Love at first iteration: gaming your way to a partner

I adore dating companies because they are so fascinating: if a dating business does its job well, it immediately loses two customers. I’m a nut for romances anyway so on the one hand you have the delicate tinderbox of when two people meet but then on the other you have a business that might have to fail in order to succeed. Or even survive.

Then with online dating there’s the fact that it was once something you wouldn’t admit to. (You’d go on ITV’s Blind Date and be matched up by Cilla Black, fine, but you wouldn’t admit to using online dating, nooo.)

Plus online dating seems a bit geeky, somehow. I know it isn’t and we all know how deeply personal and intimate technology can be – friendships are made and lost on Twitter – and as writers it can’t shock us that the typed word can have so much power. But the notion of ticking boxes and saying your ideal partner must have GSOH, it’s geekily clinical.

Amy Webb, who I just realise has quite an appropriate surname given how she’s written about using the web to find love, has, er, written about using the web to find love. But Brain Pickings describes her as “mathematically-driven” and Webb went full-on, geek-out analytical:

After a series of bad dates following a major heartbreak, [Webb] decided to take a quantitative approach to the playing field and started systematically recording various data points about her dates, revealing some important correlations. After one particularly bad date, she decided to formalize the exercise and wrote down everything that was important to her in a mate — from intellectual overlap to acceptable amount of body hair — eventually coming up with 72 attributes that she was going to demand in any future date. She then broke down these attributes into two tiers and developed a scoring system, assigning specific points to each. For 700 out of a maximum possible 1800, she’d agree to have an email exchange; for 900, she’d go on a date; for 1,500, she’d consider a long-term relationship.

Love in the Age of Data: How One Woman Hacked her Way to Happily Ever After – Maria Popoca, Brain Pickings (31 January 2013)

The full piece on Brain Pickings includes a page from Webb’s handwritten notes (which curiously includes a bit saying “year: 2050” and also “have to get military experience” which all feels like a different story altogether). And it recounts how Webb could’ve stopped there but instead took the next logical approach and analysed herself.

She also analysed the statistics of women on online dating and, actually, some of that is really depressing. I’m a man and statistically I am supposed to prefer blondes, I’m supposed to be turned off by powerful women. I don’t like this bit. But I really like how Webb ripped all this online dating apart to get the guy of her dreams – and, spoiler, she did it – and in doing so really revealed a lot about us.

Online dating firms claim to have these great personality-matching algorithms but Webb shows how they can of course only go by what we tell them. And, worse, what the other person tells them.

She found ways to get around that artifice, perhaps by creating artifice of your own but still. She broke down online dating into what works – and as you read what she concludes, you’re going to be thinking about yourself. Specifically, about yourself on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and all the rest. Never mind dating, what she’s found is alternately useful and eye-opening about the image we unconsciously present of ourselves.

Do read the full Brain Pickings piece for, as ever, Popova has written a really good article about all this. But then go read Webb’s book: Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match.

Don’t put people off with your email address

The one thing everybody can do is have a decent email address. Don’t share one with your partner, especially not if that’s really clear in the address. At best, it’s confusing because you’re both getting the emails and are bound to miss one that’s for you. But at worst, you look like you don’t use email much and today that equals you not being professional,

The very best email address to have is one that ends in your own or your own company’s name, so something like You get those by having your own website, which you need to have anyway, and when you do, then is an advert for every time you use it.

If you like your email service and your address, still think about leaving it if you’re on hotmail or the like. Actually, there’s a technical reason here for moving away from certain email services. If your email solely lives on the web rather than on your computer, if you can’t read your old email without an internet connection, move to somewhere that lets you.

It’s convenient to have the emails online but it’s inconvenient to have them only online. Plus, if that service closes down for any reason, you’re at best scrabbling to copy it all off and at worst you’re screwed.

But back to email address snobbery.

To be harsh about it, says you’re playing at email; says you’re playing but you signed up too recently to get a hotmail account. Then says you’re an occasional email user who only sticks with AOL because you’ve given that address to so many people.

If you’ve an @btinternet address then that’s okay but its an ad for BT and if the address is one of those then either you look sponsored or that you can’t make up your mind.

Similarly, older Apple email addresses are which is just an ad for the company’s Macs; slightly newer ones are which is doesn’t advertise them, doesn’t advertise you and looks a bit egotistical. Currently all new Apple email users have addresses that end in which is fine: at least you look like you know what the cloud is.

But unless you’re really invested in an older address, if you can’t get, then go for Google Mail. This is best because it’s short, it’s modern and it tells anyone who knows about these things that you may be a power email user. Gmail comes with a huge array of tools for managing immense numbers of emails and for something that’s easy to use and even easier to sign up for, it still has that faintly geeky air that you may or may not like.

Remember, too, that nobody says you can only have one email address. I have the one I’ll give you here for when you want to complain over my being snooty about your address. That’s

I also have a personal address and I keep it because I like it, so there. But I also have any number of other addresses you like, specifically because I own Yesterday I set up a new address for an author I’m working with to send me text. Earlier in the week I used a groupon offer but I signed up as If I get a sudden spike in spam and it’s all to, their mailing list policy is rumbled and I switch that address off.

So you can use your address as a tool but the one you choose to send people can reveal much more about you than you’d hope.