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Frequently Asked Questions

This section is part of the Romance.ucam.org online help system. (show contents). You can also view the entire document as a single very long page.

But how did it get that way? (Controversies)

Some of the design choices for the site have been slightly controversial: while we do our best to make things perfect for everyone, there are a few cases where we cannot. In such instances, there are valid reasons for each of the alternatives, and we've simply had to choose. Here, we shall try to explain why it got that way.

Hiding from the Top Bar / Invisibility / 'Cats'

One of the most common requests we received was for people to be able to hide themselves from being visible in the top right when they are logged in. This feature was originally discussed at length, publicly debated, and we decided against it. However, upon further reflection, we decided to implement it as an experiment. This experiment proved to be a success, and as a result of collecting your votes, we have decided to keep the feature. Over the course of a week, a total of 337 people voted, with a split of 49%-51%. However, by category, there was a marked difference, with 75% of Females in favour, and 75% of Males against. Furthermore, although it has been contentious, only 2.5% of people are actually using the feature! Therefore, we've decided to keep it. Here are some of the arguments:

Arguments against an invisibility option
Such a feature would be useful, but was discussed at length, and has several disadvantages. If we were to disable the top-right list entirely, people would lose a very useful feature, and it would make it hard to chat online to people currently logged in. If we were to make it optional, the feature would become confusing and complicated (and inaccurate); it would also focus even more attention upon those who did not opt out. [Exception: on their very first login, new members are initially invisible to give them a moment to look around and create a description before messages arrive. Once they send their first message to someone, (or when they log out and in again), this "cloaking device" permanently deactivates.]

Here are a few of your selected comments:
* "During the odd idle moment, I've been able to chat with some fantastic people whom I might not have talked with simply on the basis of their profile. Removing it altogether would take away the spontaneous fun that just can't be had browsing through the long lists of the 'View profiles' section." * "By introducing the option of invisibility, you'd find that fewer people were logging on because they can't see that their friends are online - it would make for a much less direct means of communication, at best." * "Let people decide for themselves what works best for them. There's nothing to be gained from removing functionality that some people find useful." * "There is a 'tipping point': at the login screen, you can see who is online and who is not; part of your decision to log in or not may be based on the number of people online. When numbers have increased beyond a certain 'tipping point', more members are willing to sign in in the expectation of a conversation. Introducing an invisibility option may actually decrease the number of people logging on."

Arguments in favour of an invisibility option
On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to the top-bar display. It can create significant pressure upon the people in the current minority category, sometimes causing them to leave as a result. Also, because people tend only to chat to other people who are logged in, fewer people are encouraged to produce detailed profiles, and those who are not logged in all the time tend to be ignored. Also, while chatting is pleasant, it is often a very inefficient use of time: it might be more fruitful to search for someone perfect by looking through the profiles! Sending messages only to people who are currently logged in is a common mistake. Also, people should have the choice to use the site in their own way; whereas some people have chosen to leave entirely because of the excess "pressure". Here are a few of your selected comments:
* "Well, people who are hiding simply have to take the initiative and get messaging people who they actually want to message. I can see their reasoning - who hasn't been in the 'oh, so-and-so's online, I want to go online to speak to Bloggs but i don't feel like it now I know so-and-so's there' situation?" * "It might even prove beneficial to remove the top-bar display entirely." * "...I am much more interested in replying to people's ads and looking for a boyfriend than chatting, and have got little out of spending ages corresponding randomly with people who happen to be online when I am....I think it is crucial for the female users of the site to have the option of not disclosing their online status. Because there are usually so many more men online, logging in can feel like dipping your toe into shark-infested waters...I find the site more pleasant when I can conceal my identity at will..."

As a result of the votes, and of your opinions, we are going to keep the invisibility option as it now stands. Cupid would still welcome your opinions, but please bear in mind that there is a very large weight of arguments on both sides!

