Binary Love

Trusting the Technical Art of Matchmaking

As the calendar yet again turns to February 14th, three out of four people now trust online dating tools like Match, Tinder, or OKCupid to find romance. Finding a partner is a major life decision, something we haven’t always trusted a computer to help us to do. (It’s only been during the last decade that we have come to rely on digital services to help us make any of life’s big decisions, like buying a home, finding a job, or purchasing a car.)

Yet, a truly 21st century convergence paved the way for the recent explosion in digital matchmaking: the introduction of mobile-first dating apps met with a market flooded with young Millennials who had already recontextualized human connection via technology. It was a match made in product development heaven.

Certainly, love is too abstract to be assigned an algorithm that equals instant romance. Online dating boils down to deliberate decision making aided by software. In early 2016, a total of 15 percent of American adults reported that they have used online dating sites and/or mobile dating apps, which is up from 11 percent in early 2013. Software is using advancements in location-based technology and algorithmic based interests to propel the decision process around finding a future love, outsourcing much of the early effort of dating to software: giving us access to more people, removing ambiguity when meeting a person for the first time, and helping us to break free from traditional gender roles.

Advancements in location-based technology and algorithmic based interests are propelling forward the decision process around finding a future love, outsourcing much of the early effort of dating to software
Sample personality question via OK Cupid

Even more so, compatibility matching has advanced greatly since the early days of online dating. Previously, a “match” was as simple as providing a compatibility percentage based on common interests ranked by each user. We would then find a match based on a process of elimination. Much more common these days are the use of very complex personality surveys and mathematical algorithms to match partners.

For instance, eHarmony uses a predictive model based on “29 key dimensions that help predict compatibility and the potential for relationship success.” Tinder uses signals from behavior to analyze the data from a “yes” or “no” statement of preference to optimize a user’s matches when the app is used next. So if someone swipes left (no) on somebody, that (rejected) individual’s information such as age, common friends or interests are used to hone the user’s preferences. Ultimately, it is still up to the individual to choose whom to contact or go out on a date with. In time, models for network data and link analysis will likely filter out those matches that historically, based on similar preference indicators, wouldn’t work.

Today, the compatibility results are more reliable than ever. Online stats show that 20 percent of those in current, committed relationships began online and 7 percent of marriages in 2015 were between couples that met on a dating website, according to eHarmony. What really matters, though, is that a majority of Americans now say online dating is a good way to meet people — which signals a nationwide trust in software to aid us in one of the most important decisions.

A majority of Americans now say online dating is a good way to meet people — which signals a nationwide trust in software to aid us in one of the most important decisions

Even more encouraging is that the confidence in technology-supported decision making is permeating beyond first romance and, for some, what comes after. The fertility app Natural Cycles recently became the world’s first certified contraception software, and works thanks to an algorithm that helps determine whether a woman is fertile on a given day, based on a set of inputs. This type of fertility awareness has great potential to help women with decisions about their future.

While it can’t today prevent a bad date, a faulty car, or the bad job fit — technology is certainly helping us make more informed choices. We may not find the exact partner we want at first, but we at least have narrowed down our options to put us in the right direction. The impact is undeniable. But it’s anywhere from finished, as good technology is never complete. Software continues to change how we interact with each other in our daily lives, and the continual data loop we generate will only continue to advance us forward… together.