? Or, are they already? You need to jump ahead of that flood, and make the intrusion expensive for the scammers instead of for legitimate users like me! Get busy!


To grasp the depth (and shallowness) of the bogus profile problem at Match.com, see Bad Match - Part Two: Fraudsters vs. Real Women Death Match(.com). If real people weren't trying to use Match.com to meet women, this would be funny. A little bit.

For more examples of the fraud culture at Match.com, see Bad Match - Part Three: Spam, Scam, Thank you Ma'am!. You have to wonder: since Match.com won't stop this, is it possible they want people to do this?

WHAT IS
UNBLINKING?
HOW CAN I
COMMENT?

Privacy Policy   -   Site Copyright © 1995-2009 by Gary Stock. Commercial use prohibited.
May be excerpted, mailed, posted, or linked for non-commercial purposes.