Who To Blame For the OKCupid Real Name Policy Decision

Posted By Debbie on December 23, 2017

The response to yesterday’s OKCupid announcement that they will get rid of usernames and move to real names has been met with nearly 100% negativity from former and current users (including me).

The company edited their original blog post announcement to make slight changes to try to calm the villagers with torches. Some people started noticing they couldn’t even get to the screen to delete their account unless they gave a “real” name. Some users noticed OKCupid took ANYTHING for a real name. Which begs the question, “If I can put UX as my first name and Chick as my last name, what have they really accomplished?”

The people commenting on the blog post had more reasons why this decision is bad than I blogged about yesterday. They had many excellent, important points such as what if your lifestyle is a bit alternative and you don’t want friends, family, co-workers, bosses finding you on OKCupid with your real name and everything you’re into. What about LGBTQ people, especially who may be in the closet. Why force them to use real names?

Sadly, many people told stories of being stalked and harassed (online AND in person) from what people got from their profiles now (without real names). They were justifiably afraid for their safety if their real first or last name were added to what they are already putting out there. And a few people linked to articles about times when other social sites tried force people to use real names and how that backfired or got undone.

OKCupid doesn’t seem to know who is responsible for this.

As soon as I saw the announcement yesterday, I emailed OKCupid to complain about their poor choice. Disaster for safety, bad for creativity. I received an email back saying they will share my feedback with their developers.

Wait. You made a policy change. It probably came from Product, possibly UX. I’m suggesting it’s a bad policy. And you will tell developers?

This is either the saddest form email this month OR even the support teams don’t understand who makes policy or feature changes.

And as a UX professional, I HOPE you are not sending customer feedback directly to developers or engineering teams. Sure, someone can summarise key things we’re hearing this week or month for engineering. But don’t send it to them like it’s a bug. And don’t send them every comment everybody makes.

I saw one comment that this was a good thing.

One person thought real names were good because then married men trying to date would be outed. Well… would they? If John Smith says he’s single (or married and poly), how do you know that’s not true? How do you know that the married part is true but the poly part would be news to his wife?

You can Google me all you want but you will NOT find anything public about the man in my life. Not his name, not his picture. You wouldn’t know if I’m married or not. If I live with him or not. So a real name is not an assurance of honesty or a definite trail to solid info.

How could this have been avoided?

This is where cross-functional teams have to have discussions. And IMO, this is where UX has to fight a battle. Don’t back down on this one.

If Product comes to you and says hey, some of our usernames are really stupid. Some are offensive. Let’s ban usernames! In that case, UX should push back against Product and say OK, we have a problem we have to solve but that’s not the only solution and it may not be the right one. UX should then brainstorm different solutions AND their possible reactions and outcomes.

UX should have the “right” and power to ask, “Are stupid usernames really a problem? Tell us more about how annoying, sexual, or “bad” usernames are a problem for our customers.” Product might say some people are offended by some of these names. Sure but OKCupid is definitely not in the business of applying morals to users… the site asks if you would like certain types of sex in graphic detail!

Perhaps data shows that people with the “worst” usernames commit the most harassment. OK but there are things in place for bad users no matter what their username is. Tell me more about how the USERNAME itself is a problem that has to be solved.

UX should push Product for whether or not this is a real problem. We don’t want to make changes or apply “solutions” to non problems. If UX thinks this is a problem, then we get to work on solutions.

Mini customer journey maps could help here.

Where are the problems? Where are opportunities to serve target audiences? Here are some scenarios I made up that could be turned into journey maps adding the emotions at different moments.

  • Sharon is signing up for our dating site. We ask her for her real name. Sharon remembers the time a guy she met on Match found out where she worked and showed up there a few times before he gave up. Sharon doesn’t want to use her real name. She gives a fake one (username “problem” not “solved”) or customer lost (she decides not to sign up).
  • This is Dave’s first time on a dating website. He’s pretty shy and it’s important that he lets everybody know how much he loves Studio Ghibli. He really hopes to find a partner who shares his passion. OKCupid tells him he can’t name himself Totoro1970 and he has to be Dave. Dave feels like he has less of a chance to find a special someone. How will he stand out in search results with all the other Daves? Dave questions if he should continue on this site or use the others ones his friends are talking about.
  • Anne is already a member but got an email saying she has to use her real name. Anne doesn’t care. She uses Facebook Login for everything. Her real name is everywhere. Sure, why not be honest and exposed here too. Anne doesn’t care or think about it much. She just goes along with it.
  • Pat has been going through some changes the last few years. Pat’s finally feeling more open about the things Pat’s into. Pat wants a “they” pronoun and is getting more comfortable with their preferences and needs. OKCupid seems like a good place to find other people who might be into the same things. Pat would NOT want an ex or employer to find out about their other life, their private life. Pat sees the form asking for a real name and stops, shocked. Can Pat join this site when their real name would be right there for anybody to see? Is this searchable on Google? When people see Pat’s name, will they then find them on Facebook or LinkedIn? If their boss is also on OKCupid, could the boss find this profile and see all the questions Pat might answer about how they like sex? Pat closes their browser and needs to think about this some more. Customer lost.

UX should be able to demonstrate that this might not really be a problem.

Many of the people commenting on the announcement said they LOVE seeing bad or disgusting usernames because that tells them to avoid that person without even looking at the profile. I’d agree! Usernames are creative but also fantastic warning signs. I will immediately block someone who picked a name like “DaddySpankU69” (I made that up but plenty like that are out there) because he has told me everything about him I need to know.

If this really is a problem, UX will have solutions. But the solution might not be “no usernames ever again.” Perhaps it’s like custom license plates. Some words and strings are banned. OKCupid has enough data to know all of the “offensive” strings and their variations. Maybe nobody can use 69. Nobody can say “Daddy.” I have no idea what the rules are but you can keep usernames and just give them rules if there appears to be a problem with certain types of usernames.