Amy Webb: Can You Use Algorithms To Find Love? : NPR
Amy Webb was having no luck with online dating, so she started treating the world of online dating as data — effectively hacking her way to finding a spouse. NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc. One of the problems Webb found with online dating was that she and her matches And thanks to all her hacking, she found the perfect match. TED - Oct - Amy Webb liked the idea of online dating algorithms. After one bad date left her guy and married him. Read the full transcript.
So online dating is the second most popular way that people now meet each other, but as it turns out, algorithms have been around for thousands of years in almost every culture. In fact, in Judaism, there were matchmakers a long time ago, and though they didn't have an explicit algorithm per se, they definitely were running through formulas in their heads, like, is the girl going to like the boy?
Are the families going to get along? What's the rabbi going to say? Are they going to start having children right away? The matchmaker would sort of think through all of this, put two people together, and that would be the end of it.
So in my case, I thought, well, will data and an algorithm lead me to my Prince Charming? So I decided to sign on. Now, there was one small catch. As I'm signing on to the various dating websites, as it happens, I was really, really busy.
But that actually wasn't the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that I hate filling out questionnaires of any kind, and I certainly don't like questionnaires that are like Cosmo quizzes. Laughter So in the descriptive part up top, I said that I was an award-winning journalist and a future thinker. When I was asked about fun activities and my ideal date, I said monetization and fluency in Japanese.
How I hacked online dating with subtitles | Amara
These algorithms had a sea full of men that wanted to take me out on lots of dates — what turned out to be truly awful dates. There was this guy Steve, the I. The algorithm matched us up because we share a love of gadgets, we share a love of math and data and '80s music, and so I agreed to go out with him. So Steve the I. And we went in, and right off the bat, our conversation really wasn't taking flight, but he was ordering a lot of food.
In fact, he didn't even bother looking at the menu. So we're nearing the end of our conversation and the end of dinner, and I've decided Steve the I. And listen, I'm a modern woman.
I am totally down with splitting the bill. But then Steve the I. Gasping And that was my entire month's rent. Audience gasps So needless to say, I was not having a good night. So I run home, I call my mother, I call my sister, and as I do, at the end of each one of these terrible, terrible dates, I regale them with the details. And they say to me, "Stop complaining.
I'm going to shove it into my bag, I'm going to have this email template, and I'm going to fill it out and collect information on all these different data points during the date to prove to everybody that empirically, these dates really are terrible. Laughter So I started tracking things like really stupid, awkward, sexual remarks; bad vocabulary; the number of times a man forced me to high-five him.
Laughter So I started to crunch some numbers, and that allowed me to make some correlations. So as it turns out, for some reason, men who drink Scotch reference kinky sex immediately.
Laughter Well, it turns out that these probably weren't bad guys. There were just bad for me. And as it happens, the algorithms that were setting us up, they weren't bad either.
See, the real problem here is that, while the algorithms work just fine, you and I don't, when confronted with blank windows where we're supposed to input our information online. Very few of us have the ability to be totally and brutally honest with ourselves. The other problem is that these websites are asking us questions like, are you a dog person or a cat person?
The Heartographer » Amy Webb’s Ted Talk about hacking online dating
Do you like horror films or romance films? I'm not looking for a pen pal. I'm looking for a husband. So there's a certain amount of superficiality in that data. So I said fine, I've got a new plan. I'm going to keep using these online dating sites, but I'm going to treat them as databases, and rather than waiting for an algorithm to set me up, I think I'm going to try reverse-engineering this entire system. So knowing that there was superficial data that was being used to match me up with other people, I decided instead to ask my own questions.
Amy Webb: How I Hacked Online Dating
What was every single possible thing that I could think of that I was looking for in a mate? So I started writing and writing and writing, and at the end, I had amassed 72 different data points.
I wanted somebody was Jew-ish, so I was looking for somebody who had the same background and thoughts on our culture, but wasn't going to force me to go to shul every Friday and Saturday. I wanted somebody who worked hard, because work for me is extremely important, but not too hard.
