Ashley Madison – Full Review
Posted by Michelle | Filed under Reviews
Whether you have made up your mind or are just amazed that stuff like this exists and can’t help a certain titillation at the idea – if you want to dip your feet into the world of secret affairs online, the Ashley Madison Agency stands out among the pack of similar sites for several reasons.
The most important aspect for any community site – be it eBay, Facebook or a dating website – is the number of people on it. You want members, lots of ‘em, the more the merrier. And not just anywhere, but within driving distance. Because what good does it do to you if Mr. Classy Hunk turns out living in Chihuahua, Mexico?
It is here where Ashley Madison truly shines. When I played with the site on a Tuesday afternoon, I found more than 200 guys who had logged in within the last day, in each of the major cities (San Francisco, Kansas City, New York, Miami) and in each of the age groups I looked at (men in their 20s, 30s, 40s)! To test the limits of the site, I tried the small town of Helena, MT (population 26,000) and even there, Ashley Madison had one guy logging in THAT DAY in his 20s (aptly named “wastedyouth”), 7 in their 30s, and 3 men in their 40s. There were several dozen men looking for an affair total in each age group.
Ok, so quantity is great, what about quality? Let’s face it, no dating site is just a stud collection straight out of the Celebs & Style section in Cosmopolitan. But with the large number and variety of gents to browse you will easily find your match. Or he will find you. In fact, I found most men on the site respectful and pleasant, and the douchebag rate noticeably lower than on other dating sites. The reason is that on Ashley Madison the guys are in the same boat as you, understand your situation and your privacy requirements and share the same risks.
With more guys available than at any Superbowl party, heck, more than at the stadium, how do you find your perfect playmate? Good search tools! The simple quick-search bar is always ready for you: But you want to go to the Advanced Search screen. Besides the regular criteria (age, height, weight, ethnicity etc.), you can limit your search to only profiles with pictures, only new members (registered within 10 days) or – what I find the most useful – to men who are online right now or were active within the last few days. After all why would you want to waste your time messaging someone who is not using the site anymore?
A keyword option where you can enter free text matches anything in the profile descriptions and you can look up members by user name where you will get back everyone whose screen name contains the search term.
The result list is one of the few places that have room to improve. It shows some key data at one glance but why would you care about the cryptic profile number of all things? It would make more sense to put e.g. race there instead. Recently, Ashley Madison added the option to have Spanish profiles and now a big button announcing the profile language sits between the results and spaces them out unnecessarily. A denser design would be better and since you’re likely using the site in only one language anyway, I doubt the value of that button.
More annoying is Ashley Madison’s layout where the top and bottom parts are essentially two separate web pages squished into one. This screws up tabbed browsing, you can’t use the Back button on your browser reliably and on top of that, the right-click menu is disabled. For example you may go to page 3 of your search results, click through to a guy’s profile and when you click Back, you’re suddenly on page 1 of the results again.
Another issue is that you cannot change the order in which search results are listed. In fact, doing the same search twice can bring the same results in a different order and it’s not clear what they’re sorted by to begin with. The maximum number of results shown for any search is 200.
Now that you checked out the goodies, it’s time to complete your own profile. Many of Ashley Madison’s features are uniquely geared towards people who want to have an affair and nowhere can you see this better than in the profile design. Where other sites just give you an “About Me” field, on Ashley Madison you get these sections:
- Preferences and encounters I am open to
- What really turns me on
- What I am looking for
In each section you can check off a number of pre-selected items, (“Bubble Bath for 2″ anyone?), which makes setting up your profile easy if your writer’s block is kicking in again. But of course you can also pen your own masterpiece.
You can add multiple pictures to your profile, which people can click through, slide-show style. Only one will show at a time. In addition you also have a private showcase that nobody can see until you send them a key. You can post some more reveling images there and while main profile pictures cannot be enlarged, those private photos show in full size when clicked on. You’ll find that many people post only in that private showcase and leave the public picture blank for privacy. After all, we all want to have an affair and not get caught.
If you are worried about that, you can use another great example of affair-specific features: Personal Limits. They allow you to restrict your presence on the site to a level you feel comfortable with. Want to tickle your fantasy but not really hookup with a married man? No problem, just set your profile to “Cyber Affair / Erotic Chat”.
To that end, there is an instant messenger on top, which lets you have multiple private chats at the same time. It’s great to connect with someone instantly or exchange some racy lines, and – who knows? – you may get your fill just from some salacious virtual adultery! On the other hand, you will most likely be inundated with guys requesting a chat as soon as you sign up. It can be distracting when you’re just on the prowl through the profiles, but you can easily turn it off.
