HOT or NOT is based on two simple, clever ideas. They started, I believe, with just one, which was the ability to rate a picture of another person’s “hotness”.
Rating a picture is not a terribly clever or exciting idea, but a few twists made it addictive. You’re faced with a picture of a girl or guy (you get to choose), and you have to give their attractiveness a rating out of ten, or the site doesn’t do anything else. Want to see another picture? Rate this one. Want to find out more about this person? First, rate the picture. Rather surprisingly, I also found myself motivated by a desire to see how my ratings compared with the norm, and you guessed it, if you want to know that person’s average rating, first you have to rate the picture.
It’s a simple idea. Users are rewarded in these three ways, the simplest of which being they get to see another picture, and to achieve this reward they end up generating a simple but useful form of site content (the ratings).
Like all clever ideas, it’s been cloned endlessly on the internet. I first encountered it about four years ago, and by that time it already existing in such endless permutations (RateMyWife, RateMyRack, RateMyPet, etc) that I gather it had been around for a while.
The other idea at HOT or NOT is a slight variation on the same thing. Instead of rating someone’s attractiveness from one to ten, you just do so with a “yes” (I’d like to meet them) or “no”. If you and another use both happen to say “yes” to each other, then the site will put you in contact. The main reward motivations described above still apply, because the site still fires picture after picture at you, and this conveyor-belt of content is powered by you clicking on your response for each one.
Strangely, I have a memory of considering this concept from when I was a young teenager. At this point, I doubt I was actually using the internet, even though it existed in various forms. Lets say I was about fifteen, and like most fifteen year old geeks, I had a few good friends, but was certainly not popular. I was starting to think about girls, and there seemed to be no possibility of actually getting one.
I recall standing in the bathroom of my parents house, and looking at myself in the mirror. I was a weedy little thing, but I could see, in certain ways that I might post, that I could surely be considered attractive by some. So I considered if every girl in the world could see that image of me in the mirror that I could see. There are a whole lot of girls out there, even if it’s just every girl in my school. Without any social pressures at play, how many of them would say “yes, I’d like to kiss that boy”? I considered that if I likewise looked at every girl in the school and answered the same question, we could see which ones matched, however I no doubt admitted to myself that I would probably say “yes” for just about every single girl. Still, it seemed to me that plenty of girls out there were just as lonely as me, and I didn’t care how many other boys they said “yes” to, as long as they said yes to me.
The whole dating site industry seems to be driven by this idea that people are basically lonely and would just love to say “yes” to other compatible people, if only there weren’t social pressures not to, and most critically, if only there was no need to worry about rejection. I’m not sure if that’s as true as we might think, but the HOT or NOT concept is probably the simplest and cleanest implementation of this idea that I can think of, and the interaction between the web site and the user is so clearly beneficial to both parties that it just works, with no effort at all.