The frenzy surrounding Apple’s (official) announcement of the iPhone 4 at WWDC was accompanied by the timely public launch of Cupidtino, a non Apple-endorsed dating (and networking) site exclusively for Apple fans. The idea of the site has been a source of entertainment for me (in the “what is the world coming to!?” sort of way). I suppose it was only a matter of time before something like this was created. To spice up my staycation, I joined the site and poked around for a week, though it only took two days for me to form my opinion. Long story short, I’d rather just stay home. The site is cleanly designed and technically a great user experience, but the use-case is just too unclear for me to want to commit. Read on for details of my experience, including messages from a musician, designers, and a self-proclaimed hippie cactus-hugger (if you don’t read anything else, read the Messages section).
The homepage features an Apple fangirl lying in bed working on her Macbook. White is the dominant color, presumably because of Apple’s signature white laptop. The girl has a tattoo (in good taste), establishing the Apple “persona” to be young, artsy, expressive, and liberal (this is absolutely not to say that all Apple fans are or others are not).
The four rectangular text boxes underneath the image introduce Cupidtino, provide a link for sign up, show thumbnails of recent members, and provide links to press. The introduction is a set of informational frames (obviously not created with Flash), which insist Cupidtino is something different (as in, Think Different?) and exclusive with an awesome design.
To Join or Not to Join
My decision to register was not a straightforward one.
Despite my genuine interest in the site when it was announced in May, I was rather unsure about registering when it came down to it. In fact, though I visited the site several times beforehand, it took me 8 days after the public launch to finally register. I Facebook, I Tweet, I Buzz, I LinkIn, I blog. So how was this any different?
Confession: I was nervous. Nervous about types of people the site attracts. Though it is marketed as both a forum for Apple fans and a dating site, the “dating site” aspect seems to override the rest. In my mind, dating sites have the connotation of being awkward and creepy.
But I was also curious. Curious about the other Apple fans out there. I didn’t really want to connect with them and definitely didn’t want to date them, but I just wanted to see who was out there (indirectly making me one of the creeps I was afraid of).
When it comes to other social networking sites, I feel comfortable, safe, and in control. But the comfort came with time, adaptation, and experimentation. This was a new site to conquer. It was like starting at a new school where I didn’t know anybody. And where things were done a little differently – but more on that later.
Well, curiosity killed the cat. I registered, while continually chanting the mantra, “you can always opt out if things get weird.”
Overall, registration is clean and simple.
Initially, finding a “Sign Up” button on the homepage proved to be difficult. Maybe this was the sign not to register. Finally, I found it at the bottom of the page in one of the rectangular text boxes.
Registration is only possible from an Apple device. And though the site can be accessed from an iPhone or iPod after membership, registration is not possible on these devices.
As promised on the informational slides, sign-up takes 1 minute and has three sections: 1) Your account, 2) Your profile, and 3) Etc. Among other personal information, an email address, username, password, birthday, and country of residence are required. It took me three tries to find a unique username. The username is used for your profile URL (cupidtino.com/username).
I should mention I was stingy with personal information. Specifying a region is optional, so I left it blank. This decision came back to haunt me – every time I logged in afterwards, a window popped up asking me to update this field. Finally, I caved. The window was disruptive. California is so big that the specification doesn’t mean much anyway.
Once I accepted the terms and conditions, I was immediately taken to my home page. There was no need to sign in to my email to verify it. Straightforward.
The home page gives you a number of profile views (mine crossed 100 in less than 48 hours), a link to your profile, a text field to set your status (Twitteresque), and shows thumbnails of the recent members (“Machearts”). Anchored at the top right are links to Home, Search, Profile, Invite Others, and Logout. The first thing I noticed was a slough of icons at the bottom of the page, similar to a Mac’s desktop dock. The icons include Home, Search, Messages, Profile, Photos, Favorites, Gadgets, Privacy, and Account. Let’s magnify each (get it?!) in the most intuitive order.