You have the regular winks, of course, as on any dating site. Luckily, they are relegated to their own tab in the messaging system because if you are an even half-attractive woman, your inbox will already be overflowing with other messages within hours. Turns out most of them are just notifications that some dude added you to his favorites, sent you a private picture key or requests yours. The filtering system comes in very handy here and will quickly become your favorite tool. Check for Custom Messages and Priority Mail, because those are the ones where he actually took the time to write you a personal note.
When writing and reading email, you have access to the guy’s key profile data right on the message screen as well as a link to his full profile, so you never forget which one of your dozens admirers you’re talking with. Very useful here is also the option to roll out the entire message history with that fellow, so it’s easy to refer to what was said or asked before.
An interesting option is to send collect messages. This makes sense with Ashley Madison’s fee structure, and allows you to email men without paying anything. Keep in mind though that he will have to pay to read your message, so make sure he’s a good match you would really like to get in touch with and say something meaningful.
The downgrade here comes from the same issues as with the search results: right-click disabled, cannot reliably work with multiple emails in separate tabs, back button issues. Also Ashley Madison stores mail for only 21 days, then they get auto-deleted. At least, you can manually save your best email gems for posterity in a special folder.
A unique Ashley Madison feature is the member feedback system.
Once you had contact with somebody, you can dish out those smiley points. And don’t worry, nobody can mark you down, no negative feedback here. Think about it, this really only makes sense on an affair website where people accept the idea that you can have multiple flings. On AM though, it can help you judge a guy’s personality and sincerity.
Very interesting also is the Traveling Man. What is the best time to have an affair without much risk of getting caught or long-term drama? When you’re on the road, of course! Yeah, those darn long business partner meetings far away… Much more fun when there’s a partner for a different kind of business! The Traveling Man feature allows to select a city outside of one’s own zip code and some criteria about who you want to meet and Ashley Madison will let you send a free custom priority message to up to 40 people.
Great idea, but there’s a downside: The feature is called Traveling MAN for a reason, it’s currently not available to women. Bummer! Can the otherwise so open-minded folks at Ashley Madison not envision traveling women? I hear a female version is in the works though and until then, you can at least take advantage of it from the other side. The Traveling Man messages are marked in your inbox and if you prefer short-term flings without long attachment, hook up with a business guy coming to town.
You can send virtual gifts to interesting men. There are two free options (Want to hint at your skilled tongue play? Send a cherry with a knotted stem!) and if you feel more generous, send a golden key to your “room” for 5 credits. I believe men have different options as I received roses and teddy bears. Those gifts arrive as a simple picture without any further function. Gimmicky perhaps, but still kinda neat.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch and someone’s gotta pony up to make Ashley Madison happen. But how it happens is probably the biggest difference to other sites. There is no membership fee here, instead everything is based on credits. No monthly commitment, no automatic re-billing, unused credits never expire – much better suited for a website where you occasionally go to have an affair than for a regular dating site.
As free guest member you can browse full profiles, send winks, read and reply to messages, and respond to chat invitations. What matters is who makes first contact. The first person to send a custom email or initiate an IM session has to pay in credits, thereafter all further communication with that member is free. Here are costs in credits:
|First email message||5|
|Initiate chat, 30 min||30|
|Initiate chat, 1 hr||50|
Accepting collect messages costs the same as directly sent ones, e.g. if you send a collect invitation to a chat session and the guy accepts, he’ll pay at least 30 credits for it.
To load up, Ashley Madison offers different bundles and I calculated what that means for a first email contact :
|1000||$249||$1.25||With “Affair Guarantee”|
|200||$79||$1.98||Follow-up purchases only|
|100||$49||$2.45||Introductory, only for new members|
The affair guarantee will refund your money if you don’t find anyone within three months – yeah, like that’s gonna happen to a fun fearless female like you!
Payments can be made by credit card with discreet billing (won’t say Ashley Madison), by electronic check directly from a bank account or even via trusty old Mr. Postman.
But should you pay at all? Think about it this way: As an attractive woman, you’ll probably get lots of messages to which you can respond for free. But it’s the men who choose you first in this case and Mr. Hot-And-Charming may or may not be among them. Sure, you could send collect messages or winks, hoping that he will pay for the first contact, but that could make you look like you’re digging for a sugar daddy. But if you buy a couple of credits, the power shifts to you to choose whoever YOU want without feeling indebted to anybody.