Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Adventures In Online Dating: Soul Geek (A Critique)

A few weeks ago I was introduced to a new dating site I hadn't heard of before by close friend and fellow improv, video game and musical theater enthusiast Justin Moran. He told me it sounded perfect for people like us, and if he were single that would be the dating site he'd be on. I was intrigued, and later the next day I logged onto the site and immediately created an account.

What followed were about two hours of heartbreak that I'm going to describe in great detail. Before I begin, I want to say that while I am about to critique this small, relatively unknown niche dating site, I sincerely hope I do not come across as an angry internet troll, but rather an opinionated man who is well-versed in the ways of online dating. A man who once ran his own small online service and a man who is of course, a total geek, who would very much like to see a well done dating site dedicated to people like him.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts on Soul Geek:

(Note: I did not pay the $9.99 monthly membership fee, so this review is simply based on the services available to me as a free member. I thought about paying the fee and giving Soul Geek a month in order to give the service a more thorough review, but I decided that due to lack of patience or frugality, I'd rather just write my review based on what I'd experienced before I'd given them any of my money)

The site, if anyone wants to see what I'm talking about:

1. The site is unattractive, and the interface is dated.

Let's get this out of the way right up top. Some of these complaints might come across as a little unfair for a small business that probably doesn't have as much money to spend as some of the bigger dating sites out there. But the fact is, they're charging money for this site, and one of their biggest competitors (OKCupid, who I'll be comparing this to site to regularly) is free, is easy on the eyes and is much easier to use.

Look, I wore a Simpsons t-shirt nearly every day in high school. My desire to show off my obsession with the show (and to get dressed with less than 10 seconds of thought) was clearly stronger than my desire to look like I had any sense of style. Maybe that's the idea here - function over fashion. But I also never had sex in high school. So you know, there's that.

I really think even the site's formatting is clunky and dated. Take a quick look and tell me where you'd rather spend some time online:

Forget this rcjester guy, let's talk about that handsome Phil Proctor!
OkCupid, for comparison. I'm really throwing any kind of online anonymity caution to the wind at this point, it seems.
Aesthetic opinions aside, Rule #1 of internet business is to not make your customers embarrassed to be on your site. (Rule #2 involves not giving your customers epileptic seizures, which I'm happy to report this site is on the up and up with) And some of this stuff is super obvious - ditch the flashing banner ads, have a better homepage and find a more attractive color scheme. Also - they make you wait 24 hours to approve any changes you make to your profile. All this stuff was unacceptable five years ago. You might as well have a Myspace link at this point.

2. The sign-up/profile creation process is tedious and homogenizes geekery.

When you start filling out your profile, the site cannot wait to let you check the appropriately cheeky-geeky boxes that apply to you. Stuff like: Stuff I Enjoy: TAKING OVER THE WORLD, Faith: THE FORCE, and Languages: STANDARD FEDERATION.

Under 'Size of Penis,' I checked off 'Sword of Omens x3'
These would be cute and somewhat original entries had there not been a way for EVERYONE WHO SIGNS UP TO JUST SEE IT AND SELECT IT. Guess what % of people I saw who have Tribbles and talked Wookie? The answer: way too many.

Next, the profile you create for yourself on the site winds up being about 20% about you personally, and 80% about what you're into as a geek. I suppose this is sort of the hook of the site, displaying your 'geek badge,' loud and proud. But still - I personally would like to know that you're a normal, stable human being before we dress up like Cloud and Aeris from FFVII and I show you my Buster sword. But maybe that's just me.

When you sign up, you're supposed to check a box off for every single interest you have, and then on the following page you're expected to list all (or at least some) of the things you're into in that genre, and then describe why you like it. I found this incredibly annoying. Here's how my page turned out:

It's cut off in this image, but my final interest is: 'filling out agonizingly long internet profiles'
Seriously - if you want to know why I think video games or anything I'm into is swell, feel free to ask me. I'll be happy to tell you. But filling out the above section made me wish I was less of a geek, if anything. Too much work!

