My Online Date Using the Almighty Amazon Algorithm (Part 1): Say Hello To My Ugly Friend
“If someone doesn’t think you’re hot, the next best thing for them to think is that you’re ugly.”
–Christian Rudder, “The Mathematics Of Beauty,“ OkTrends, January 10th, 2011
“The gist of it is this: if you price at $.99, you must sell more copies to be ranked comparably to those selling at higher prices.”
–Joanna Penn, “How Amazon Recommendation Algorithms Help Sell Your Book,” The Creative Pen, April 21, 2011
Ever tried online dating before?
Actually, that was a rhetorical question; 74% of singles say that they go online to look for dates these days. Given those statistics, then, there’s a good chance that you’ve dabbled on all the main sites— Match.com, PlentyofFish.com, e-Harmony.com, and the like. In that case, the chances are also good that you’ve thrown a profile up on the site The Boston Globe called “the Google of online dating”: OkCupid.com.
If you have had profile on OkCupid, then here’s where things may get a little, er, uncomfortable. Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten the “Ugly Friend Email.” What is that, you ask? Why, it’s an email that, according to OkCupid.com, is sent only to a select group of its subscribers. It reads:
We are very pleased to report that you are in the top half of OkCupid’s most attractive users. The scales recently tipped in your favor, and we thought you’d like to know. How can we say this with confidence? We’ve tracked click-thrus on your photo and analyzed other people’s reactions to you in Quickmatch and Quiver.
Your new elite status comes with one important privilege:
You will now see more attractive people in your match results.
This new status won’t affect your actual match percentages,
which are still based purely on your answers and desired match’s answers. But the people we recommend will be more attractive. Also! You’ll be shown to more attractive people in their match results.
. . .
Suddenly, the world is your oyster. Login now and reap the rewards.
And, no, we didn’t just send this email to everyone on OkCupid. Go ask an ugly friend and see.
How do I know about this email (the contents of which, by the way, prompted The Consumerist to write a piece called “OKCupid Is Hiding The Good-Looking People From
Us Ugly Freaks”)? Well, because on one sunny, morning recently, it dropped into my inbox with all the subtlety of an email from an African prince trying to access his encumbered fortune with my help. How on Earth did this come about?
As the Amazon bestselling author of two romantic comedies, I’d spent the last two years focused exclusively on my writing career, with little time to spare for anything so inconsequential as, you know, “finding a soul mate,” “falling in love,” or [shudder] “dating.”
However, at a recent conference, I looked up from my champagne flute to discover that I was surrounded by women. Lots and lots of women. In fact, the only person in a half-mile vicinity with a Y-chromosome was the college-aged guy half-heartedly passing around a tray of hors d’oeuvres.
I closed my eyes, sighed heavily, and thought: It’s time.
Sure, I was reluctant. Before my writing career took off, I’d tried Match.com, and had served some hard time on e-Harmony.com. Hell, I even lasted an entire day on PlentyofFish.com! My experience was that there were very few “diamonds” hidden deep inside miles of “rough” the length and breadth of the Earth’s mantle.
Still, I’d read a little about OkCupid.com, and done some research on the Harvard educated, mathematician founders of the site. And as someone who’s benefited greatly from the Amazon algorithm—that elusive, mysterious formula Amazon uses to calculate book rankings—I was in a position to appreciate this factoid, courtesy of an ABC News piece featuring the site: “[T]hey match people up, applying statistical algorithms to their user profiles.”
Consider for a moment the process by which you upload a profile to OkCupid:
1. Create an account.
2. Write an interesting description.
3. Upload eye-catching, attractive photographs.
4. Set the locations in which you want to be viewable to potential dates.
5. Wait for interested parties to find you.
(Optional, but common):
6. Wonder why your profile seems to trigger “suggestions” for individuals whose photos look like they were snapped inside a prison cell.
7. Do a half-hearted “match search” for approximately five minutes.
8. Declare entire endeavor a waste of time.
Hey—wait just a minute! Is this the process for online dating, or does this describe self-publication? Hmm…
If you’re an author, and you’ve ever engaged in online dating, then you’ll no doubt quickly see how similar these two processes are (including 6-8). That’s good; it’ll help you digest what comes next.
About four months after I uploaded my first novel, The Frog Prince, the book became an Amazon bestseller. One of the first questions I was always asked during Q & A sessions at workshops and conferences for the next two years was what I called The Dreaded Marketing Question: “What did you do to successfully market The Frog Prince?”
Here’s the truth: I didn’t do anything to market The Frog Prince; I simply completed steps 1-5 as you see above, fixed up my book’s hair and makeup, and waited to see whether or not the Almighty Amazon Algorithm would think it was “hot.”
Now then: What do you have to do to ensure not only that Amazon thinks your book is “hot,” but that it bellows this information to the world like a drunken frat boy cruising the clubs with his buddies? And what exactly prompts OkCupid to send you that coveted/controversial “go ask an ugly friend” email that supposedly reserves your profile for the hottest singles in the online universe?
Short answer: Exactly. The. Same. Thing.
Longer answer: See “My Online Date Using the Almighty Amazon Algorithm (Part 2): Don’t Be Ugly By Accident.”
And, as always, thanks for reading.
- My Online Date with the Almighty Amazon Algorithm (Part 2): Don’t Be Ugly By Accident
- My Online Date with the Almighty Amazon Algorithm (Part 3): Beauty Is Only Thumb(Nail) Deep
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Woman with hair on her face image 98345510 courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
Woman with broken heart image 69832234 courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
Math heart image 60967810 courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
Woman typing image 93202393 courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
Prisoner image 14952346 courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
How image 95623327 courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
Champagne glasses image 43134502 courtesy of Shutterstock.com.