They say love is blind, but Christian Rudder, co-founder of the popular dating site OkCupid and writer of the OkTrends blog about online dating, is using OKCupid’s vast treasure trove of data to help improve our visibility into matters of the heart.
In his book, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), Rudder goes beyond what people say they want, and instead explores what people actually do online. Who do they really send messages to? How does age or race affect our perceptions of attractiveness? How do original, tailored messages perform versus a boilerplate, cut-and-paste message to someone?
Who is Christian Rudder? Think Nate Silver Meets Seth Myers
Rudder is a Harvard-trained mathematician, so he geeks out on data. It’s more than helpful that he has 10 million users’ worth of data on OkCupid to dabble with. Rudder also has an unerring sense of how to make statistics not only palatable but fun for the general population.
On his OkTrends blog, Rudder intentionally sets up provocative correlations like the length of time relationships last against Twitter usage. (Daily Twitter users have shorter romantic relationships than those who Tweet less frequently.) OkTrends provides blog readers with questions to ask if you want to assess your long-term compatibility with a date or determine that person’s political orientation without asking if he or she is liberal or conservative.
Dataclysm: A Richer, More Serious Look at Data
Rudder’s blog is playful, irreverent and droll, while his book, Dataclysm takes itself a bit more seriously, going beyond dating to examine broader topics such as race, or sexual orientation, or the spread of angry diatribes on Twitter.
“Dataclysm employs the same analytic tools and style that I used on the blog, but it’s a work of much richer and sturdier stuff,” Rudder says. For Dataclysm, Rudder drew upon analytics and user data from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social media sites, in addition to OkCupid’s servers. This wealth of data enables him to provide a 20,000 foot view of social behavior.
Rudder says, “For example, you could never ask people these days if they like ‘n- jokes’ [edited: racial slur] and get anything like a real answer … Yet lo and behold that epithet is incredibly popular as a Google Search term, with ‘jokes’ and other racist indicators as its top contexts. Use of the word is declining, but it still appears in a half-million searches a month in the United States.”
Lots of Scatter Plot and Other Charts, Now How to Connect The Dots?
Rudder’s explorations into big data are interesting, although there are moments when he (and we, as his readers) seem to be staring at the numerous scatter plots used throughout the book and wondering what to interpret from the information. But that’s the nature of big data, isn’t it? We have copious amounts of data at our disposal, as well as the challenge of sifting through it all to connect the dots into a meaningful picture.
Is Love Blind? Findings from OKCupid’s “Love is Blind” Day
Although Rudder’s interpretation of the data is sometimes murky, it might at least cause us to challenge our assumptions. It’s a given that people on online dating sites sift prospects primarily based on their photos, but in January 2013, OkCupid declared a “Love is Blind” day, removing everyone’s photos from the site for several hours. It was an event to highlight OkCupid’s new mobile app called, “Crazy Blind Date.”
The app eventually died, but not before 10,000 people used it to go on an app-assigned date with someone, sight unseen. When OkCupid followed up on these dates, 75 percent of the women and 85 percent of the men reported having a good time on these blind dates.
In the seven-hour window when photos were removed from the dating site, 40 percent more replies were sent in response to messages. Twenty-four percent of these daters in the virtual “dark,” exchanged contact information before they could see the other person. Normally, Rudder says, the numbers are half of that for exchanging contact info within the first day of messages.
What does this all mean? This time, Rudder has a conclusion: “Stuff like height, political views, photos, essays, all of it is right there, easily sortable, easily searchable. It’s there to help people make judgments and fulfill their desires, and as fascinating as those judgments and desires may be to pick apart, there’s a side of it that I think does love a disservice. People make choices from the information we provide because they can, not because they necessarily should.”
All this insight, and maybe in the end, love should be blind.
Random Findings from Dataclysm
- Despite an onslaught of advertisements featuring women of airbrushed perfection, men’s ratings of women’s attractiveness are remarkably fair—their ratings form a nearly perfect bell curve. In contrast, only one guy in six is considered “above average” when women rate their attractiveness.
- What you “like” on Facebook can predict your age, your gender, your race and even if your parents divorced before you were 21.
- Californians make eyes at one another at the gym. Rhode Islanders meet in parking lots.
- Using a flash in a profile photo ages you by seven years.
- The average word on Twitter is longer than the average word in Hamlet.