3. There are other kinds of geeks, you know.

I know traditionally geeks are into swords, lasers and pocket monsters, or pockemons, but I don't see why the site has to limit itself to just these particular interests. Maybe you're a food geek, or a tech junkie. Maybe you're a huge Quentin Tarrantino fanboy or you're obsessed with all things Apple. Maybe you've seen every episode of Shark Week ever made, and are desperately searching for someone to discuss DNA-attacking microsharks swimming in our drinking water with after a long night of lovemaking. Guess who can help you out with that? Not Soul Geek, that's for sure.

"Did you know that the mako shark...hey no wait, I was gonna segue that into some flirting!"
If a girl on OKCupid  lists under her "favorites" section that she is a fan of Community, she instantly becomes 27.5% more attractive to me. I ran the numbers, this is a fact. So once again here's a competing (and still free) site essentially doing the same thing this site is setting out to do, but better. 'Brilliant Comedy' isn't a regular topic you can select under hobbies, and while you can dump it under the section entitled "extra stuff I enjoy" it feels like an afterthought, especially if it's something I'm into more than the other subjects.

You could argue that this site for a specific set of geek interests, but c'mon, this isn't J-Date. The wider you cast the net for the kinds of geeks you seek, the more people you'll have on your site. And people who aren't into the same things can easily avoid ever seeing each other. Case in point, I've already written: "DON'T MSG ME IF UR IN2 DR. WHO!!!" and "DR. HOUSE > DR. WHO (CARES)???" all over all my online dating profiles, and so far all Dr. Who fans and countless others have graciously steered clear.

4. The site adds no real value/features over it's competitors.

As it stands, without paying the monthly fee of $9.99/mo, you cannot directly message fellow geeks on the site. You can freely browse, do some version of "poking" (letting others know you're also not paying a subscription), and if you happen to be messaged by a paying member, you can supposedly respond (I have not been messaged as of yet, though I haven't checked in the past 10 minutes. Maybe I should one more time just to be safe. Ok, yeah, still nothing). But once again, with a slicker, cheaper competitor just a click away, it's incredibly difficult to drop money for the sake of a niche pool of people who are more likely to know what I'm talking about when I reference Leroy Jenkins.

I think the site needs to be more than a copycat version of all the other dating sites out there that are already established and doing it better. I can think of two things off the top of my head that would add value to the site:

(1) Meetups. There's a site called nerdnite that already does this, organizes events for geeks/nerds (I believe these two groups get along) in cities across the country. Soul Geek needs to either mimic this idea on some level (even if they're doing something on a very small scale, an organized board game night or movie screening for 10 people or something would be a start) or partner up with Nerd Nite (who also organizes speed dating nights, at least in NYC) to have some truly outstanding geek-related events that can bring in clientele for both groups.

Right now the Soul Geek site list upcoming cons, which is a start, but I would start thinking about getting booths or organizing events (speed dates, kissing booths, cosplay setups?) at these cons to spread the word about the site.

Finally, Batman and Rogue(?) have found each other.
(2) Games. Hey, geeks love games, right? Why not get some on this dating site for geeks! Start with small, facebook like-games, or dig deep and get some real D&D style stuff going. Allow me to run around slashing orcs while asking all the female avatars how they doin' (oh, and please, make sure only women are allowed to play as women. I'm so sick of being wrong). And some geeks I would imagine are a little shy, and this could be a way around the traditional route of blind messaging that's required on other dating sites.

'You guys go fight that monster. Trisha, you come over here and help me...buff my stats.'
Both of these things can be included as part of your paying membership, and/or maybe allow even non-paying members to partake in, at least a little.

5. Closing Thoughts

To be clear, the Soul Geek site isn't all bad. I do like that the site allows (and seems to encourage) stylized drawings to be one of your profile photos (but it wisely insists that at least one photo be real). And every profile comes with a fan fiction tab, which, you know, if you're into that stuff, is great. And the site is promoting an upcoming redesign which, for all I know, could be addressing all this and more.

I really would love for the site to be successful, and to be the destination for single geeks looking for love. In reality, any site that could potentially set me up with the video game/anime/role-playing/Batman-loving, attentive, gorgeous and independently wealthy woman of my dreams is a very good thing. I'm trying to help my odds here. Because c'mon guys - I still haven't met her yet!



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