Risks, rewards of online love

Christian Rudder knows what the heart wants — thanks, in part, to his endless data stream from people looking for love.

Rudder is co-founder of the free, online dating site OkCupid and author of “Dataclysm: Who We Are [When We Think No One’s Looking].”

He wants you and your data. More importantly, he wants you to be a part of his massive social experiments.

The premise behind OkCupid is as simple as it is complex.

The simple part: Users develop profiles by answering basic, sometimes awkward, questions. Some users answer hundreds of questions in order to build a perfect profile.

Profile questions might ask: “Do you enjoy discussing politics,” “Would you consider having an open relationship (i.e., one where you can see other people),” and “Which would you rather be” with answer options of “Normal” or “Weird.”

The complex part: OkCupid uses advanced algorithms (i.e., math) to make matches.

Rudder and his crew claim the process of finding your perfect match is extremely accurate. The OkCupid site states that “as long as you’re honest, and you know what you want,” you’ll find a date.

The best part: It doesn’t cost money, which is a huge benefit to people who aren’t ready to commit to popular, fee-based matchmaking sites such as eHarmony and Match.com.

But there’s a catch.

By providing answers to profile questions, users are giving up information on preferences, convictions, morals and more. And while this might seem invasive, most users probably don’t stop to think about the personal information they’re giving away for the chance to find love.

Of course, fee-based sites are available, but the competing sites can be expensive.

For example, eHarmony costs between $15 and $60 per month, depending on which plan you choose. Match.com costs between $18 and $36 per month, and comes with a six-month guarantee (find a date in six months, or get six months free).

If you can’t afford what could ultimately cost more than $250 a year, and you’re willing to give up some information, OkCupid might be your best option.

Patrick, a 26 year-old graduate student and OkCupid user, said “The questions are kind of weird, and they’re randomly generated.”

He also questioned the amount of time people commit to making complete profiles. “I know the questions are used to determine compatibility,” Patrick said. “But if I answer 1000 questions, and someone answers two questions, we still might have 100 percent compatibility.”

This probably shouldn’t surprise Patrick or other users who find the process, and OkCupid’s algorithms, odd at times.

Some OkCupid users are merely lab rats in massive social experiments. Rudder once boasted about an experiment in which one algorithm was manipulated to make terrible matches for some users, all in the name of science.

Still, this shouldn’t stop you from using OkCupid to find a date. After all, according to Rudder, more than 10 million people will use his site this year. With those numbers, the odds of finding a date might be in your favor.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chairman of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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