Ordering of profiles defaults to Random

When you look at profiles in a particular category, the default ordering is now random. It used to be ordered by most-recently logged-in [you can still choose this if you click the link]. This is so that it is fairer, when you browse through the profiles. Otherwise, the people who log in most regularly get all the attention. This is unfair to those who haven't logged in most recently, and may be unhelpful to those who have (because they may receive more messages than they can reply to.)

The "Category mismatch" warning

If you are in category MsF, and try to send a message to someone in FsF, (or if you are MsM and try to send a message to someone in MsF), you may be interested in them, but they may well not be interested in you. Therefore, when you send a message, there is a notice to this effect. Social interactions are usually well received, however romantic attentions are usually very unwelcome across a category mismatch, hence the request to consider carefully whether the message will be wanted before you send it. In most cases, this works well, and has been helpful, however, we have received one comment to the effect that this is discriminatory. We respectfully disagree: while we despise gender discrimination, this is after all a personals site, and it would be unreasonable to expect people to set aside their own gender preferences in this context! As to which categories constitute a mismatch, for example, MsM -> FsM is not a mismatch, while FsM -> MsM is not usually a source of annoyance for the recipient.

Account deletion delay, aka "deletion goggles"

Accounts cannot be deleted immediately: there is a delay of 24 hours. We'd like to explain why we do this... it's not just to annoy you!

  • It gives you time to say goodbye to your correspondents, and encourages you to do so. It also gives them time to reply to any outstanding messages from you.
    (People often find it very hurtful if their correspondents suddenly evaporate without a trace.)

  • In case you've had any technical problems with the site (or difficulties with other members), this gives us a chance to address them.
    (Note that cyber-bullying is very rare: perhaps once in 3 years; but account-closure deletes information; tell us first before departing)

  • The time-limit is similar to Google's "Mail Goggles", i.e. time for consideration.

  • It's not in the best interest of your own trans-temporal self to be able to vanish instantly.

It is perhaps worth expounding upon that last point. If it's too common for people to suddenly vanish, this hurts their correspondents. The entire community becomes more reluctant to invest time and emotional energy in making connections that might snap at any moment. In turn, this harms you, or at least, your past self, as someone who wanted to use Romance.ucam.org to meet someone.

For example, consider that A invests a lots of time coresponding with B. One evening, in a moment of 'alcohol-fueled clarity', B decides to 'give up on love' or 'meet people in the real world' or 'devote herself to her work'. B hypothetically immediately closes her account, vanishing permanently without even saying goodbye. This hurts A, who, becoming once-bitten-twice-shy, is less likely to again take the emotional risk which is necessary as the first step in falling in love. (This in turn, indirectly harms future-C and past-B.) The delay exists to strongly encourage B to say goodbye (and perhaps exchange contact-details) before leaving. Hence, we must slightly inconvenience you now (as B'), for the reflected benefit of your own past-self (A).
[...and yes, this explanation was written by a physicist.]

Please feel free to send Cupid a message if you have any thoughts about this process (or the trans-temporal externalities): your feedback is always welcome. We do value our members, but this policy isn't because we're desperate to hang onto you! It has been quite carefully considered, as a way (albeit imperfect) to balance the needs of different people. Should you need to close an account urgently, please ask for assistance.

Alternatives: make your profile invisible (set display your profile = no on the settings page); reduce email-notifications, or decline new messages. Or use degree rescue mode.

Joining the various websites - why not?

It is sometimes suggested that we should merge, for example, the Cambridge and Oxford sites. The reason we have not done this is because we think that locality is important. In our view, the entire point of chatting to someone is to then be able to meet them - and this is far more practical if they are a 5 minute walk away than if they are 3 hours away by train!

