Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Okcupid's Experiment

So apparently Okcupid experiments on users from time to time.  And everyone is up in arms about it.  Feeling betrayed, tricked, outraged, all of the above.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it.  On the one hand it feels like not much more than elaborate trolling, which has its merits from time to time.  On the other hand I do feel like it represents bad business ethics.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think anyone has a case for fraud, nor should any government agency get involved (I think the market can and should determine what happens) but I think I would feel uncomfortable experimenting on my consumers like that.

If you didn't read the post, Okcupid did three different experiments: two dealing with photos and the third dealing with the match percentage algorithm.

The results:

-When no one had a photo on the site (due to a intentional "glitch" on the site) conversations went longer, more detailed and people exchanged contact info more often and were more satisfied on the dates they went on than they were in cases where they knew what the person looked like before hand.

-When asked to rank personality separately from looks, users generally rated both the same.  Even when the profile contained absolutely no text just a photo.  Essentially the profile text was irrelevant to your rating.

-When told they were a great match (with a fake compatibility percentage to boot) people generally acted like it.  And vice versa when told they were a bad match.

Part of me feels like maybe this explains my absolutely dreadful record on dating sites.  Or I should say a big part of me wants to believe that.  Obviously that's wishful thinking.  But to be honest I didn't really use the matching algorithm as faithfully as some might, and I don't often "rate" profiles.  So maybe I was never involved in any of these experiments.

This is one of the reasons I think it would be wise to approach online dating with a grain of salt.  You just never know whether the person you're messaging just isn't interested or is just a part of a laboratory experiment.

I do hope that Okcupid applies the same standards to people who create profiles to run their own unsanctioned experiments.  Obviously it's their site and they should be free to do with it what they want, but I think it would be good etiquette and good science to allow others to run their own experiments.  Either as a way to reproduce their results or as a way to test other hypotheses.

But I'm not sure how I feel about the whole thing.  I like the knowledge but I'm a smidge uncomfortable with the tactics used to get it.  How do you readers feel?

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