What first lured me to online dating was the promise of using math to identify my perfect match. I'd seen commercials and magazine ads highlighting the technology behind the various websites, and to me it made perfect sense that data and math could do a much better job of bringing together compatible people than hope, fate, and a few Friday night cocktails.
Modern dating sites all promise top-secret magic algorithms that solve for what's referred to in the dating industry as the tyranny of choice. With millions of profiles logged in to online databases, there is a glut of choices. Surrounded by too many options, we become paralyzed, overwhelmed, and unable to make a decision. Some of us begin to think that we have infinite opportunities and become lured by the prospect of bigger, better deals. Others just want out, so they're willing to settle for someone who seems good enough at that moment in time.
The process of creating a successful dating site happens in many steps. Developing a set of algorithms is the start. Equally important is the data itself. It turns out that the design of a dating website and how it manages data collection is significantly more important than the algorithms alone in determining successful matches. I argue that that algorithms alone can't create good matches.
Why? Because most of us answer the questions on dating sites aspirationally rather than honestly. We think about idealized versions of ourselves and paint a skewed profile, often not on purpose, but because these sites are designed to make us feel great about ourselves. If we don't enjoy the experience of entering our own user data, then the system will have less information to parse and ultimately too little content to push through its algorithms. That said, if we want a stable, happy long-term relationship, we can't answer questions as the people we hope to be five years from now, but instead must answer them as the people we are right now, regardless of how overweight / too short / not well traveled / whatever we are in the present.
Dating sites and the algorithms they advertise purport to sort through our personalities, wants, and desires in order to connect us with our best possible matches. Which means that we've outsourced not just an introduction, but the consideration of whether or not that man or woman is really our ideal. We're putting our blind trust in a system that's meant to do the heavy lifting of figuring out what it is that we really want out of a mate, and what will truly make us happy. This job is being processed using the information that we, ourselves, have entered into a computer system. Bad data in equals bad data out. Algorithms that dating sites have spent millions of dollars to refine aren't necessarily bad. They're just not as good as we want them to be, because they're computing our half-truths and aspirational wishes.
Here's the wiser move. Exploit online dating sites for what they really are: searchable databases. The "dating" part happens in the real world, not online. I created my own frameworks, made some formulas and used a whole bunch of math to parse the perfect dataset and man of my dreams. Here are some pointers to get you started. You can read the rest in Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating To Meet My Match.
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