How OKcupid Matches People

Started by a group of students from Harvard University, OKcupid used blogging, unique surveys, and outside-the-box thinking to grow its free dating service into one of the most used online dating services in the world. Launched in 2004, the path to success wasn’t easy for OKcupid, but it was a rewarding when one of the company’s main competitors – match.com – acquired OKcupid in 2011 for $50 million.

One of the most guarded secrets of online dating services is the precise algorithms they use to match people. You’ve heard companies like eHarmony say people are matched on 29 dimensions of compatibility, but like the ingredients for Coke, the exact formula is a highly guarded secret.

Recently, OKcupid decided to go public with exactly how its matching process works. And they did so in a big way – TED. TED is an inspiring company tasked with spreading great ideas globally. These could be ideas to solve issues like drinkable water in third world countries to gaining insight into how certain things are accomplished. OKcupid created a presentation for TED called “Inside OKcupid: The Math of Online Dating”. Using animation and graphics, one of OKcupid’s founders, Christian Rudder, walks you through the precise process of creating matches for online daters. Here is that video:

Inside OKcupid: The Math of Online Dating

Excerpt From “Inside OKcupid: The Math of Online Dating”

Basically, OKcupid’s matching algorithm help us decide whether two people should go on a date. We built our entire business around it. Now, “algorithm” is a fancy word and people like to drop it like it’s “this big thing”. But really, an algorithm is just a schematic step-by-step way to solve a problem. It doesn’t have to be fancy at all…

The math behind OKcupid’s matching algorithm is surprisingly simple. It’s just some addition, multiplication; a little bit of square roots. The tricky part in designing it, though, was figuring out how to take something mysterious – human attraction – and break it into components that a computer can work with. Well, the first thing we needed to match people up with was data – something for the algorithm to work with. The best way to get data quickly from people is to just ask for it. So we decided that OKcupid should ask users questions; stuff like:

- Do you wanna have kids one day?

- How often do you brush your teeth?

- Do you like scary movies?

And big stuff like:

- Do you believe in God?

Now, a lot of the questions are good for matching like with like; that is when both people answer the same way. For example, two people who are both into scary movies are probably a better match than one person who is and one person who isn’t. But what about a question like, “Do you like to be the center of attention?” If both people in a relationship are saying “yes” to this then they’re going to have massive problems. We realized this early on, and so we decided we needed a bit more data from each question. We had to ask people to specify not only their own answer but the answer they wanted from someone else…”

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