Who Are You Going to Tell?

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There is an old joke about a rabbi who goes golfing on Yom Kippur, although I am sure there are variants about an imam in ramadan or priest during Lent. It is such a beautiful day, and the rabbi never gets a chance on the links, so he skips synagogue and heads out.

On the first hole, he swings... hole in one! He cannot believe it! He moves on to the second... hole in one! The story repeats itself throughout the course. The rabbi is having the best game of his life... on Yom Kippur!

Up in heaven, the angels approach God and ask him what he is doing. "The Rabbi skips synagogue on the holiest day to play golf, and you give him a perfect game?!" The Lord answers with a smile, "About that perfect game... who, exactly, is he going to tell?"

I was reminded of the story when reading a great analysis of the Ashley Madison (AM) hack by Annalee Newitz writing for Gizmodo.

According to the data, AM has ~37MM registered men - who pay for the site - and ~5.5MM registered women. That isn't too surprising, although the disparity makes it far worse than your average singles bar. If every man has to compete with 6 others for each woman, the numbers do not look very good, whether it is a dating site or a cheating site.

However, as anyone in any subscriber business knows, it isn't the total number of users, but the total number of active users that counts. And here Annalee found the gem.

Using number of times a user has checked his or her AM email at least once as a reasonable proxy for activity - if you don't check, you cannot do much - she came up with these numbers:

  • Active men: 20MM, or 54% of registered
  • Active women: 1,500, or 0.03% (yes, that is 3 percent of 1 percent) of registered

The ratio of active men to active women is 13,333 to 1. As a friend of mine said, you would have a better chance of meeting someone in prison.

The interesting business question, though, is, how they can survive. If millions of men are paying for access (I have no idea if it is monthly or annual prepaid, nor do I have any interest in even bringing up the site to check), how are others continuing to sign up? With any service with such high a level of failure to deliver the goods, word gets around quickly and people stop signing up.

Imagine if you paid for LinkedIn premium, and found absolutely no one to whom you could send InMail or other premium features, or if the site didn't work. You would tweet and share it, and very quickly no one would pay for it.

How did AM continue to get signups without it?

"Who is he going to tell?"

A man who signs up to a cheating site, and feels, well, cheated, cannot tweet it, write a review, or tell his friends and family, "hey, don't use this; I tried it and it isn't worth it."

The man on the site is the rabbi on the golf course on Yom Kippur. He may have a great game or terrible game, but once he got fleeced, who is he going to tell?