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James Hong

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On going (NOT) Free...

I've been meaning to write a blog post about HOTorNOT's recent action to undo going Free, and i think this blog comment i just got says a lot about why:

"I like what you have set out for hot or not. I am also wanting to thank you and Jim for making it. I meet my soul-mate on hot or not and we want to get married in 2 years and were wanting to know if you two would like to attend?! THank you soo much. sincerely" -Jacqueline Nelson

Our hope was that by going free, we would get more letters like this because more people would be meeting new friends on our site. Instead, we got hit hard by scammers, and we instead started getting more complaints about how the site wasn't working as well anymore.

We tried to fight the scammers, but it's hard to use automation to model and fight scammers when they are not using bots, but have actual people working all day. Its amazing, but i guess in countries where wages are low, it is worth their time to spend all day looking for targets.

The level of sophistication of some of these outfits is astounding. It is not a few amateurs here and there doing it as individuals, they are organized outfits that operate like call centers. We found that there were people whose job it is specifically to get IM addresses out of people, at which point the target is passed along (like a call center escalation) to someone who speaks better english to work on chatting the person up and eventually extracting money. In a nutshell, they train specialists on each step of the scam! Because these are actual human beings doing it, they can pretty much get around automated detection systems, and they usually do the dirty work once they are off our system and on IM (where we can't model them anymore).

We know that fakes are becoming a bigger and bigger problem at other sites as well, and for the time being we would rather go back to a model that works (and reduces economic incentive for the scammers) than be a free but decreasingly useful service. I'm told this is the reason eBay was successful charging (to this day) listing fees... it basically kept the crap out, which made the marketplace work. Apparently the same thing happens in dating.

Every dating site i know and talk to tells me they are dealing with the same issue. Markus at plentyoffish seems to be doing a good job of fighting it, but tells me it gets harder and harder every month to maintain. I agree with him that combating scammers is a competitive advantage in the dating game.

So that is why we are going back to a paid model for the time being. Despite our explanations, only time will tell if people are not super pissed at us for giving them something, then having to take it back. Hopefully they will understand we did it for the right reasons. Our goal was not to make more money, but to make HOTorNOT bigger and hence more useful as a dating service (if were were profit minded, we would have never gone free at all)

Humorously, we've gotten supportive emails from women saying they wouldn't want to date a guy too cheap to spend $6 anyway, lol

In the meantime, I guess we'll have to figure out a different way to reinvent HOTorNOT!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, I agree that running a site, especially one as large as yours is a thankless task and thats why im thanking you right now :) Conversely, the changes youve been putting into hot or not, just dont make sense. A couple of days ago, you had it so that you could send 2 letters to non-star members a day for free...definatley a you have it so that we cant send any? Personally I dont think this is going to ensure more people using the site, or less people spamming on it, its honestly just going to piss people off...the same people youre trying to keep around. Ive met some nice women from your site and would like to keep it going, but cant see getting something for free...then yanking it out from under my opinion its not going to hurt anyone to put the '2 free messages to non-star members' back in, and id love to be of some help if you need assistance with spam or phishing attempts as I have a background in internet security :) my user name is triz3y on HON :)

Trey Webb

11:39 AM  
Blogger james said...

Hi Trey,

thanks for the comment..The allowing 2 messages for free was something that we said we were doing for a few weeks to help ease people in.. we basically wanted to give people who do not intend to pay adequate time to trade contact information with their matches. It appears we did not do a good job of communicating that the 2 message thing was temporary, and for that i definitely apologize.

in terms of giving something free and then yanking it away.. keep in mind that we ran for 7 years under the subscription model, and that free was a more recent experiment. We are on your side in terms of wanting to make the site free, but it does not appear feasible at the moment. we may try again in the future, but for now we have to stick with something that works and is sustainable, and does inundate the system with spammers.

i know that there are a lot of good ideas out there about how to fight spammers.. i guess all i can do is ask that people trust our intent, and know that we considered a lot of different scenarios, but that there is a lot of complexity and moving parts behind hotornot that offer good reasons for why we can't try many of them at the moment.

11:50 AM  

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