Friday, August 22, 2014

LR matchmaker Christian Rudder of OkCupid dinged for web experiment

Posted By on Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 6:37 AM

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We've written about Christian Rudder, the Little Rock Central grad who went on to fame and fortune as one of the founders of OkCupid, the on-line matchmaking service. The New Yorker this week interviews Rudder about a controversial experiment:

OkCupid told people who were NOT matches that they were. 

 As it turned out, being set up by OkCupid was enough to inspire bad matches to exchange nearly as many messages as good matches typically do. Rudder wrote, “When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other.” 

For this, OkCupid took a beating. It was toying with human emotions, critics said.  Rudder seems somewhat surprised by the fuss.

He’d assumed that on some level his revelation wouldn’t be taken as a revelation—that the world knew by now that Internet companies collate and analyze data about their users, and often manipulate behavior, in an attempt to refine their services or to achieve world domination. For better or worse, it’s part of the compact (and the terms of use): free service in exchange for personal information.

He's a proponent of the worth of "big data" and what can be mined from it. He's written a book, "Dataclysm," that offers some examples of the potential.

Right now, just from your pattern of likes on Facebook (and without relying on status updates or comments), an algorithm can determine with eighty-eight-per-cent accuracy whether you are straight or gay. Sixty per cent of the time, it can tell whether your parents were divorced before you turned twenty-one. Rudder calls this trove of data “an irresistible sociological opportunity.” He writes, “You know the science is headed to undiscovered country when someone can hear your parents fighting in the click-click-click of a mouse.”

The article notes that Rudder, 38, grew up in Little Rock and plays in a rock band. He sees the people  (us) contributing to the massive data trove on the web not as lab rats, but as an ocean of creatures being viewed from a glass-bottom boat. The information, he says, can bring "renewal" and a better understanding of how people think and behave.

(Don't they still say sex is the No. 1 word search on Google?)

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