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In Defense of OkCupid's A-List

I value my A-List subscription at a level in which it has become engrained. Half the time, I forget that I even pay for it.

by Daniel Stuckey
Oct 2 2013, 6:55pm
Image via Flickr by Fire At Will

James Cook at The Kernel just broke some news, guys. And it quickly spread to The Daily Mail, and then Time. It goes a little something like this: OkCupid has a premium level membership called "A-List," in which wealthy users paying $4.95 per month are able to filter out fat and ugly people.

Now, let me say, in all fairness, James Cook does allude to how his story might not raise the brows of experienced online daters. And it doesn't. Because it isn't news. A-List premium services on OkCupid have existed since August of 2009, and I've paid for it ever since I signed up for OkCupid, in June of 2011.

Here is a nugget from the OkCupid's Wikipedia page:

A-List (paying) members see no advertising and have more filtering options, the ability to separate photos into photo albums, and preferential placement in an "A-List Matches" section of search results. A-list members can also browse openly while choosing whether or not their profile is displayed to those they visited.

So why is Cook telling us about this? What's eating him? I think I figured it out: He's mad that I'm rich.

"Only want to see people rated a stunning five out of five stars? You can: just pay first," Cook explains, showing a screenshot of filtering selections that only appear when you sign up for A-List. What I don't understand about Cook's argument here, is what his argument is at all. Is it that all people should have equal access to preference-based filtering on OkCupid? Is it a shock that people are able to filter for physical attributes in an online dating platform? Are there some deeper convictions about a culture of narcissism that Cook threw between the lines? I don't really think so.

There's definitely something to be said about the ways in which young people are dating with the Internet nowadays, and about hookup culture in general. After Jodi Picoult wrapped up her interviews with teenage girls for The Tenth Circle and Nineteen Minutes, she concluded, "It was clear to me that we're turning out a generation of kids who don't know how to have a relationship with someone."

I think it'd be good to talk about this, to address the unsavory cultural state of modern relationships among young people. But Cook isn't doing this. And maybe he shouldn't be. That's because OkCupid isn't only about young people, or pretty people, or fat people, or straight people, or single people. Imagine! 

For anyone else as uneducated about OkCupid as Cook, and reaching for sensationalist headlines about the 505th most popular site on the Internet—with its 3.5 million users—I highly suggest looking at the OkTrends blog. This is where the company openly discusses and analyzes user data through interesting graphs and visualizations. It's a little outdated (last updated in 2011), but stands as a unique effort to learn and explore more about behaviors in online dating. In the age of big data and propriety, OkCupid is in a league of its own. Could you imagine if Facebook did something truly reflective, semi-transparent, or sociologically useful to the masses like this?

At the same time, it's important not to make broad strokes about massive networks like OkCupid. It's important, I feel, not to stress—that through a list like this, which Cook embedded in his article, we only find the means to "hide fat and ugly people."

To think, you could use this list to only look at 'curvy', 'overweight', and self-describing 'used up,' members, but Cook asserts that this is a feature that merely facilitates the opposite. And he then emphasizes that it's a symptom of a richer class, which is a popular notion, a safe generalization. But this argument is about as deep as the author's upsetting 180-word blog post can only be.

"The wealthy have so many advantages over the rest of us. Fast cars, nice houses… and hiding fatties on the internet"—this clearly isn't about tolerance or inner beauty, or that the author finds something distasteful about someone that would want to "hide fatties." That's because the dude uses the hurtful word, "fatties," to conclude his article. He could be using the hurtful word sarcastically, but he still uses it to emphasize what's really important to him here: Class warfare. Yes, that's the dividing line between people with a disposable income of $4.95 a month, and everyone else. Wacky shit.

In other words, Cook has written a post about nothing. And from nothing came nothing, came nothing (you know that awful song). Listen, I'd leave this alone if Cook were making a critique about Internet dating culture, but he isn't. He's simply being resourceful with people's cortisol. He's angering people who read his headline while only packing in an argument about class. It actually isn't clear whether Cook's discovery has made him upset, appalled, or entertained.

Rather, Cook is pretending to "report" this tidbit of information, and in doing so he throws a blanket over what else OkCupid is, and what else A-List does. Here are some other things that the steep, $4.95-per-month, A-List membership has provided me:

  • Change your username
  • Turn on A-List invisible browsing
  • Use your special match search options <-- (This is what Cook selectively reads as, "hide uglies and fatties")
  • Find out who’s into you
  • Get read receipts for your sent messages
  • Use OkCupid without ads
  • Store up to 5,000 messages

He also doesn't tell us about "Promote me," the newer, paid feature on OkCupid that users pay $2 to get as many eyes and visitors to their profile as they would in a day in 15 minutes. It's like promoting a tweet or a Facebook or a Tumblr post, but infused with dating. It's the future. Careful, James.

If you don't know anything about online dating, or OkCupid, it has been around for nearly a decade, and was acquired by Match.com's operator, IAC/InterActiveCorp for $50 million in February, 2011. In my opinion, it is probably the Internet's best, mostly-free dating experience.

That said, I value my A-List subscription at a level in which it has become engrained. Half the time, I forget that I even pay for it. I guess that makes me disgustingly wealthy. But really, it feels like a negligible amount of money to part with if you compare it with other online dating sites (about $40 per month on average). I'm able to use it to talk to women with full inboxes. I'm able to decide when I want women to see that I visited their profiles, and I don't have to see ads.

OkCupid doesn't pay me to say these things. It's simply one of the best websites ever. And at the point I discovered it, I shut down my Facebook page for an extended amount of time, and argued that I'd found a social networking site that was about being social, and actually having real-life interactions. To date, OkCupid has introduced me to a handful of high- and low-quality women, both rich and poor, short and tall. I've met white, brown, yellow, white, black, beautiful, smart, stupid, annoying, incompatible, and amazing people.

I suggest that James Cook and other newcomers play around with their A-List subscriptions before any more petty, one-sided perspectives make asses out of The Daily Mail, Time, and the B-List.

@danstuckey

More dating:

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Love in the Time of Tinder

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