December 12, 2008

How would you rate his breath, on a scale of 1 (offensive) to 5 (fresh)?

The respondent had answered:


James frowned. He still found it hard to believe that it was necessary to include the question in the survey.  But the amount of times men scored 1 or 2 for ‘breath’ made it clear to him that it had to be there. It was such an easy thing, such a simple thing, such a cheap thing to rectify.

This particular guy had taken his date to a city centre pub.  Not a bad first move.  Neutral ground, that was vital.  Nothing too heavy, just a drink, but in a swisher environment than the local.  The Suitability Index for the date was pretty high.  Both parties were humanities graduates, both late twenties.  Both WASPs, so to speak, with similar paths through life to date.

James wanted to help those paths converge.

A natural mathematician, he had followed his subject to uni, but once there, quickly became disillusioned.  Maths simply didn’t assuage his curiosity about people.  It wasn’t exciting.  It wasn’t a conversation starter in bars, unless, of course, he was with other mathematicians.  Still, he stuck it out, found other things to talk about in bars and finally qualified with a 2:1 and an idea.  He would apply his number-crunching ability to dating.

Ratemydate.com was born.

His friends scoffed at the idea, at first.

“You mean to tell me”, said Giles, between convulsive shudder bouts of laughter, “that some poor sod, who’s taken a girl out, then got the old zero back when he texted her the next day, is then going to follow it up with an email?  Dear Lisa – thanks for Friday night.  Please find attached feedback form.  Kind regards, Bellend”.

Everyone had a cheap laugh at James’ expense, but the idea kept growing.

What if you could go onto the website and fill it in anonymously.  You could put the venue, date and the time of your encounter, but you didn’t have to mention the other person’s name.

Nobody would pay for the service, his research persuaded him of that pretty quickly.  But it was an easy pitch to get advertising revenue from dating websites. He told his friends.  Got them to act as online guinea pigs in his ‘sandpit’ development site.  They fed back. They’d enjoyed it.  He went live.

The forms started coming in.  He monitored the traffic on the site.  As the visitor numbers increased, he kept revising his form.  How many were coming back incomplete.  Why.  Were people skipping particular questions.  Why.  Was there any need for comment boxes in particular places.  Trial and error.  He tweaked and honed.  He sought feedback about the site’s visual appeal.  Did it look welcoming and warm.  The golden rule – keep it simple, keep it accessible.

The site appealed to people’s – vanity, he decided.  The date hadn’t gone well.  He hadn’t treated her as she’d expect.  He kept looking in every other direction.  She didn’t know what to talk about.   He laughed at his own jokes.  He was tight about money.  His jokes, which he laughed at, too loudly, weren’t very funny.  She didn’t seem very mature.  Her eyes were funny.  His hair was a mess.  Too neat.  Too polite.  Too formal.  He seemed nervous.  She answered a text when I was in the middle of talking to her.  The list was never-ending.

He found that the majority of respondents – 56 – 44 per cent – were women.  14% of forms had been filled in by gay men and lesbians.  The process was not as attractive to straight guys.  OK. The data was passed onto the advertisers, so that they could target their ads.

The buzz on Facebook was great.  People loved to gossip; it brightened up their lives.  Not everyone was happy with the results, of course, but James figured that if a guy had BO, or was limited in conversational breadth, or couldn’t wrestle his eyes from a woman’s breasts, then it was probably better, long term, that someone had the hard word about it with them.

If you’d never heard back from your date, you could check the site to see if they’d given you the reason why. All you had to do was tap in the venue, the date and the time.

Emails started to arrive from forlorn men. That report card that came in about 16th July, Zizzi’s Bar in Ashford, 9pm.  Can you tell me who it was who sent it?  I need to know if it was about me.

Of course, confidentiality applied.  The anonymity of the reviewer was sacrosanct.  The reviewed had to make their own mind up.
And maybe it wasn’t about them.  Maybe it was the sad story of the couple at the next table, the ones who’d seemed to be having such a good time.  Or the ones over by the bar, who’d looked a little drunk.  Or the two who sat by the window, quiet.  The ones who left with their arms around each other, heading for the nearest taxi rank.

Or maybe it was about the guy with nothing better to do than to email ratemydate.com.

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