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Matching algorithms

Other sites are trying to move past the algorithm. A start-up called myMatchmaker uses in-the-flesh people as intermediaries. Some, like Nerve.com, and How About We, aim to streamline the process and encourage interactions around more than a profile.

But Kevin Slavin, a game developer who studies algorithms, says those sites are already starting from a flawed base.

The digital personas we cultivate on Facebook are often not very indicative of who we are, he said. "A first date is the most tangible instance of you being the best possible version of yourself, the version you think will be the most attractive to someone else," he said. "It is impossible for that to be the same person on Facebook."

Rob Fishman, who helmed the development of Yoke.me, says he views the service as an icebreaker, not as a crystal ball capable of divining whether or not someone is your one true love. "We aren't saying you will want to spend your life together; you don't even know each other yet," he said. "You like the same band, talk amongst yourselves."

"I've found my newest nightmare," one friend said. "One match was a girl because we share a birthday," said another. "One match was a guy because we both like Gilt," a shopping site. "Is this for finding friends, dates or enemies?"

To be fair, the problem doesn't seem to be confined to Yoke.me. It may be part of online dating itself. Sites and apps like OKCupid, eHarmony, Skout, Plenty of Fish and Match.com have attracted loyal followings. But in a world where we can pay someone for lunch by tapping two phones together and stream live television over a tablet computer, the de facto model of browsing through static profiles on a Web site or in a mobile app can feel comically outdated.

It may not be a problem that software can solve on its own, said Eli Finkel, a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University. "Technology is not the way to figure out who is compatible and will never be," he said. "At the end of the day, the human algorithm -- neural tissue in our cranium called a brain -- has evolved over a long period of time to size up people efficiently. On a blind date, a person arrives and in that instant I can say I'm glad I did this or regret it."

Professor Finkel, along with several other researchers, published a study this year raising doubts about the idea that a personality test or algorithm of the kind popularized on eHarmony, can help you meet a potential mate.

Sites that say algorithms can help you find your soul mate "are probably spitting in the wind," said Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and a co-author of the algorithm paper, who has written upwards of 120 papers on online dating.

EHarmony counters that the algorithms it uses do work, citing research it conducted investigating the satisfaction of couples who met through the site, and their divorce rate.

The system that eHarmony has built is "based on years of empirical and clinical research on married couples," said Becky Teraoka, an eHarmony spokeswoman. They include "aspects of personality, values and interest, and how pairs match on them, that are most predictive of relationship satisfaction."

While Professors Finkel and Reis question the value of algorithms, they do say that online dating is useful because it can broaden the pool of people you come across on a regular basis.

"In everyday life you don't encounter people with signs on their head that say, 'I'm single and looking,' " Professor Reis said. On sites you can find "dozens of people that you might want to meet."

The trick is to weed out the weirdos and arrange a face-to-face meeting as quickly as possible -- which, in a sense, is what Yoke.me is trying to do, as are similar services like theComplete.me and Coffee Meets Bagel.

Taking a Chance on Love, and Algorithms
Published: April 7, 2012
Online dating sites defend the usefulness of their scientific approach. But a social psychology professor says that "technology is not the way to figure out who is compatible and will never be."

See also < ahref="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/business/cellphone-apps-give-speed-dating-a-new-meaning.html?scp=3&sq=grindr&st=cse">NY Tmes 2011 November 03,
Business: cellphone apps give speed dating a new meaning (Grindr, Scruff ).


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