Of M&M's, Girls and Dating Sites

Do you know why David Lee Roth used to ask that people put a bowl of M&M’s with all the brown ones removed, in his dressing room? Read on if you’ve never heard this story before (I read about it in “The Checklist” by Atul Gawande).

I had to google who David Lee Roth was: according to Wikipedia, Roth was ranked nineteenth by Hit Parader on their list of the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Singers of All Time. He was one of the lead singer of Van Halen. So, this character is certainly the kind of person who is used to such deferential treatment that he demands the most unreasonable things from his staff and contractors, just because he can; a decadent Roman emperor who plays with people because that’s the last game that makes him feel anything. Right?

Wrong. This story is really not about chocolate, much less about rock stars' whims.

The fact of the matter is that putting together a Heavy Metal show is extremely complex; if the stage is not strong enough, or the wiring done improperly, for example, not only will the show go wrong, but people can get hurt (or die). So, there’s a checklist and one needs to go through each item one by one, precisely.

The purpose of the brown-free bowl of M&M’s is to make sure the checklist has been read. It works like this: when arriving on site, David Lee Roth would look at the bowl of M&M’s; if there were brown ones in it, then the checklist hadn’t been properly followed, so he would need to double-check everything (or walk, as he reportedly did at least once).

Great story, and great hack, no? And what does it have to do with girls on dating sites?

One of the problems girls have on dating sites is spam.

Spam on dating sites “works”, just like it “works” for Nigerian scams: its marginal rate of return is incredibly low, but still greater than its marginal cost (which is zero). Spam on dating sites is guys carpet bombing every girl’s profile with the exact same email (“HI UR SO HOT”): the cost (or the risk) for them is zero, and if it works once in a million times, well hey it’s still something.

For a girl though, having her inbox filled with hundreds such messages is depressing. And it’s a lot of work, too, because it’s possible that one of those messages could be from the man of her life; she never knows, and so, without any kind of filter, she has to open them all (or feel guilty when she doesn’t).

But here’s the thing: “carpet bombers” don’t read profiles. So a very simple filter would be to for girls to include, somewhere deep in their profile, an instruction such as this: “please include the word ‘xdhye’ in the subject of your message so that I know you read my profile”.

That’s it; every message without ‘xdhye’ in the subject line can be safely discarded, because it comes from someone who either didn’t look at your profile or can’t / is unwilling to follow simple instructions (not a good sign for a successful relationship).

This idea is not new but I think dating sites would greatly benefit from promoting it actively (although they would first have to admit that spamming is a problem).

Edit: why do you care about dating sites?

I don’t really, but

  1. I’m an avid reader of OkTrends, the OkCupid blog which shines an often fascinating light on romantic relationships
  2. there has been a lot of talk recently about dating sites following the sale of OkCupid to Mach.com
  3. and so it got me thinking about why there are always more boys than girls using dating sites and what could be done about it.
Fri, 11 Feb 2011 • permalink