OkCupid Co-Founder Finds Humanity In Data

  • Wednesday, January 14 2015 @ 06:33 am
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Online dating is a world of contradictions.

Christian Rudder, co-founder of OkCupid, is responsible for one of the most successful dating sites in the world – yet he has never been on a date with someone he met online. There is nothing more human or more inexplicable than romance – and yet Rudder seems to have turned emotions into science and found a formula for love.

Christian Rudder is the man behind the OkTrends blog, which he recently spun into a book called Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking). Miraculously, though it's hard to imagine anything colder or more impersonal than numbers, Rudder has managed to find humanity in his work. In his hands, data becomes revelations about human nature.

Amongst his findings was the not-so-surprising news that, no matter how old men get, they always find 22-year-old women most attractive. Women, on the other hand, tend to be most attracted to men around their own age. Rudder also caused a flurry of media attention when he reported that people typically rate potential matches of their own ethnicity as more attractive than others.

Naturally, claims like those don't come without controversy or criticism. Some have accused Rudder of presenting a damaging reductionist view of human behavior. Others have said it's impossible to understand what people want from love and sex via a faceless website in an industry that has a bad reputation for telling lies.

Not to mention the constant stories of outrage we hear over surveillance of citizens' Internet activities, or of exhaustion over companies using personal data for marketing purposes. In a world where privacy is increasingly a concern, studying the habits of OkCupid users may seem like a misinformed choice. And if that seems like a misinformed choice, imagine the backlash after telling OkCupid users that they'd been experimented on.

In 2014, the discontinued OkTrends blog returned from a long hiatus with a posted called “We Experiment On Human Beings!” The response felt predictably fierce to most of us, but Rudder maintains he was surprised by just now negative the public's reaction was. To him, it was merely the cost of admission: users get a free site, and in return they share their data.

To his credit, Rudder is happy to admit that the facts shared in his book are only “tiny windows looking in on our lives.” Data science is interesting, but not perfect. Ultimately, he believes his purpose is good and that the end of furthering social science fully justifies the means.