Tastebuds.fm is a dating service with millennials in mind. After asking its users a series of profile-building questions, it algorithmically matches you to similar members of the desired gender. Unlike competing services such as Tinder or OKCupid, it sets itself apart by focusing on one core characteristic of its users: their music taste. From the moment you join, you are barraged with questions surrounding your affinity. Questions about your favourite songs, least favourite concerts, and whether or not you like to dance. (Answer: No.)
Like all services geared towards millennials, this seems like a great idea at first. Why wouldn't I want to message a 23-year old girl in Leicester who also enjoyed a Metronomy concert in 2012? Surely people with similar music taste will share other attributes with me, like my love of requesting songs at clubs and my distrust of people who go on juice cleanses.
With cautious optimism, I decide to give it a shot. Valentine's Day is fast approaching, after all. I create a profile, carefully select a username ("futurebass69"), and begin looking for love.
I fill out their entry-level questionnaire with little thought to public opinion. If I had a million dollars for a day I would… buy a bunch of Skrillex records and then return them. The song that would play at my funeral would be… "Levels," by Avicii.
I scan several other profiles to compare responses: an 18-year old girl from Bristol who thinks it's important who her favourite band is; a man from Berlin pulling out all the stops ("Looking for a girl with great energy"); a 35-year old nurse in London "just giving this a go" who truly believes Tastebuds may save her from social exile. With a deep sigh, I post a status to Tastebud's global wall—the purpose of which still confuses me—and wait for women to throw themselves at my feet.
Within minutes, a notification appears on my dashboard. A 21-year-old Arcade Fire fan (the worst kind) in Berlin viewed my profile. I scroll through her profile enthusiastically; she also liked Red Hot Chilli Peppers when she was 13. Apart from that we have nothing in common, but I click "Send Message" regardless. Immediately met with a paywall, it quickly dawns on me that this is how Tastebud makes money. To talk to the people you want, you must buy their "backstage pass" upgrade. This is not conducive to finding a successful Valentine.
Moments later, I receive another notification. My first inbox message. Could it be the Arcade Fire fan, or has someone else seen my profile?
"If you could travel through time, where would you go?" a 19-year old man in Iran asks me. I rack my brain for a suitable response and respond with palpable enthusiasm. "2005, so I could un-attend my high school dance," I tell him. I exit out of the conversation and post another question to the wall.
There are an overwhelming number of things to do on Tastebuds. On the left, there is a live-updating grid of people online. Beside it, a vertical column of additional "quick questions." There are tabs upon tabs of stuff up above. Tastebuds asks me how often I smoke marijuana and I decide that I dislike quick questions. My attention returns to the wall.
At this point I should let you, the reader, in on how overwhelming Tastebud's greyness is. When flicking between its various tabs, you are engulfed with wide, neutral borders. The feeling is akin to being suffocated with a pillow, but without the sweet release of death. There is only grey.
A woman named Bridget asks what act people want to see before we die. I reply "Nelly," but she doesn't give me the time of day. Another woman, Squirtle, uses five words to describe herself in a question that called only for three words. I correct her and she snaps at me, boldly asserting that "and" is not a word.
After an hour of updating statuses and posing questions to the Tastebuds.fm community, it becomes clear that my humor is not welcome. How could a service intricately bound to something so fun be so devoid of soul? I check my inbox again to find another message from the Iranian man. He tells me he would go back to 2012 to resolve things with a past fling.
I refresh the page a few times. Still no bites. I try to pass the time by browsing Tastebuds' Radio feature, but it doesn't work. Bored and a little upset, I begin browsing the public forums and land in the "Say Something Random" thread. I write another post, but my desperation is beginning to show.
I wait several more minutes for a response before I decide that wooing women with sarcasm just isn't working. Leaving the forums, I decide to try a different approach.
As I found out earlier, messaging women costs money. There is, however, a way to message random matches without paying. It's called "Message Bomb," and it does exactly what the name suggests. You, the user, choose a question to ask from a drop down menu and it, the Bomb, sends that question out to eight random matches free of charge. I give it a try.
A woman named "circa1995" has viewed my profile. I do the mental math and decide that she is too young to engage with. My task bar lights up yet again—someone has responded to my Message Bomb.
An 18-year old Chet Faker fan, Tao, admits that she has never been to a music festival, but that she's sure her university residence hall is similar. Progressive house DJs, spirit hoods, and drugs are all a part of her day-to-day life. We chat for several minutes and I ask her what guys on Tastebuds are like. "I don't think many people will get laid on here," she tells me. I agree. All the men I'd come across had been woefully timid, and all the women rather opposed to random hookups. Tao tells me that she only joined to hear what other people are listening to so we exchange songs. I ask her if she has ever listened to djjdsports, but she goes offline.
My taskbar pings again with a fresh response to my Message Bomb. A new match (Quirky Kay) tells me that Outside Lands was her favourite festival. I scan her profile; ugh, she refers to Paul McCartney as "Sir Paul McCartney." I immediately know what sort of person I'm dealing with. I ask her who her favourite acts were, but she does not respond.
Heading back to the homepage, I decide to investigate how other users are interacting with one another. How can I not be better than the rest of the Tastebuds community? After a few more minutes, I close Tastebuds.
The next day, I log back into my account. Seven notifications and two inbox messages; I'm more popular when I'm asleep. There are a few responses to my most recent request for people to name a single good musician, a few profile views, and responses from both Tao and Quirky Kay. Glancing over Tao's response, I ask her if she would like to be my Valentine. "For real?" she asks. I respond right away, assuring her that I'm being very real. Five minutes pass, then ten. I check to see if she's still online—she is. After 30 minutes, I give up on love.
Getting up to take a break from my laptop, I think about my 24 hours on Tastebuds. Like off-brand vanilla ice cream, it's sort of beautiful in its inability to offend. There are no unwarranted dick pics occupying my feed. Nobody is asking me to follow them on Kik (whatever Kik is, I think only Kendall Jenner really knows). Its only shortcoming is the paywall which offers little when compared to similar subscription services. Unlike Ashley Madisson, I am not guaranteed to get what I'm looking for. Unlike Match.com, I am most certainly not on the same page as the rest of its users. Everybody is on Tastebuds for a different reason and nobody is looking for romance.
Think of Tastebuds as an Ello that costs money: you're not sure why you're on it and you'll be damned if you get caught sticking around. People are just hanging out on a worse Facebook, hoping that someone comes along to make sense of it. Would you pay money for Ello? Absolutely not. The cost then seems worthless and with it, so does Tastebuds itself. The site's founder, Julian Keenaghan, says that people have already gotten married to matches that they met on Tastebuds, but this really isn't saying much. I know couples who have met in line for a port-a-potty.
Are you lonely? Go to a bar. Do you love music? Go to a show. The real world will be immediately more gratifying.
Ziad Ramley is still single and on Twitter.