Big Data Meets Big Dating

Written by Raquel Cool

Combine the inexact science of big dating with the exact science of math and you’ll have a match made in … well you’ll see. Raquel Cool looks at big data and dating. — It’s hardly surprising, but 42 percent of young adults have reported that their significant other has been distracted by their cell phones in some way or another while spending quality time together, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center on Internet & American Life Project.

Photo credit: Andalib via Flickr Creative Commons

Romance — like almost every other aspect of our lives — rests on shifting technological faults. Here’s a quick rundown on news covering where affection and algorithms collide. There’s an added bonus of curated creeped-out comments at the end.

Tinder: The “Painfully Honest” Dating App with Wider Social Ambitions — “Originally launched in the U.S. in August 2012, the smartphone dating app has since spread its blend of location-based profile matches and text-chatting around the world. That includes becoming the latest participation pub-sport in the UK, where groups of friends enthusiastically approve or reject potential matches on behalf of one another,” The Guardian reports.

50 Shades of Graph: How Graph Databases Are Transforming Online Dating — “Social Graphs are becoming more and more crucial to online dating, as dating companies discover how much more accurate their recommendations become when considering the network effects,” according to Forbes.

How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love — “But mathematically, McKinlay’s compatibility with women in Los Angeles was abysmal… He realized he’d have to boost that number. If, through statistical sampling, McKinlay could ascertain which questions mattered to the kind of women he liked, he could construct a new profile that honestly answered those questions and ignored the rest. He could match every woman in LA who might be right for him, and none that weren’t,” wrote Wired.

The Internet being the Internet, the snark came rolling in:

  • “The scary part is that even after all that optimization, he went on 55 dates, and then only got 3 second dates, and 1 third. 18:1 first/second ratio, 55:1 first/third,” Internet commenter CheeseDigestsAll said on Metafilter.

  • “What a nauseating article,” said Alice Boxhil on Google+.  “McKinlay watched with satisfaction as his bots purred along. [It] makes him sound like an evil genius in a C-grade hacker movie.”

  • “‘…he wrote a new program to visit the pages of his top-rated matches … Women reciprocated by visiting his profiles, some 400 a day. And messages began to roll in.’” Boxhil wants to know: “Does no one else find that unbearably creepy?”

It’s long been said that all is fair in love and war. Now we can add mobile apps and clever data manipulations to the arsenal. But is it creepy? Not really. I’ll be creeped out when dating algorithms have evolved the way targeted marketing has — credit card records, GPS tracking, clicking patterns, all up for grabs. Data-driven insights have an ethical boundary that’s yet to be drawn. Where do you think it sits?

For, I’m Raquel Cool.

 Raquel Cool is a Silicon Valley-based writer who covers various technology topics, ranging from information technology to health and life science. Raquel’s work has been published by the National Post, The Bold Italic, Hyphen Magazine and