Here’s some news you can use from the front lines of the modern dating scene: remember HOT or NOT, the tawdry-but-popular website dedicated to letting strangers rate your sexual allure? Here’s how it works: upload a picture of you (although of course you can’t be stopped from uploading a picture of someone else). Almost instantly, thousands of people around the world will rate your picture on a scale of one to ten. I first saw this site way back in 2000, so it’s a great-granddaddy of today’s Web 2.0 sites, and it has remarkable staying power. Even so, it’s a pretty tacky premise: grind people into numbers through the fickle calculus of aggregate sex appeal.
On the other hand, Hot or Not doesn’t rate people, it rates pictures of people. Reframe the site and it becomes a valuable service: “Hot or Not ranks photos quantitatively.” I have a friend who uses online dating services. He needs to know which of his pictures he should put on his “all about me” profile page. That is, which of, let’s say, twenty pictures is most likely to appeal to the opposite sex? Hot or Not can answer this question accurately and quickly. Suddenly a cheap-thrills voyeur/exhibitionist site is transmuted into a valuable (free!) web service that uncovers information that would be expensive to discover any other way. My friend submitted many pictures to Hot or Not, selected the one that rated highest for his eligible bachelor rÃ©sumÃ©, and immediately his traffic picked up. It’s easy to see how that’s worth real money.