The dating sites in which so many of us invest our hopes of finding love are based on algorithms. These algorithms promise to find us long-term relationships with partners that match us perfectly. But their process is fundamentally flawed from the outset.
As I explain in my new book, Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating To Meet My Match, the process of creating a successful dating site happens in many steps. Developing a set of algorithms is the start. But equally important is the data itself. It turns out that the design of a dating website and how it manages data collection is significantly more important than the algorithms alone in determining successful matches.
Dating sites require a steady stream of user data in order to function. They’re hungry beasts that need constant feeding. How we enter our information and create our profiles is what differentiates each one of the dating services.
To start, dating sites ask users the wrong questions. What’s your favorite book? How do you practice your faith? Are you a Republican? These aren’t good data points for matching algorithms, because most of us answer the questions on dating sites aspirationally rather than honestly. We think about idealized versions of ourselves and paint a skewed profile, often not on purpose, but because the signup process on dating sites is designed to make us feel great about ourselves. After all, if we don’t enjoy the experience of entering our own user data, then the system will have less information to parse and ultimately too little content to push through its algorithms.