“We experiment on human beings,” so said Christian Rudder, co-founder and president of matchmaking site OKCupid in a blog post.
You might have thought that he and his colleagues work tirelessly as data scientists trying to help Romeos of this world find their Juliets … and sometimes, they do.
But they’ve done other things, too. Like tell their customers that they’re 90 percent matches when, in truth, the likelihood was closer to 30 percent.
Why’d they do that, you may be wondering. To test the power of suggestion is the short answer. And it turns out that it’s pretty powerful.
People who were told they should like each other did, even though statistically, that shouldn’t have been the case. “The mere myth of compatibility works just as well as the truth,” Rudder wrote.
A Picture Is Worth …
We’ve all heard people say that it’s the personality they’re looking for in a mate, but it turns out, at least in the early days of OkCupid, it barely mattered at all. An attractive, near naked young woman clutching a piece of driftwood was judged to have a personality in the 99th percentile when her profile contained no text at all. So if you’re working on writing a powerful self-description, don’t bother. Opt for an airbrush or develop a sexy post instead.
In another experiment conducted last year on “Love Is Blind” day, the company found that 44 percent more people responded to first messages when they could not see the pictures and that the conversations went deeper during that period. When the pictures were revealed, “The goodness was gone, in fact worse than gone. It was like we’d turned on the bright lights at the bar at midnight,“ Rudder noted.
So what does all this amount to? That all of the data the dating site collects and all of the algorithms it runs don’t amount to much. At least that’s our interpretation.
If you’re looking for love and want to at least get a date, post a great picture and hope that whomever it attracted to you physically actually finds you interesting during your pre-date conversations.
Reality: A Persistent Illusion
Finally, it’s worth asking yourself how you feel about someone doing experiments with your data — data that was, after all, intended for other purposes.
Open your eyes. It’s how the Internet works is, in essence. At least that what Rudder said in the blog post.
So when it comes to pouring your heart and your hopes out on a dating site, beware of what it’s being used for. In the best case, you’re donating for the good of data science.