Photographs have to be approved before they can be displayed

When you upload a photograph, it doesn't go live immediately, but must first be approved by a moderator. We didn't originally do this, but now do. The vast majority of photos submitted are perfectly fine, and are approved instantly. But occasionally, despite very clear guidance on the file upload page, people don't upload a photo of themselves that clearly show what they actually look like. This would be especially unfair given that some people choose only to make their photo visible to others who also show their photo. Other problems include photos that are very indistinct or zoomed-out so far that the person cannot really be seen, attempts to upload avatars (we've had a tesco shopping bag, and a very cute duckling), use of a celebrity photo, infringement of someone else's copyright (where the photo is obviously watermarked), or, very rarely, something indecent.

There is no indication of when a message has been read (read receipts)

Sometimes, we are asked to provide the sender with an indication of whaether a particular message has been read by the recipient. This would indeed by nice for the sender to know. However, it is often information that the recipient would rather not provide, since it pressures them unduly. A similar situation is the use of automatic "message-read receipts" in email: we find such requests to be impolite, and always set our email clients to discard them unanswered. If you have not received a reply to your message, it is acceptable to send a follow-up ("did you get my message about..."), after a suitable delay. [See also the faq on etiquette.]
For a similar reason, we don't display the exact times when a person was last logged in (on the view profiles page), but we introduce a degree of jitter.

Why is the set of options for 'additional attributes' limited?

In the Additional attributes section of the profile, options are chosen by a , which has about 8-12 possibilities. We are often asked to add more options: why not?
This question has also been asked as:
  • Please add "Computer Science" to the Subjects list. (The nearest match is currently 'Engineering'.)
  • Please add "Anglican" as a middle-way between Catholic and Protestant. (Theologically, Anglicanism is not a subset of Protestantism.)

The intention of this feature is to divide people into 5-10 roughly equal-sized groups on each category, for the purposes of searching, and having relatively common groups. Categories can't overlap, and it has to allow for searching by pre-defined criteria. Otherwise, it would become unwieldy and less useful. For example, consider searching for someone interested in "The Arts". At the moment, the search criterion is Subject='Humanities'. It wouldn't be fun having to run 6 consecutive searches for Subject='English' OR Subject='History' OR Subject='Music' OR Subject='French' OR Subject='German' OR Subject='Classics' (...and oops, we missed out the unfortunate student of Italian!)

That said, you can always put more details into the main text body of your profile. Also, we do always welcome your feedback, and we will always consider ideas, especially if you have an idea for a new category.

Why do we only have traditional "male" and "female" options for gender, rather than a broader spectrum?

Firstly, if this applies to you, let us be absolutely clear: you are welcome and valued in the Romance.ucam.org community. For information about people, please see the section on diversity; for technical information about the technical (programming) issues, please read on...

Not everybody self-identifies strictly as "male" or "female": there is a whole spectrum of masculinity and femininity, gender and sexuality. So, why do we use the labels "male" and "female" rather than embracing the full spectrum of gender possibilities?
When Cupid originally wrote the site many years ago, he didn't know any of this, and so, for historical reasons, we have the underlying dichotomy of sex={Male,Female} and trichotomy of seeks={Male,Female,Either}. We're very sorry we got that wrong, and have worked to fix it. (This fix is now mostly complete, but there is always more we could do.)

Furthermore, we also want to be inclusive of Trans (transexual/transgender) people, which adds complexity, because some trans people consider trans as an "alternative" gender to M/F, while others consider it an additional dimension. This means that if we made "other" an alternative to M/F, we would deny the identity of the second group. On the other hand, we don't support "unspecified", because we would ultimately have to display unspecified somewhere, which would be, de-facto, under "other".

