Internet Dating For Rocket Scientists

My friend Neil from the UK sent me an interesting article from The Sunday Times today about the science of online dating by Kate Spicer. It talks about how the larger subscription-based dating sites use technology & science to match their clients based on complex algorithms, dimensions of compatibility and other headache inducing mumbo jumbo. And because it comes from the UK, there are all sorts of extra o’s and u’s and s’s thrown in, just to make things more confusing.

Some sites match you on a simple algorithm, such as distance from each other and, if you are on, for example, vital statistics.

(Then there’s which uses a streamlined algorithm for matching potential suitors based only on 2 criteria — awake and breathing, and does not feature profile photos.)

Others, like eHarmony, use complex algorithms to solve the problem of who will be a good match. Subscribers to its site answer hundreds of psychometric questions that are designed to ascertain your personality type. The company likens it to “walking into a bar and knowing who to talk to. It’s about not making decisions based on chemistry, but on compatibility, and your statistical probability of having a successful relationship [with that person]”.

(Ummm from a scientific perspective, you would think that chemistry would be more of a factor?)

Other dating websites also employ complex algorithms based on psychometric testing, such as PerfectMatch, Chemistry, Plentyoffish, True, Parship and Matchaffinity. What is confusing, though, is that they all like to dismiss each other’s compatibility models. Plentyoffish, for example, thinks people should be matched on their differences. The exception is OKCupid, an increasingly popular site, which is strongly against psychometric testing because, according to Sam Yagan, one of the Harvard mathematicians who founded it, “eHarmony’s patronising belief is that they know what’s best and you need help. We believe you know what you’re looking for and put the power in the user’s hands”.

In reality, all of the so-called serious online sites use the science stuff to flog their product, and dismiss the competition, but there is something to this. Employers have been using psychometrics to find ideal employees for decades; that it should be used to find lasting love is not unusual. Perhaps personality profiling is the future of matchmaking if you’re into paying for it, and not down with using alternatives like free online personal ads. In which case, you’d probably agree with the eHarmony line: “People don’t know what they want. They need help.” Science to the rescue!  Hooray nerds!

You can read the full article here, complete with all the extra vowels and consonants here.

About Thomas Kelleher

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