Blued browsing: indexing gay men into standard data

When users sign up on Blued, the first page requires a headshot, a screen name, their date of birth, their height, their weight, their sex roles (four default options are: top numbered as 1, versatile numbered as 0

5, bottom numbered as 0, and others signaled by ‘?’), and unit types (choosing either ft/lb or cm/kg to display height and weight). The next page asks users to disclose their body types and personalities. Body type consists of four tags: ‘monkey’ (a thin body), ‘average’, ‘bear’ (a hefty body), and ‘muscular’. There are 12 tags in the personality pane: ‘masculine’ (ye men), ‘sunshine’ (yang guang), ‘big uncle’ (da shu), ‘slutty inside decent outside’ (men shao), ‘bad inside kind outside’ (fu hei), ‘bossy’ (ba dao), ‘frosty’ (gao leng), ‘loyal dog’ (zhong quan), ‘cold outside hot inside’ (ao jiao) dating online Idaho, ‘natural dull’ (tian ran dai), ‘cute fresh’ (xiao qing xin), and ‘warm guy’ (nuan nan). All these tags carry loose cultural references whose meanings are open to individual interpretations. Their meanings can sometime overlap. For example, ‘bossy’ shares a similar idea with ‘masculine’, but the former emphasizes more of an aggressive masculinity with no personal strings attached in sex. By contrast, ‘warm guy’ embodies a gentle, tender, and caring character. In the final step, users are encouraged to select their preferred body types, personalities, and what they are looking for. The tags of body type and personality are the same as in the previous step. The ‘looking for’ option contains five tags: ‘chat’, ‘date’, ‘friend’, ‘boyfriend’, and ‘gym buddy’. Upon finishing the account set-up, users can add more information in the personal profile, including a text headline and their relationship status, race, place of residence, hometown, and blood type. This registration process demonstrates the technology for the classification of gay men into standard data units, both numeric numbers and non-numeric tags. Rieder ( 2017 ) calls these standardized yet plastic methods of abstracting, organizing, and ordering messy data as ‘algorithmic techniques’, which attribute the non-numeric objects with calculability.

Before my analysis proceeds, it is important to input here that this datafied gay man is not necessarily a whim of software engineers but rather part of a historical lineage of self-coding practices in China’s gay cyberculture. My personal experiences can illustrate this. In 2007, I had the first ever gay contact of my life on the Internet. At the beginning of our chat, the man threw in a plain but quite confusing question, ‘What is your condition (qing kuang)?’ I was puzzled by the word ‘condition’ used here. Therefore, my immediate response was ‘What do you mean? What condition?’ However, he never answered. On the very same day, I joined a gay group chat on QQ instant messenger. I was amazed to see a list of number sets in a uniform style on the group member panel – they did not have a screen name but only a number sequence, for example, ‘28-180-70-1′. In this group chat, for the first time I learned that ‘condition’ is a standardized self-introduction for Chinese gay men, which is composed of age, height, weight, and sex roles. Prior to the advent of gay dating apps in China, the protocol of ‘condition’, encoding gay men into a numeric value, was the norm for socializing in the online gay community.

A gay man who failed to do this self-datafication would be shunned, as exemplified by my own experience

Although the self-datafication of gay men began before the invention of dating apps, the protocol of ‘condition’ in gay sociality is not fully algorithmic. It reflects, at best, a quantified self of gay men. However, when app developers further developed this line of protocols, standardizing not only ‘condition’ but also other elements that are relevant to same-sex dating preferences, a rich database with calculability was formed. This can be illustrated in Blued’s user interface. When browsing on Blued, geographically nearby others are visible in either a list or a grid view – this is different from Grindr, which has only a grid view. In contrast with Grindr’s grid view, under which the user’s visibility is reduced to only a headshot and screen name, Blued’s list view allows users to see nearby others represented by their headshot; their screen name; a number sequence of age, height, and weight; as well as a brief line of self-introduction, distance, and last time online. In this way, users on Blued are more data configured and produced than on Grindr in terms of browsing, without the need to tap on profiles to see more detailed information about a specific user.