Earlier tonight I watched the CNBC special Love at First Byte, and want to write about it while it is fresh in my mind.
I thought it was a very well put together piece, highlighting the tremendous growth of the online dating business (already a $2 billion dollar industry), exploring the various forms of science and math used in creating the algorithms of many dating sites, and raising some doubt on the validity of these algorithms.
(While 4-week-old TruConnection.com didn’t get any coverage (wait ’til next year) I was pleasantly surprised to see that two of the experts interviewed have responded to my past Emails and expressed some interest in what we are doing.)
Anyway, a few takeaways I had from this documentary I would like to share:
- The major dating sites seem to be dueling each other in who can come up with the best algorithm to predict a match. The CEO of one popular free dating site described his team of brainiacs as ‘engineering the next great relationship.’ He went on to insist that the computers are essentially better predictors of a match because they have more data points.
- Duke Psychology professor Dan Ariely — who expressed doubt that dating algorithms could ever ‘know enough’ to be truly effective — extensively researched what makes people ‘most appealing’ in dating profiles. He discussed that, for women seeking men, salary and height prevailed. He even calculated that an inch of a man’s height was ‘worth’ a certain income amount in the eyes of other members. He also said education was important for women seeking men, but of ‘no value’ to men seeking women. As superficial as all that sounds, his point seemed to be that perusing these detailed profiles leaves a member no choice but to make superficial judgments. He went on to state that science in matchmaking is still far from being accurate.
- Ariely touched on the concept of dating sites marketing their complex, scientifically proven algorithms in such a way that it is has a ‘self-fulfilling effect’ on its customers. In other words, according to Ariely, these algorithms are acting as a placebo. They may not truly match two soul mates, but they help convince members they are doing so.
- I was very surprised to hear that the matches E-Harmony provides members might actually be non-subscribers (people on the ‘free’ edition of the site who can look at, but not communicate with, other members). So you might get a match that would have to become a paying subscriber just to respond to you. In general, I think the documentary was actually very critical of E-Harmony relative to its peers
- I had never heard of ‘Facemate’ before. It is “a revolutionary new dating site that uses facial recognition technology to identify partners more likely to ignite real passion.” That certainly is a…different…approach
- The founder of a innovative mobile application that essentially helps single people meet others in the area by displaying just their photo and location discussed the issue of relying on self-description in finding a match. He made a point that they don’t bother with profiles since it is very difficult for a person to be honest when creating one; in other words, self-description lends itself to subjectivity.
- One of the experts said computers ‘are not good at emotions or feelings’. They can collect and interpret data points, but they are missing the element of human intuition.
The basis of TruConnection.com is that these algorithms, while popular and well-marketed, are fundamentally faulty. That a computer cannot be trusted to find you a match even if you plug in every single human characteristic possible. And you should not feel that, by exploring online dating, you need to be entering this sort of cold, un-romantic place where hundreds of techies crunch numbers to find you Mr or Mrs. Right. No — as successful as online dating has been, it can and should be done differently.
We feel that your photo + how you express yourself through writing (whether short, twitter-like posts, or longer pieces of writing), or other creative outlets (artwork, photography), say more about who you are than self-description or ‘data points’ ever could. It’s not perfect. It’s not for everyone. But, to me, it is a much better first impression and foundation for a meaningful relationship than relying on teams of mathematicians to ‘engineer the next great relationship.’