Profile: Edit My Profile
You provide Basics (name, sexual preference, and location); Highlights (what you do for a living, when you became a “Mac,” cool facts about you, and your “type”); and More details. A 300-character maximum for each field eliminates the necessity and pressure to produce a novel.
Before creating my profile, I browsed others. Some were shocking. One girl says you’re her type if you are “white like my iMac.” Strike 1.
Basics and Highlights remain anchored at the bottom of all other pages, such as Photos and Favorites.
This is where you choose a primary photo (displayed in all its glory on your Profile page). I chose a Polaroid to keep in line with the artistic, hipster quality that Apple and Apple fans tend to display and appreciate. Self-awarded brownie points for a picture taken by an iPhone and filtered with an iPhone camera App.
Members may also upload additional pictures visible to logged-in members.
Messages (& Preview of Business Model)
This is your inbox for sending and receiving messages. The interface and experience, from a design perspective, is great. But let’s talk emotional experience.
It is the messages that give me an eery feeling about Cupidtino. Within 48 hours of my signing up, I received four messages from males of varying ages. That part is fine. But without knowing the intentions of people on the site, I can’t trust them. Internet safety means not accepting these messages at face value. Internet safety means questioning intentions.
Just moments after I specified that I was from California, I got a message from a 24-year-old male asking which part of “Cali” I was from. The first thing I did was to go to his profile. Seeing his black and white primary picture set off the warning signs in my head (lighting can do a lot). I didn’t really read his information. I have not and will not respond. I refuse to send my coordinates to a complete stranger.
Each message is followed by a link that reads, “Reply?” Yes, with a question mark. It’s almost as if Cupidtino is encouraging you to sit down and really think about whether or not your should respond.
A couple of the other messages were clear Do Not Responds in my mind. A “hi” and nothing else, a “quick line to say hello to a fellow Mac buff and to wish [me] a great weekend” and one about my picture.
But one message really got me scratching my head and further, turning to friends (and even K) for advice. The sender expressed a “genuine interest in the way [I] craft words” and asked for my personal blog URL, “if nothing else.” On the one hand, it’s just a blog URL. But on the other hand, my choice to respond could be taken at more than face-value. What does a response denote? What type of message does it send? What is he looking for? When K dubbed the message “a bit creepy,” I knew it was best not to reply. But I have to admit, I feel, for lack of a better word, like a bitch for ignoring what could have been a harmless message.
3 Problems —
Problem #1: Some members are looking to date, others to meet Apple fans, and, like all sites, some are just creepy lurkers — and there’s no way to know who is who off the bat. The site invites all kinds of people. As expressed by the creators, “Cupidtino is not purely an online dating site. It has elements of both, Facebook and Match.com. If you’re not interested in relationships, you can still use a Cupidtino profile to show of your Apple stuff.” There’s no way, however, for members to express whether they are on the site to network, match, or both.
Easy Fix: A “Looking for” (friendship, dating, a relationship, networking) section of your profile, sorry to make the comparison yet again, but just like Facebook. At least this way, people who see my profile will know why I’m on the site and for what purposes to contact me (whether they respect it is their prerogative).
Problem #2: It costs $4.79/month to read incoming messages (sending is free). As a new graduate saving for an iPad, an iPhone 4 without a contract, and a trip to Europe, I’m not about to waste almost $5/month to meet Apple fans. I’ve been successful enough meeting Apple fans on my own (or creating them out of non-Apple fans that I already know). Further, at this point in my life, I’m starting new endeavors that guarantee my meeting interesting people with similar interests to mine. I don’t need this site.
Also, if messages can be as simple as Subject: hi, Body: hi!, I’d get more entertainment flushing $4.79 down the toilet.
More importantly, I was asked to start paying immediately after I joined the site. I had not yet become attached. I didn’t feel that by opting out I would be missing out (I paid for a month’s membership so that I could read my messages and write this post).
(Easy) Fix: A one-month free trial. Get people hooked, then charge them.
