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Penguin Dating - John C. Kirk

Sep. 1st, 2008

09:59 pm - Penguin Dating

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I've recently been trying out online dating: back in June, I signed up with Guardian Soulmates, following a friend's recommendation. I paid for six months, and I've met a few women for dates, but things have been a bit quiet there lately. More recently, I heard about Penguin Dating, a joint venture between Penguin Books and match.com. There's an amusing post about it on the Penguin blog, and the basic premise sounds sensible: if I can find people with a similar taste in books, we'd hopefully get on well together. (It's a similar idea to read dating.) They offered a free 3 day trial, so I signed up for that. However, the reality turns out to be a bit disappointing, so I cancelled it before I had to pay any money; I've dropped back to a free account, but I may well delete my profile from there altogether.
Edit: About a week after I wrote this post, I did indeed delete my profile.

Although it's described as a joint venture, the Penguin influence is pretty minimal: I'm now registered on the main match.com site, with access to all their other profiles, so I could just have gone there directly. I did get a free trial from Penguin, but there are currently TV adverts which offer a week's free trial, so that's not really much of a benefit.

As far as books go, they just have a box on the profile for you to type in what you last read. This is actually worse than the Guardian site, since there's no way to specify genre. You can search by keyword, but if I updated my profile every few days for my latest book then that's a pretty narrow time window to guess the relevant word/title.

Still, ignoring the Penguin aspect, how is it as a general dating site? It's slightly cheaper than the Guardian site, e.g. £22.80 vs £24.95 if you just sign up for one month. They also have a better way of specifying languages: the Guardian site has a drop-down list for "first language" and then checkboxes for others, whereas this site just has a list of checkboxes, i.e. all of them are considered equal. Personally, I think that fluency is more important than the order you learnt languages in, so it might be useful if a site could be more specific about ability, but I think the match.com method is better.

When I created my profile, the automated system said that it could take 24-72 hours for my text/photos to be approved. That's a bit harsh in a 72 hour trial! In fairness it only took a few minutes, so their moderators are on the ball. However, there were other cases where the website was quite slow to refresh; for instance, after my photos had been approved, it took a few hours before the main page actually recognised this. Similarly, if I added people to my "favourites", it took a while before they appeared in the list.

I'm guessing that this website started out in America, because there's a definite US bias. For instance, it asked for my salary in US dollars, and the box for political views ranged from "Ultra conservative" to "Very liberal". By contrast, the Guardian political box ranges from right-wing to left-wing, with liberal in the middle. As a related problem with geography, I started by entering my postcode but I then had to choose my country/state/town from drop-down lists to specify my hometown; the website should be able to figure out where I live once I've given it such specific info.

There are a few options which are notable by their absence. For instance, the profile asks about pets, and for each animal the choices are "I have", "I like but don't have", and "No opinion". How about "I don't like"? (In my case, that applies to dogs.) Also, there's no way to identify new profiles, so you have to keep repeating the same searches and digging through all the pages of results, which is pretty tedious.

One common feature to all dating sites is that you have to specify which gender you're interested in. On the Guardian site, you can tick boxes for this, i.e. male and/or female, depending on whether you're gay/straight/bi. At match.com, it's a drop-down list, so you have to pick one; that's fine for straight/gay people, but bisexuals are out of luck. This doesn't directly affect me, but it may exclude people who I'd be happy to meet.

Match.com have a "MatchWords" system, where you can tag your profile with keywords, and that's quite nifty; once you've chosen a short list, you can easily find other people who've used the same tag. However, there's no central list of keywords to choose from, so you're really back to guesswork. The only real advantage of this over a free-text search is that it avoids false positives, e.g. searching for "geek" and finding a profile where someone says "I'm a scientist but I'm not a geek!"

I did find a couple of women who looked like (potentially) good matches, but neither of them replied to my emails, so I guess they weren't interested. On the flipside, I wound up in a new situation when someone got in touch with me; we have quite a bit in common, but physically she's not my type. Traditionally, I've felt that women get the better end of the deal when it comes to dating: men have to take the risks by making the initial approach, while the women can just sit on a throne and say yea/nay as they choose. However, I felt really bad about turning this woman down, which does give me a bit of empathy for other people who have to do that. I still think it's better to let someone know that you're not interested rather than ignoring them, but I can understand why people don't always do that.

This happened after my trial period, so I could read her email but I couldn't send one back. Instead, there are three built-in ways to say no:

"Thanks for writing to me, but I have just met someone and want to see how it develops."
"Thanks for writing to me, but I have decided to take a break from dating for now."
"Thanks for writing to me, but unfortunately, we're just not a good match. Good luck in your search!"

That last option brings up a set of extra tickboxes, so that you can say exactly why you don't like the other person:
* Distance
* Age
* Physical attraction
* Personality
* Values (religion, politics)
* Lifestyle (exercise, smoking, drinking)
* Interests (dates, travel, free time)
* Education/Profession/Income

If people have come to this site based on Penguin Classics, they may be disappointed; I don't think this is quite how Bronte's characters would act.

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Comments:

[User Picture]
From:overconvergent
Date:September 2nd, 2008 08:59 am (UTC)
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I had a brief look at the Penguin site but wasn't terribly impressed, I have to say.

By the way, was this supposed to be a public post?
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[User Picture]
From:johnckirk
Date:September 2nd, 2008 09:10 am (UTC)
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Yes, this was public on purpose: there's nothing confidential (e.g. details of people I've met), and doing a Google search for Penguin Dating just turns up lots of pages that recycle the press release, so I thought it would be useful to put out a democratic response. Also, this way the post gets imported into Facebook automatically.
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