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How Big Data Has Changed Dating

What it means to be single and looking for love in the time of algorithms

smithsonian.com

(Continued from page 1)

The fact that the online populations have grown so much has allowed the sites to become efficient, not only from a population perspective but also from a data perspective. When you can observe really large populations of people and see how they behave in an online meeting context, it allows you to optimize your site.

Here is just one example. If a guy signs up, and he says, “I am interested in marriage” or “I am interested in something long-term,” but then the people he is messaging are people who have not said that in their own profiles, the system can see that and adjust accordingly. The site is not going to show him women that are interested in marriage or long-term relationships. That wouldn’t have existed even five or seven years ago. 

The first technological incarnation of this is this idea of behavioral matching. Let’s say you are a 30-year-old woman and you sign up for Match. They ask, “Do you like men with facial hair?” You say, “yes” or “no.” The other way to see if you like men with facial hair would be not to ask you explicitly but to just see how you behave on the site. Are you clicking on lots of profiles of guys with beards? Maybe you are. Maybe that would surprise you to know that, because you have always thought of yourself as someone who can’t stand facial hair. I think that is the sort of thing that technology may be able to promise now and even more in the future.

So, dating sites can work even when what we think or say we want in a partner is not always what ends up being the best or most compatible for us?

One of the things that online dating executives are always happy to tell you is that people are actually horrible assessors of who they are and what they want. I think to some extent that is true, but we will certainly be seeing the industry play that up as much as possible, “You need my technology in order to figure out what you actually want!”

Beyond the technology, what has happened socially in the last decade and a half to make people want and need the choice and control that online dating offers more than ever?

The marriage age keeps getting later and later. The further the marriage age moves up, the more it means that people are dating into their later years. The more that people are dating into their later years, the harder it is for those people to meet. That is just a reality of life. As you get older, for the majority of people, you’re social circles can shrink a bit. Online dating becomes very useful. The online dating industry has seen this in the form of the 50 and over crowd becoming one of the most popular demographics.

Is there still a stigma, do you think?

There is a lingering stigma. But, I think that the more online dating gains a reputation for being effective, the more the stigma will erode. I spoke to online daters across the age spectrum, male and female, all around the country. I would ask them about how they felt about the stigma. The thing I heard a lot was, “It seems like people are still anxious to talk about it. But, you’ll be in a group of people and once the first person brings up the subject, then there is this outpouring of talk about it. Everyone wants to speak about it, but they don’t necessarily want to be the first person to bring it up.”

What are online dating executives doing to try to get rid of a stigma?

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