Last week was riddled with reports about a new study being published in the journal, Psychological Science in the Public Interest. With each day, editors managed to create more provocative, click-inspiring titles like:
- Does Online Dating Make It Harder to Find ‘the One’? – Time
- The Dubious Science of Online Dating – NY Times
- Online dating’s promise — and pitfalls – LA Times
Friends, investors, and even my own mother forwarded me the articles – each hoping to elicit a shock-filled response. However, there is one tiny problem: I LOVE the study.
Behind the Headlines
At the heart of the study is the authors’ determination that mathematical formulas cannot correctly identify pairs of singles who are likely to have successful, long-lasting romantic relationships. Such claims have been the crux of ad campaigns by eHarmony.com, Chemistry.com, PerfectMatch.com, and GenePartner.com (each of these sites was mentioned by the authors). These sites require users to take extensive “personality tests” that are supposedly crunched by a supercomputer harboring secret formulas for everlasting love. With results in hand, the user is paired with their ideal match.
The study has simply confirmed my claims that this promise is completely bogus.
Every marketing professor should tip their hat to eHarmony… The company that managed to brainwash an entire nation into believing in magic. Singles, however, should listen to science rather than ad men.
So: Are Dating Sites Evil?
Absolutely not. Dating sites offer an incredibly efficient and effective way to meet wonderful people outside of your social circles. The key for success lies in taking the time to look beyond the fancy TV commercials filled with embracing couples, and instead understand the site’s principles.
- How does the site moderate its pool of singles? The candidate pool is the most important, objective criteria you should consider. All formulas aside, you want to be in good company.
- Does the site’s business model encourage hookups, dating, or marriage?
- How easy is it to get from registration to meeting someone in person?
- Are you proud to join the site? Or do you feel “icky” about it? Trust your gut.
- Does the site have any policies about how it handles your data? Sharing/selling/buying profiles? Fake profiles? Fake interactions?
Too many dating sites have either engaged in false marketing, unethical practices, outright fraud, or a combination of all three. In fact, I’m personally working with an investigative journalist to help reveal the dark side of online dating. I’m happy to see more journalists take a stand and educate the public. I see this as an opportunity for a new crop of moral, forward-thinking, and quality-driven dating sites to disrupt the current ecosystem of disingenuous giants.
At the helm of Sparkology, I’ve personally witnessed many couples meet and share their stories. Nothing is more fulfilling. For busy young professionals, meeting people online in a safe, high-quality environment is ideal. The scientists are right to doubt the claims of existing companies. Yet, I urge you: Do not hold an entire industry accountable for their missteps.
Doesn’t Sparkology Tout Its Own Algorithm?
Yes – Sparkology has a behavioral algorithm that recommends results based on users’ actions, including clicks, messages, likes/dislikes, and others. Here’s the difference: instead of claiming to identify a user’s soul mate, the goal of our algorithm is to identify people who the user would be most attracted to based on the user’s past behavior. It can also help illuminate persons who would be more responsive, by analyzing whether the person has been responsive to persons like you in the past. The algorithm allows us to showcase candidates worth your time without requiring extensive profiles. No algorithm can pinpoint exactly what makes two people spark… but when a spark occurs, our algorithm can use that information to predict future sparks.Equally noteworthy, Sparkology has added two renowned statistics professors to its team. We will be releasing their names shortly… but it is literally the first time in history that a dating site has worked hand-in-hand with academia instead of dodging away from it.
Excerpt from Business Plan (2011)
Just for fun, I’d like to share an excerpt from Sparkology’s business plan, which we used to secure our round of seed funding last April. I’m glad to see that science finally supports what we’ve been saying all along:
Many current online dating sites have found an ingenious way of defending their price points or differentiating themselves from competitors: The Hidden Algorithm, The Secret Matchmaking Analytics, or the Dr. [Insert Foreign-sounding Name]’s Guaranteed Personality Test. From a marketing perspective, the concept is brilliant – a claim that can neither be proven nor disproven. Yet in reality, these algorithms do not add any measurable probability of success. Does the fact that Person A likes fishing and Person B likes sushi mean they are meant to be? Or is this just a matter of statistically insignificant correlation rather than causality?
Scientific examination of dating website algorithms is difficult to obtain simply because these sites intentionally keep proprietary algorithms confidential. Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at MIT currently researching such dating algorithms concludes “the sites are claiming a lot, but show no evidence of doing anything useful in terms of matches”, further mentioning that “their algorithms are placebos”. In other words, algorithms seem effective because the participants believe the marketing hype. This is ideal for online dating sites defending their pricing, but a complete hoax for honest members hoping to find someone special.