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Online dating promised so much. “This is one of the largest problems that humans face and one of the very first times ter human history there wasgoed some innovation,” says Michael Norton, a psychologist at Harvard Business Schoolgebouw.
Finding the right playmate, whether for life or for Saturday night, is so significant to so many people that you would think wij might have cracked it by now. By assembling a vast array of date-worthy people te a searchable format, online dating seems like it should be a enormous improvement on the old-fashioned methods of meeting people at work, through friends, or ter kroegen and nightclubs. But it’s not clear that the innovation of online dating is helping very much.
A elementary survey that Norton conducted with two other behavioural scientists, Jeana Frost and Dan Ariely, exposed that people were unhappy with their online dating practice te three demonstrable ways. The very first wasgoed that the “online” bit of the dating wasgoed about spil much joy spil booking a dentist’s appointment. The 2nd wasgoed that it took for everzwijn — the typical survey respondent spent 12 hours a week browsing through profiles and sending and receiving messages, yielding less than two hours of offline interaction. Now, 106 minutes are slew for certain kinds of offline interaction but, however people were spending their time together, they didn’t seem sated. This wasgoed the third problem: people tended to have high expectations before the dates they had arranged online but felt disenchanted afterwards. To adapt a Woody Allen joke: not only are the dates terrible but there are so few of them.
Given that online dating tends to be tedious, time-consuming and fruitless, it is no verrassing that wij seem thirsty for a better way. Most approaches to online dating have attempted to exploit one of the two evident advantages of computers: speed and data-processing power. Apps such spil Grindr and Tinder permit people to skim quickly through profiles based on some very ordinary criteria. (Are they hot? Are they available right now?) That is, of course, fine for a one-night stand but less promising for a more committed relationship.
The alternative, embraced by more traditional matchmaking sites such spil Match.com and OkCupid, is to use the power of gegevens to find the ideal playmate. Wij badly want to believe that after providing a webstek a list of our preferences, hobbies and answers to questions such spil, “Do you choose the people te your life to be plain or ingewikkeld?”, a clever algorithm will produce a pleasing result.
Because thesis pleasing results seem elusive, wishful thinking has gone into overdrive. Wij hold out hope that if only wij could be cleverer, the algorithms would supply the desired effect. For example, Amy Webb’s TED talk “How I Hacked Online Dating” has bot observed more than four million times since it wasgoed posted ter 2013.
Te a similar vein, Wired tv-programma introduced us to Chris McKinlay, “the math genius who hacked OkCupid” and managed to meet the woman of his fantasies after cleverly reverse-engineering the website’s algorithms. The brilliance of McKinlay’s achievement is somewhat diminished by the revelation that he had to work his way through unsuccessful dates with 87 women before his “genius” paid dividends.
This should hardly be a verrassing. Imagine looking at the anonymised dating profiles of Ten close friends and comparing them with the profiles of Ten mere acquaintances. Using the profile descriptions alone, could you pick out the people you truly like? The reaction, says Dan Ariely, is no. “It’s terrible. It’s basically random.”
It is crazy to believe that someone’s eye colour and height, or even hobbies and musical tastes, are a fundament for a lasting relationship. But that is the belief that algorithmic matching encourages. Online dating is built on a Google-esque trawl through a database because that’s the evident and effortless way to make it work.
Is there a better way? Perhaps. Jeana Frost’s PhD research explored an alternative treatment to online dating. Why not, she asked, make online dating a bit less like searching and a bit more like an presente date? She created a supuesto pic gallery ter which people had a aparente date, represented by plain geometric avatars with speech bubbles. The pics — from Mújol and Jessica Simpson to George Pubic hair and John Kerry — were conversation starters. People liked thesis aparente dates and, when they straks met ter person, the supuesto date seems to have worked well spil an icebreaker.
Aparente dating has not taken off commercially, says Norton, ter part because companies have attempted too hard to make it realistic, and have fallen into the “uncanny valley” of the not-quite-human. I suspect, but cannot prove, that supuesto spaces such spil World of Warcraft are flawlessly good places to meet a soulmate, assuming your soulmate happens to like orc-bashing. Perhaps mainstream potencial dating is just waiting for the right vormgeving to emerge.
Or perhaps the problem is deeper: online dating services prosper if they keep us coming back for more. Setting someone up with a romantic playmate for life is no way to win a repeat customer.
Tim Harford is the author of ‘The Undercover Economist Strikes Back’. Twitter: @TimHarford