For me, the hobbies that I have are really just new work projects that I've launched. I also wanted somebody who not only wanted two children, but was going to have the same attitude toward parenting that I do, so somebody who was going to be totally okay with forcing our child to start taking piano lessons at age three, and also maybe computer science classes if we could wrangle it.
So things like that, but I also wanted somebody who would go to far-flung, exotic places, like Petra, Jordan. I also wanted somebody who would weigh 20 pounds more than me at all times, regardless of what I weighed. Laughter So I now have these 72 different data points, which, to be fair, is a lot. So what I did was, I went through and I prioritized that list. I broke it into a top tier and a second tier of points, and I ranked everything starting at and going all the way down to 91, and listing things like I was looking for somebody who was really smart, who would challenge and stimulate me, and balancing that with a second tier and a second set of points.
These things were also important to me but not necessarily deal-breakers. Laughter So once I had all this done, I then built a scoring system, because what I wanted to do was to sort of mathematically calculate whether or not I thought the guy that I found online would be a match with me.
I figured there would be a minimum of points before I would agree to email somebody or respond to an email message. For points, I'd agree to go out on a date, and I wouldn't even consider any kind of relationship before somebody had crossed the 1, point threshold. Well, as it turns out, this worked pretty well. So I go back online now. I found Jewishdoc57 who's incredibly good-looking, incredibly well-spoken, he had hiked Mt.
Fuji, he had walked along the Great Wall. He likes to travel as long as it doesn't involve a cruise ship. And I thought, I've done it! I've cracked the code. I have just found the Jewish Prince Charming of my family's dreams. There was only one problem: She likes to make people laugh a lot. At this moment, I knew, clicking after profile, after profile, after profile that looked like this that I needed to do some market research. So I created 10 fake, male profiles.
Now before I lose all of you All right, understand that I did this strictly to gather data about everybody else in the system. I didn't carry on crazy catfish-style relationships with anybody.
I really was just scraping their data.
But I didn't want everybody's data. I only wanted data on the women who were going to be attracted to the type of man that I really, really wanted to marry. And mainly what I was looking at was two different data sets. So I was looking at qualitative data - so what was the humor, the tone, the voice, the communication style that these women shared in common - and also quantitative data - so what was the average length of their profile, what - how much time was spent between messages?
I wanted to figure out how to maximize my own profile online.
And as it turns out, I did a really good job. I was the most popular person online. And as it turns out, lots and lots of men wanted to date me. Well, not too long after that, I found this guy.
And he said that he was culturally Jewish. He talked in detail about travel. He looked and talked exactly like what I wanted. And immediately, he scored points. It was enough for a date. Three weeks later, we met up in person for what turned out to be a hour-long conversation that went from coffee shop to restaurant to another coffee shop to another restaurant.
Well, a year and a half after that, we were non-cruiseship traveling through Petra, Jordan when he got down on his knee and proposed.
A year after that, we were married. And about a year and a half after that, our daughter, Petra, was born.
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It's like a movie. I mean, it's amazing that that happened, that all that happened. So afterwards, I eventually did show him the list. So fourth date in I had said, listen, I got to tell you something. And I took the list out, and I said here's how we came to be together. And he thought that it was great. One of the things that was on the list was I was looking for somebody who would appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted spreadsheet.
That's totally - that's exactly the right way to go. Well, and it was, and he did. I mean, so if technology is, like, changing, you know, the way we find love, right. And if the algorithms can be gamed - I don't know - couldn't it, like, lead to the perfect person, like, the person you are meant to be with forever? I think technology is a really useful tool to bring people together.
But at the end of the day, it's up to us. Technology has made a lot of things in life much more efficient, much easier.
Love is something that takes work. And it takes work even if you found your soulmate, your 1,point man or woman, the person that you are looking for who is the perfect person for you.
You both still have to put in some effort. And technology can't solve for that critical element of any relationship. For love to endure, it takes human capital. It takes sweat equity, understanding, and it takes people. Amy Webb, she told her story in a memoir.