Data and Dating: How Agencies are Using Big Data to Find the Perfect Match

July 18, 2014
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ImageThe search for love has never been an easy one. For many people, the dating scene is rife with frustrating encounters, unfulfilled promises, and lonely weekends. Finding a way to make things easier to find that perfect mate has always been the goal, but only in the last decade has there been a serious attempt to make a solution available to the public at large.

ImageThe search for love has never been an easy one. For many people, the dating scene is rife with frustrating encounters, unfulfilled promises, and lonely weekends. Finding a way to make things easier to find that perfect mate has always been the goal, but only in the last decade has there been a serious attempt to make a solution available to the public at large. The solution comes from online dating, and through sites like Match.com, eHarmony, OkCupid, and Zoosk, online dating has exploded in popularity, with the most popular sites reaching anywhere from 15 million to 30 million members. The trend has become so popular, that about 9% of all American adults say they have used an online dating site. The sites boast that they will be able to find your perfect match, and it might not all be just talk. That’s because online dating companies have a special ingredient for finding “the one”: big data.

Tweet This: About 9% of all American adults have used an online dating site.

Big data has been used to tackle numerous different problems, from making more accurate weather predictions to creating more efficient hospitals, but online dating is the next field in which it is being put to use. This data can be generated in a number of ways. The most common method is by having online dating users fill out questions that help describe themselves, their interests, passions, dislikes, and other helpful information. This isn’t some brief questionnaire where you name your favorite food and color either. Some dating agencies provide up to 400 questions for users to answer, with topics ranging from political views to hypothetical situations to travel history. If that seems like an awful lot of questions, dating agencies say they need them to generate as much data as possible. More data means more chances of success, in this case success being matching up partners who like each other and stay together. And the more successful a dating agency is, the more business they’ll have and the more revenue they’ll generate. With the online dating business generating more than $2 billion dollars a year, agencies are staking their futures and reputations on using big data correctly.

The questionnaire may help generate data, but there are some weaknesses to the method. For one thing, online dating users may not be entirely honest with their answers. Studies have shown that users tend to lie most about their height, weight, income, and age, which means inaccurate data is being generated. Dating agencies are trying to fight against this by drawing data from other sources. Some sites try to generate data through users’ behavior while on the dating sites, getting information from the profiles they look at. Others use what is called “collaborative filtering.” In a sense, it’s similar to how Netflix and Amazon recommend movies to users based on their tastes. The reasoning is that people who share certain characteristics with each other while also getting positive responses from those of the opposite sex will get along well with each other. Some dating sites also try to grab data from other websites like Facebook, Netflix, and online shopping pages. Agencies say that the data from these sites will likely be more accurate than what users answer on a long questionnaire.

Many sites are using other new technology to generate useful data. Popular dating site Match.com has begun using facial recognition technology to determine the “type” that users prefer. The company says that even if a person doesn’t have a preference for hair color, race, or height, they often have a certain face shape they go for. By analyzing the faces of exes, the agency hopes to find each person’s type and match them up with others who fit that type. This special service doesn’t come cheap–it’s $5,000 for six months–but Match.com hopes the data generated from it will give them an edge over the competiton. Indeed, data has become increasingly valuable to the business, with Match.com estimating it stores upwords of 70 terabytes of data from users. 

Dating agencies still have plenty of challenges to overcome to fully utilize big data. Sites need to work on fine tuning their algorithms to make better matches. They also need to find new ways to generate data, while filtering out data that is inaccurate or leads to less than satisfying results. With so much customer data kept in the cloud, these companies will also have to constantly address privacy and network security concerns. But it’s clear that big data is playing a major role in the online dating revolution. As dating agencies perfect their methods, we’ll likely see more and more people finding true love online, and who doesn’t want to see that?

Image Source: Wikimedia