Posted: 2017-12-06 15:05
I don’t attribute this to an alignment of stars, to the mercy of the web gods and goddesses, or even to OKC’s algorithm, which supposedly uses questions such as “What’s worse, book burning or flag burning?” to determine how suited you are for other users. Instead, I chalk up my positive online dating experiences -- which, with the exception of a brazen date who rudely shushed fellow theatergoers (referred to amongst my friends henceforth as “the shusher”), has been without horror stories -- to my careful evaluation of a potential match’s username before arranging a date. Puns and hyper-masculine references were mostly no-gos. They were, to me, the pseudonym equivalent of a cheesy pickup line. Much more appealing were earnest self-depictions or vague, consciously nonsensical noun mish-mashes. They represented a dry humor than aligns with my own.
Rudder is right. Username trends are difficult to map. Unlike gender or income level, there are limitless options and combinations of traits. But, another data-driven researcher I spoke with, Susan Herring , a professor of information science and linguistics at Indiana University, found the question intriguing. She conducted a small study to determine whether there are trends in username choice, and whether the way we choose usernames has changed since Internet’s nascent days. She surveyed over 855 usernames on OKCupid, coding them for information relating to the following categories: gendered, real name, numbers, trying to be funny, geographical reference, hobby/interest, profession, sex/love, physical attributes, nonphysical attributes, sentential, “random” words, meaning unclear.
I began with Christian Rudder , OKCupid’s founder and the author of Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) , a book that uses data from the dating site to draw conclusions about message language, message length, depressing discrepancies between male and female age preferences, and more. But he concluded that from a data standpoint, usernames are too unique to draw specific conclusions.
According to Herring''s survey, usernames on OKCupid are an average of characters. She compared this with the number of characters in usernames from Internet Relay Chat logs she''s saved from 6999 -- names on that site were an average of characters. This can of course be explained by the sheer number of users on OKCupid, but also the fact that, as opposed to IRC, the site is transparent, and allows users to see names, photos, ages, and other information by scrolling through a profile. This frees up users to get inventive names now include "profession, interests, personal attributes and attitudes, and what the user is seeking or promising," according to Herring.
Fourteen percent of users surveyed by Herring included gender identifiers in their avatars. Among men, "son," "mrman," and "hulk" were used among women, "girl," "queen," "gal," "goddess," and "woman" were popular. Compared with the IRC data, trends among OKCupid users were generally similar across genders. In the 6999 survey, women were more likely to identify with their genders, and men were more likely to use humorous or random names or words to represent themselves.