That's why we now offer the following settings, which are not necessarily mutually exlusive:

  • Sex: {Male,Female}  [boolean, required]    → for the heteronormative defaults. Also used as a "base class" (in programming terms).
  • Seeks: {Male,Female,Either}  [ternary, required]    → for straight/gay/bi people. {Sex,Seeks} form the main 6 categories available in list and search.
  • Category: {Cis, Trans_AND, Trans_XOR}  [default: Cis]    → for trans people, overrides category above. E.g. MsF, TransM_sF, Trans_not_M.
  • I identify as  [free-text x2, optional]    → allows you to change the words on your profile where it says "Category: ___ seeking ___".
  • Pronouns  [optional]    → allows you to change the pronouns we use about you. E.g. "Name has set xyr photo to be private".
  • Relationshiptype, xattr.looking_for  [free-text, recommended]    → what relationship you seek. Helpful for Ace (asexual) and Poly (polyamorous) people.
  • How-to-date-me  [optional]    → to explain your own needs and desires. Useful for Survivors who may wish to establish different norms.
  • Profile text  [required]    → where you talk about who you are, your personality, and your interests. Not everything in romance is to do with gender :-)
  • Privacy and anonymity  [inbuilt]    → We protect your privacy and anonymity as well as we can. This is particularly important to those who are not "out".

When signing up, you should pick the most nearly-appropriate choice of male/female for yourself, and then elaborate on the details subsequently. The settings above allow you to override the M/F default in most cases.
You can change your gender from M ⇆ F on the edit page, but you need to request the administrator to enable this for you; unfortunately admin-intervention is necessary, because occasionally people think it's amusing to masquerade as a fake profile, and that can cause significant distress. Also, please understand that the T&C requirement to "sign up with your correct gender" is directed at those who would create fake accounts for the purpose of "trolling". It isn't intended in any way to catch out those for whom heteronormativity doesn't apply.

How might it be completely fixed? It would be very tricky to do, because gender is such a complex topic, and we could easily fall into the trap of trying to solve the problem of putting people in the wrong box by infinite proliferation of boxes! Therefore, we try to provide a reasonable set of common options and a degree of flexibility, and encourage people to use free-text to describe themselves more fully. In addition, there are some mathematical problems that would need to be solved (example: if the default complement of 'straight-male' is 'straight-female', and the complement of 'gay-male' is 'gay-male', then what is the complement of an arbitrary shape in a 4-dimensional coordinate system?), and some remaining technical ones to do with logic, code-structure, SQL, and user-interface, and then testing it from all perspectives. Finally, there are some historical reasons: the software contains over 500 locations where sex is assumed to be a boolean variable (i.e. that "Not-M" implies "F" and vice-versa), and re-factoring this would be exceptionally time-consuming (and probably not entirely helpful - given that some trans-people identify as "trans-ness is a subset of my [fe]maleness" while others identify as "trans-ness is an alternative to [fe]male-ness"). Also, if the range of categories became too large, nobody would ever be able to search by category, or to get a near-match. [Similar granularity problems arise in the boolean field "smoker/non-smoker". What about the person who just smokes very occasionally? Other, common wrong-but-useful assumptions occur with names and email addresses.]

Our design principles here are:

  • Humanity - welcome, respect and value everyone. Make sure people can express their identity and their needs.
  • Boxes - have enough options to ensure no-one is mis-represented, but not so many that it becomes confusing and un-searchable.
  • Practicality - the code must actually be implementable, correct, understandable, and usable. Developer time is finite.
  • Feedback - we listen to what you say. Please tell us how we can improve.

Outstanding bugs related to gender:

  • Other is orthogonal to Male-Female rather than on the same line. Can't fix this, without limiting the options of Trans_XOR people.
  • Signup requires a decision of Male vs Female. Selecting "other" or "unspecified" leads only to a (helpful) error message. Workaround: sign up, then configure the details. To do.
  • Minor: colours etc. People in Trans XOR M/F still get the M/F colours. We'd like to fix this. First step: what colour should represent "other"? Then, fix the multitude of places it is used.
  • Have we missed something? Tell Cupid.

The # "favicon" for stealth mode

OK, we admit it: it's a very geeky in-joke. It's meant to signify invisibility, and be at least fairly unrecognisable to passers-by, especially when the window is minimised. In computer programming, "comments" are parts of the program intended only for the programmer, but effectively invisible to the computer.
/* For example, this is a comment. */
# This is another one.
We're not going to spoil the hidden reference on the Correspondence page by revealing it here...

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