Anyone who's tried online dating knows that it can be a numbers gameÃ¢â‚¬”the millions of users, the hundreds of matches, and of course, the handful of dates that actually seem promising. So leave it to a mathematician to figure out how to beat the odds and find true love online.
Christopher McKinlay, Ph.D., dabbled in online dating for years before he joined OkCupid while in grad school at UCLA. In the summer of 2012, he was working on his dissertation when he realized that the same principles he was working onÃ¢â‚¬”clustering complicated data setsÃ¢â‚¬”could probably be used to help him get better matches on the dating site.
The Science Behind those Match Scores
OkCupid matches users based on a huge list of multiple-choice questions. For each question you choose to answer, you're asked for your honest response, as well as the answer you would accept from potential matches and finally, how important the question at-hand is to you. In order to be a match, you would need to answer a lot of the same questions as another person, and ideally you would rank them as equally important. Essentially, McKinlay had to find out which questions were important to the women he wanted to date in order to game OkCupid.
To do this, he created software that let him create clusters out of the dataÃ¢â‚¬”basically, different groups of women who answered in different ways. Then he peeked at the profiles in each cluster to see who he was most compatible with and realized he was most interested in the women that fell into two of the seven clusters. So he created two new profiles, each optimized to match the most women in one of those two groups. He still answered every question honestly, but he relied on the data to tell him which questions to answer (the ones that these women commonly answered) and how important he should say they are. That way, if his honest answer was compatible with another user's, he would be at the top of her search results.
Becoming the Most Popular Guy Online
"I went from matching maybe 100 or 200 people at 90 percent to matching tens of thousands of people at 90 percent," says McKinlay. He was getting 10-12 unsolicited messages a day. Each day he read through his messages, checked out one or two profiles that resonated with him and set up a quick coffee date. He averaged about one date a day for three months, most only lasting about 20 minutes. "When I first started doing this, I thought the first meeting was really important and that I should try to make it special," says McKinlay. But after too many dinners and hikes, he realized it was pretty inefficient. He really just wanted to meet up and see if there was a connection.
Then he got a message from Christine. "I just looked at her profile, and it looked pretty cool," says McKinlay. "It wasn't until I actually met her in person that I was like, 'Wow, I want to shut everything down and start a relationship with this person.'" On their first date, she admitted that she tweaked her profile a little bit before she sent him a message, and he spilled the details of his own experiment. "She thought it was a little dark and cynical, but hilarious," he says. After about a week, the couple was monogamous and both deactivated their profiles. About 14 months later, they were engaged.
Ready to try your hand at gaming OkCupid? McKinlay's new book, Optimal Cupid: Mastering the Hidden Logic of OkCupid, explains how to personalize his experiment so it works for youÃ¢â‚¬”no Ph.D. required. Obviously, not everyone would benefit from being more visible on the site (just ask any woman who's already getting 10 unsolicited messages a day). But there are other ways to strategically craft your profile so you're getting the best matches possible. One trick: Don't just answer every question. For instance, one of OkCupid's questions asks if you've ever murdered someone, says McKinlay. Clearly, most people are going to say no and that they'll only accept matches who answered no. But since this is so common, it's ultimately upping your match score with almost everyone on the site. "You're basically giving away points to everyone," says McKinlay. Instead, choose the questions that are actually important to you (and the ones you think your ideal match would consider crucial, too).
His biggest tip: "Realize you have control and that it's important to exert it in a way that will serve your purposes," says McKinlay. "You don't need to write code, you just need a couple of hours and a strong intention to meet the right people."