Problem #3 (with a not-so-easy fix): For our generation, online social networking is mostly about re-connecting. We are Facebook friends with people we know – colleagues, classmates, and in more extreme scenarios, friends of friends and parents. It’s not as much about first-time connections.
This site requires a behavioral change. It tries to convince us that it is normal and acceptable to reach out to strangers in a private online setting. And we have no barometer for how and when to respond to strangers.
Fittingly, my favorite section. Here, members provide their favorite tunes, apps, and movies. Tunes are accompanied by an album cover image, apps with the icon you see on your phone or iPod, and movies with a DVD cover. Updated “Favorites” pages are aesthetically pleasing.
At this point, only songs can be “favorited” rather than the entire album. It took me two songs to figure this out, as my first “favorite” was the name of a song and album (Viva La Vida, for those interested).
I’m sure that Apple loves this next part. Clicking on the link to any favorite takes you to the iTunes preview for the album, movie, or app. Just two clicks to purchase!
Cupidtino’s “Search” approach is unlike that of Facebook and LinkedIn. I am accustomed to searching by name or interest (I reside in a world of hashtags and [at] signs), not age and gender as you do on Cupidtino. You enter the gender(s) in which you are interested, the gender(s) in which you wish your hits to be interested, and your age range and country of preference (region is optional). You can also click a box indicating that hits must have a primary photo uploaded to their profile page.
Search results show a list of 15 members per page, their names, ages, regions, and recent status updates, along with a photo thumbnail. This fits my schema for a “dating site” more than that of a “re-connecting” or “networking” site.
Privacy options include visibility and searchability. The three options for the former include: Everyone (including people who are not Cupidtino members), only Cupidtino members who are logged in, and only me. I chose the second option. For a person like me who eats the plethoric Facebook privacy options for breakfast, Cupidtino’s seemed a bit minimal. But when I think about it in terms of networks, it makes sense. Cupidtino members are a segment of a population, a “network” if you will. My profile is visible to that entire network. There is no further delineation.
Search options are “include my profile in search results” or “do not include my profile in search results.” At first I thought this referred to search results on Google and other search engines, so I selected “Do not…” I later realized that search refers to search results within the site, so changed it to yes. Being unsearchable seems to make membership a waste.
Sign-up is free. As Tweeters and Facebookers, this is what we’ve grown to expect. Most of what the site has to offer is free. Sending messages to others on the site (and reading their responses to your intiated message) is free. However, to read incoming messages initiated by others is $4.79/month, cleverly pegged to the price of a Starbucks Mocha Lite in Cupertino (keeping with the association of Apple fans and coffee shops). This seems like a great idea. Especially for those members on the site to date, they are going to want to read their messages. But, well, you already know my opinions and willingness to pay.
Just 2 hours and 13 minutes after I submitted a support query regarding the absence of an email verification step during registration, I received an email response from the CEO. I was impressed with the speed of the response. The email explained, “Following Twitter’s example to keep sign up as simple and fast as possible.”
I invited several Apple-using friends to the site for kicks (enter an email address and optional message). At least two of my ten invitees joined the site. In my message I felt compelled to specify that Cupidtino is not solely a dating site. The preconceived notion about dating sites in general or the lack of clarity regarding whether or not everyone on the site is looking for a relationship is a potential barrier to entry, especially for people our age (to me, dating sites seem a bit older).
This is the page where you can edit your email address, username, subscription, and password. It’s also where you can delete your account altogether.
This is coming soon. Rollover text suggests that this is where you can select your favorite Apple gadgets.
The (Apple) Core
I won’t deny the innovativeness and creativity of Cupidtino. But the aspect of connecting with strangers does not sit well with me for now. Meeting people online requires precautions, despite an automatic similarity. Though the creators insist that I will find “more people like me” on this particular site, from what I’ve seen, a random Apple fan (we both like Apple products) is just as similar to me as a random person in the Penn Facebook network (we both attended Penn). So for now, thanks, but no thanks. It’s good Cupidtino and Apple are not affiliated. I can walk away and still truthfully say I appreciate all Apple products.