Data-Driven Dating

OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder advocates it in his new book Dataclysm:

[On OkCupid] the copy-and-paste [message-sending] strategy underperforms from-scratch-messaging by about 25 percent, but in terms of effort-in to results-out it always wins: measuring by replies received per unit effort, it’s many times more efficient to just send everyone roughly the same thing than to compose a new message each time. I’ve told people about guys copying and pasting, and the response is usually some version of “That’s so lame.” When I tell them that boilerplate is 75 percent as effective as something original, they’re skeptical — surely almost everyone sees through the formula. […] [L]et me tell you something. Nearly every single thing on my desk, on my person, probably in my entire home, was made in a factory alongside who knows how many copies. I just fought a crowd to pick up my lunch, which was a sandwich chosen from a wall of sandwiches. Templates work. […] Innovation is using a few keyboard shortcuts to save […] some time.

In a review of the book, Evan Selinger protests Rudder’s logic:

This passage is disturbing in several respects.

First, Rudder treats the process of communication in purely instrumental terms: it’s a numbers game and to win you’ve got to maximize your response-to-effort ratio. Now, it could be argued that during the early stages of dating, minimal effort is appropriate. After all, people are busy, and they can take a more conscientious and personalized approach to socialization after things go to the next level and it becomes clear what a particular individual is worth. But Rudder doesn’t convey a sense that as relationships deepen so do our responsibilities. Instead, he posits an unnerving equivalence between people and commodities. That’s the second problem: Rudder’s comparison of people to factory goods. Sure, most of us take advantage of mass production and treat artisanal wares as … well … treats. But viewing people, or even delicious sandwiches, as widgets is dehumanizing to anyone, not just Marxists! …

[Another] problem is that Rudder associates innovation with efficiency. This is Silicon Valley dogma: friction is bad because it slows people down and generates opportunity costs that prevent us from doing the things we really care about; minimizing friction is good because it closes the gap between intending to do something and actually doing it. Such a cavalier attitude toward efficiency-enhancing technology creates the impression that at any moment we can slow down and behave more thoughtfully and deliberately. But why assume this is the case when technology companies are providing us with ever-increasing opportunities to do things hyper-efficiently and creating an infrastructure that’s conducive to cut-and-paste culture?

But in an interview last month, Rudder marveled at the way data can pinpoint personal information:

What statistics and other crazy facts about human nature did you discover while researching this book?

Honestly, some of the craziest stuff were things where these guys in the UK looked at Facebook likes and — it’s insane, that from just your likes, forgetting your social network or pictures — that you can tell, with incredible degrees of certainty, shit about you, down to your race, to 95 percent. Which makes sense, if you’re really into Tyler Perry or whatever you can probably make a guess about your ethnicity. But you know, sexuality — it was at 85 percent, and kind of like all the way down to “were your parents divorced,” which is 50 percent.

Which is kind of intense, because it’s not a demographic fact about you, it’s just something that happened in your life history, especially because likes have only been around for five years. That’s not very much time. I’m 39, so I was starting to realize I knew kids whose parents had been divorced around maybe ’85 or whatever, and they were into Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest. I remember this one kid, I went to his house and he wanted to stay up all night and watch the Ozzy Osbourne concert on HBO… The kids I knew who were from stable, more normal households back then were into REM or whatever. You can see it in life, but it’s cool that they were able to actually pull it away from a “this one guy one time” into a thing that’s more legit.