OkCupid's Love Math Doesn't Solve The Equation


The latest salvo in OkCupid’s ingenious campaign to woo us with data is the discovery that iPhone users have the most sex. But these meticulous statistics, interesting as they may be, are probably falling on deaf ears.

The dating site’s helpful chart of Sexual Activity By SmartPhone Brand shows that ladies with iPhones have the most partners, followed closely by iPhone-toting dudes. Android users, apparently, are the least slutty of all. However, this chart is only a small portion of a longer blog post breaking down profile pictures by the numbers. Using data from OkCupid users (“one of the largest, and most interesting, datasets on the web”), blogger Christian Rudder and his team determined what kind of camera, what lighting, and even what depth of field was likely to generate the most popular profile pics. Answer: use an expensive camera, turn the flash off, and blur your background. Individual preference may vary, but this is science, which — oddly enough — has become OkCupid’s stock in trade.

Back in February, Jenna Wortham of the Times wrote about the success of the site’s data-driven blog:

In its fight against much bigger competitors like Match.com, PlentyOfFish and eHarmony, it has tried a number of marketing techniques, often with little success. But the blog, which OkCupid started in October, has helped get the company’s name out on other blogs and social networks. A post last month that set out to debunk conventional wisdom about profile pictures [ed. that would be this one, offering some very unwelcome support for sexyface and MySpace angle] brought more than 750,000 visitors to the site and garnered 10,000 new member sign-ups, according to the company.

Wortham also noted that “since OkCupid started its blog, the number of active site members has grown by roughly 10 percent, to 1.1 million, according to the company.” It’s easy to see why numbers, even when they’re depressing (OkCupid also got tons of press for its post on users’ racially-influenced messaging habits) might appeal to under-35s, who make up the site’s main member base. If our SmartPhones are any indication, Gen Y/Myspace/millennial/whatevers love knowing shit, or at least thinking we know shit, and breaking dating down into a series of charts and graphs is right up our alley. OkCupid is the Malcolm Gladwell of dating sites, simplifying a seemingly complex world into a series of cocktail-party-ready stats.

But are these stats actually useful? Maybe — it’s distinctly possible that if you followed all the advice in OkCupid’s blog posts, you could maximize the number of messages you got. But as anyone who’s ever tried online dating knows, getting messages is way less than half the battle. And even if success on OkCupid did predict success in real-life love, I’m not sure people would listen — because as much as we love dating science, most of us aren’t willing to actually date scientifically.

Anneli Rufus’s Daily Beast pieces on divorce statistics provoked a lot of commenter skepticism, and those who wrote us to say that their relationships flew in the face of Rufus’s numbers were correct — it’s impossible for statistics to describe everyone. I’d also wager that we’re most likely to believe them when they concern others’ lives, not our own. If OkCupid’s usage numbers are accurate, many of us are intrigued by data about other people’s profiles and messaging habits. But when it comes to our own love lives, we still prefer to believe in intangibles — that our appeal depends on intrinsic awesomeness, not camera angle, and that we’ll find true love simply by being ourselves, not by gaming the system. Or maybe that’s just me — OkCupid should do a study on it.

Image via huibvisser/Shutterstock.com.

Don’t Be Ugly By Accident! [OkCupid]

Related: Looking For A Date? A Site Suggests You Check The Data [NYT]

Earlier: Why I Like Guys With iPhones

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