The main question we take up from the case described in Super Crunchers is whether algorithms and statistics can benefit a successful couple, as opposed to the alternative – say meeting someone at work or at a party.
Before the advent of technology as we know it today, or even as Ayres knew it a decade ago when writing about this case, people used to be able to find a life partner in more traditional ways.
With print media being a popular source of information for the ordinary citizen, singles looking for dates could promote themselves using ads in local newspapers.
As described above eHarmony has turned the dating business into a super crunching business, by using data and algorithms to find your perfect match online
Only in the second half of the 20th century, Harvard students Jeff Tarr and Vaughan Morrill used a questionnaire and an IBM 1401 to match students based on their similarities, a social experiment that was named “Operation Match” and that would require 3€ per participant to take part in
“We’re not trying to take the love out of love. We’re just trying to make it more efficient.” – Jeff Tarr, co-creator of Operation Match in 1966
Operation Match is estimated to have been used for over 1 million users during the 1960’s. Only a few decades later, with the rise of the internet did online dating really shape up. Kiss becomes the first modern dating website in 1994, followed by match in 1995 The traditional dating website usually includes an entry questionnaire, a mathematical matching algorithm and requires customers to pay a fee in order to make use of the service.
eHarmony was in fact the first such dating website that includes an algorithm at the core of matching, and the topic of our case file. The case must have been mentioned as a super crunching example as people were just starting to wonder whether matching algorithms really constitute a legitimate substitute for say, instant chemistry at a party.
The following sum sheds some more light on how they match using the algorithm scientifically. eHarmony has been in business since 2000, and filed for a patent describing the method and system for identifying people who are likely to have a successful relationship in that same year. The patent filed in 2004 is a continuation of this patent, i.e. an updated version.
Dating without an immediate goal of marriage only began in the 20th century, and with it, love and romance started to follow
The patent describes the whole platform of eHarmony, from their matching procedure to the different forms of communication between matched people on their platform. We will summarize the matching procedure only, as that is the case the Super Crunchers book is concerned with.
Based on a survey that asks questions that can be numerically answered, eHarmony makes a ‘empirical database’ containing the answers of every participant. To build the matching service eHarmony asks ‘members of couples or previously existing couples’ to fill out the survey as well, as to generate a training dataset for their matching algorithm. From this empirical database a correlation matrix is constructed, to show the degree of correlation between the question answers, i.e. variables. Correlated variables are combined into factors, the authors say by possibly using principle component analysis. These scores of every individual on these factors together with his or her ‘individual satisfaction index’ (ISI), how satisfied one person is in his or her relationship, are again stored in a database. The factors and ISI are used to estimate a new joiner’s satisfaction index, this is done using multiple linear regression models. The models give an estimation of the individual satisfaction index based on the survey results.