Meeting people. In a romantic sense. What a monumental ball-ache. For a start it usually happens in a pub or club, which means you’re senseless with booze and have to shout, thereby steamrollering any nuance in what you have to say and rendering your best-laid conversational zingers as blithering drunktalk.
Plus, the whole situation is so phony. If you’re single, and you’re introduced to another single person, you’re inclined to project a desperate sort of I-am-potentially-available-for-sex version of yourself, which may have precious little to do with your actual personality. Frankly it’s a miracle anyone gets together ever.
No wonder dating sites are booming. They take the social sting out of meeting strangers. Actually, that’s not true: dating sites merely defer the agony until the first date. But still, you can see the appeal, especially as online dating has lost some of its stigma. These days no-one thinks you’re some kind of whey-faced spod just because you met your girlfriend on Guardian Soulmates.
Then again, maintaining an online persona can be just as exhausting as manufacturing a real one. All those categories to fill in and interests to feign (fringe theatre, Vogon poetry, kabbadi). Some of us don’t even have personalities beyond our music taste. Wouldn’t it be easier if we could just list bands we liked? Well yes, obviously it would.
Enter Tastebuds.fm, a new-ish dating site aimed solely at music fans. Its USP is its simplicity: you just enter your favourite music, and it puts you in touch with people in your area who like the same thing. “A lot of dating sites are boring,” says co-founder Alex Parish, a web developer and part-time musician. “It’s hard to spark up a conversation. But with Tastebuds you have this easy route in.”
Launched in summer 2010, the site now has 10,000 users, though Parish says he doesn’t know how many of those people – if any – have gone on actual dates after meeting on Tastebuds.
You can certainly see the mainstream potential, though the concept of music-powered dating raises a number of questions. Can you base a relationship on a shared love of Esben And The Witch? Is this really anything new? Haven’t people always (well, since 2005-ish) used social media, especially Myspace and Last.fm, to project their music tastes and meet new people?
I thought I’d sign up and find out if Tastebuds could be the social web’s next big thing, or just a clever gimmick. Trouble is, I’m married, so I couldn’t exactly play it straight, in case (yes yes, staggeringly unlikely, I know) I got some actual attention. So I used a cunning disguise.
Parish told me the site’s users are predominantly indie-rock types: the most frequently selected artists are Radiohead, The Smiths, Arcade Fire, Animal Collective. Unfortunately, I like those artists too and I couldn’t run the risk of meeting someone with whom I had anything in common. So I pretended to be into acts only a maniac could love: Jamiroquai, The Lighthouse Family, Son Of Dork, and Afroman of ‘Because I Got High’ fame.
Quite a catch, huh?
So, who did Tastebuds try to set me up with? Based on our shared music tastes, only six people were deemed suitable, all of them Jamiroquai fans. One of them, Agata, seemed unwilling to reveal any part of her face above the mouth, which made we wonder what she was hiding. An eye patch, perhaps, or a comedy Groucho Marx glasses-and-moustache.
Then there was Shaunee, who looked like a nice person, but you know, again with the Jamiroquai. It’d never work out. What if ‘our song’ ended up being something off ‘A Funk Odyssey’? I could never live with myself.
The results? After one week my profile had been viewed once. I had no fans and had not been favourited by anybody. Presumably if there’d been a ‘recoil in horror’ function or a ‘point and laugh’ button I’d have scored quite highly. But no, my inbox remained bafflingly free of flirtatious emails with lots of x's on the end.
But don’t let my experience put you off. I was, after all, basically pissing about. In all honesty, Tastebuds is a dazzlingly slick and intuitive site with enormous potential for growth. It’s one of those ultra-simple ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ ideas, and deserves every success.
Plus, it’s got to beat actually talking to people. What kind of relationship ever blossomed on that basis?