OKCupid Turns Users Into Lovelorn Guinea Pigs

Kate Boulton and Caleb McEntire connected on OKCupid. The company recently revealed that it has experimented on its lovelorne users.
Kate Boulton and Caleb McEntire connected on OKCupid. The company recently revealed that it has experimented on its lovelorne users. –Laurie Swope/Globe Staff

OKCupid devotees are outraged this week. The site they rely on to help them find romance experimented on them. We’ll explore what those experiments looked like in a bit. But users aren’t happy about it.

The news comes on the heels of another scandal last month when Facebook was revealed to have manipulated users’ newsfeeds. The social media giant in 2012 sought to gauge whether the tenor of conversation would alter the mood of users. People were a little upset (no irony intended). Users revolted, European officials launched an investigation to see if the company had violated any laws, and the media lambasted the experiments.


OKCupid may now have unleashed a similar debacle.

Yet OKCupid founder Christian Rudder seems pretty unapologetic. He wrote a blog post yesterday titled “We Experiment On Human Beings!’’ (Was the exclamation point really necessary?)

Rudder says that just about every website and online service experiments on its users to collect useful information and data.

“If you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site,’’ Rudder wrote. “That’s how websites work.’’

Nevertheless, OKCupid has tried to appease users by proving just how valuable experiments are. Yesterday, the company released data from those experiments. The results shed some light on how online dating works. From blind dates to compatibility rates, some conclusions were more groundbreaking than others. So without further ado…here they are.

1. Love is Blind…

The company tried removing photos from the OKCupid website last January and found that users were far more likely to respond to first messages, exchange contact information, and enjoy deeper conversations that went deeper than simply scratching the surface when photos were out of play.

But once the photos were put back up on the site that afternoon, the chemistry fizzled. Many people discontinued the conversations that they had begun when the site did not display photos.


2. …Except When It’s Not…

OKCupid noticed that attractive people consistently receive extremely high personality ratings. Hmm… Does this mean that pretty people are the only ones that are really cool and chill and nifty folks?

Turns out that the text that accompanies OKCupid profiles only influences users a little bit. It accounts for less than 10 percent of their judgment. People rely on appearance for the rest. Shocking? Probably not.

3. …And What’s in a Compatability Score, Anyway?

OKCupid creates precise scores that they claim are highly indicative of compatibility. The company chose to alter those scores for a few days, boosting them from 30 to 90 percent for some matches. And people responded.

They sent far more first messages to people who had the false compatibility scores than they would have sent those users otherwise. So basically, OKCupid has trained its users well. Yikes.

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