Online dating has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Once regarded as a less-than-admirable way to find a date, it has now become firmly embedded in our collective consciousness. There once was a time that you would only hear mention of online dating through shielded whispers. Now, having a friend tell you they are going on a date through OKCupid, eHarmony, or even Tinder is a regular occurrence.
Some of this change has been down to how we use the internet — embedded into our lives through work, smartphones, and social media. As the online dating platforms have grown, so has their vast collection of profile data. By using your data, they are able to provide better matches, leading to more interesting dates, and higher compatibility.
The Rise of Big Data
Over the past few decades, computing has largely stuck to the principles of Moore’s Law. Thanks to the lower prices for ever more powerful hardware and processors, the cost of storing data has dropped dramatically. Its also made it more affordable to collect data at a large scale — as the Quantified Self and Internet of Things movements can confirm.
Big Data was a hot topic in the early 2010s. Although many pundits made it sound complex, it is just our ability to create and store large amounts of data automatically. Big Data engineers are now employed to collect the data — and paid handsomely for it. Data scientists then analyze the data for patterns, trends, and other insights.
The Data Matchmakers
The biggest challenge that online dating websites face is to make sure you are matched with people that you like. Even in the early days of online dating, the sites used questionnaires and profile information to try and find you the perfect date. However, before the Big Data boom it was often quite a manual process and could sometimes leave you disappointed by the end of a date.
Now though, the questionnaires form part of the website’s growing data set. The questions have become more specific, with definitive answers. They’ve also driven up the amount and variety of information collected. At the same time, the amount of users across the sites has increased, creating a huge pool of data. By developing machine learning algorithms, the online dating platforms hope to be able to predict, with greater certainty, matches that brighten your day.
eHarmony first opened its doors to relationship seekers back in 2000 and has gone on to serve over 33 million members. The site differentiates itself from the competition by billing themselves as a relationship, rather than dating, website. As the company is privately owned it has no obligation to share its data and statistics with the general public. They have previously mentioned that over 600,000 couples have got married after meeting on the site, with over two thirds finding this match within their first year.
eHarmony uses a proprietary questionnaire that aims to dig a deep into who you are, and what you may like in a partner. At 258 questions, and taking almost 18 hours to complete, it is a lot of effort. It’s that data though which allows the site to build up as much information on you as they can before plugging you into their matching algorithms.
eHarmony cemented its dedication to data when it announced it was teaming up with IBM’s artificial intelligence platform Watson. IBM’s PureData System allows eHarmony to analyze patterns in petabytes of data and helps them to complete their 3.5 million matches every day.
Like many other tech startups, OKCupid was developed by Harvard University students back in 2001. The basis of the site is a collection of fun personality quizzes using a variation of the infamous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. They combine your answers with how you would like your match to answer them, along with how important each question is to you. That data is then converted to numerical values and plugged into their algorithm to find you a match, complete with a percentage compatibility rating.
Since 2014, OKCupid has written a blog where they detail some of the more interesting and surprising things they learn from the data they analyze. They also courted controversy by publicly admitting that they used some of this data to experiment on their users. That said, what the experiments mainly showed was that people can be fairly shallow.
Dating Beyond Data
While sites like eHarmony and OKCupid have found success mining data for matches, some have taken a different approach. Probably the most popular among the competition is Tinder.
Using their mobile app you swipe your way through suggestions based on location, a short bio populated from your Facebook profile, and some images. In just a few short years, Tinder managed to become the most popular online dating service with over 50 million users as of 2014. Collectively those users make 1.6 billion swipes per day, leading to 26 million matches. This high volume of matches far exceeds OKCupid, eHarmony, or any other traditional data-based dating site.
Tinder does still use data like location, number of mutual friends, and common interests to suggest matches. The key difference with Tinder is that it doesn’t ask its users to fill in lengthy questionnaires. Instead, it uses data that they already know, either from your smartphone or Facebook, to provide you with matches. As the app is still relatively young, it’s not clear if these matches lead to long-term relationships. What is clear though, is that data doesn’t necessarily mean everything in the online dating game.
Will Big Data Find You Love?
Online dating has come a long way since its first outing nearly twenty years ago. The lower cost of collecting, storing, and analyzing data has meant that companies are scrambling to prove they have the best matching algorithms. Just as there are many choices of dates, you have many choices of dating sites. They range from the scientific-but-time-consuming eHarmony to the fun-and-informal OKCupid.
Although these companies make good money from harvesting your data, you benefit too.
From compatibility matches, to choosing your profile picture, these companies may hold the key to finding love online. The measure of success for any dating site is how easily you find a match you enjoy spending time around. With the guiding hand of big data, these sites hope narrow down how many fish there are in your sea.
What are your online dating success stories? Do you think online dating is the future? Or do you prefer the act of IRL dating? Let us know in the comments below!
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