OkCupid Founder On Attractiveness, Data And The Online Dating Industry

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You know how to use Tinder. You know how to use OkCupid. The same goes for Match.com and eHarmony. But do you know what goes on behind the scenes?

Christian Rudder – co-founder and former CEO of OkCupid, Harvard alumnus and author of Dataclysm – knows the dating industry inside and out. He recently spoke at Northeastern University about finding love in the modern age, and what it takes to be a company that facilitates it. These days it's not Cupid in charge of your heart – it's math, data, algorithms, and analysis.

How does it all work? Rudder spilled his secrets to Northeastern's President Joseph Aoun. On why he was motivated to make a better dating site, Rudder said he wanted to create well-balanced relationships. The key, he believed, was versatility. A system like eHarmony's felt too rigid, while OkCupid's matching allowed for greater flexibility.

Then again, Rudder reckons that many of OkCupid's users are doomed to be unhappy. "The people who are most happy with OkCupid we never hear from because they’re off being married or doing something else,” he said. “I wager that most people who use OkCupid don’t like it because most people don’t like dating."

Rudder also spoke at length about the double-edged sword that is attractiveness in online dating. Men are most likely to message the most attractive women on the site, but the most attractive women are bombarded with messages and the least likely to respond. The men in turn get frustrated and may ditch online dating all together, leading to customer retention problems for the dating services.

To combat the phenomenon, OkCupid attempts to match users based on attractiveness. “We take the data of how good looking people were and use it behind the scenes,” said Rudder. “This is the biggest factor now in how we bring people together: How close people’s attractiveness scores are.” OkCupid calls it 'Attractiveness Distance.' The goal is for it to be as small as possible, to increase the likelihood that messages will receive replies.

But it doesn't work without balance. OkCupid can match users with who they should date – based on compatibility – but it may not be who they want to date. “You have to show a little bit of what they want and a little bit of what they like and a little bit of what’s actually going to work,” explained Rudder, “which is how life works in general.”

Rudder's final thoughts took on the dating industry as a whole. If you think it feels like there's a new dating app out each month, you're not alone. Rudder has a simple explanation: “Dating is rough. That’s why there are always so many dating startups: Because users of dating startups are always like, 'God, this thing is broken, I’m going to fix it.' What they don’t realize is that dating itself is the thing that’s kind of horrible and no app is ever going to fix that.”

For more information on this dating app and site please read our review of OkCupid.