OKCupid admits to experiments on users

Weeks after Facebook caused a storm by admitting it had played with users' timelines to observe their behaviour, online dating site OKCupid has unveiled its own experiments.

In a blog post written by the site's founder, Christian Rudder, details of three separate studies are revealed, all designed to determine how members are using the service, how they interact with each other and what influence the match percentage has on their behaviour.

Though it's likely some will feel a sense of betrayal upon hearing this, Rudder justified the experiments by saying: "Guess what, everybody: if you use the internet, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That's how websites work."

The site conducted a total of three experiments (that we know of), the first of which was designed to determine how experiences changed depending on whether people could see profile pictures or not.

This came about when OKCupid launched a blind dating app, and found the benefits of the practice were eliminated by the subsequent return of profile images. In Rudder's words, "people are exactly as shallow as their technology allows them to be."

Following on from this, the second experiment also involved profile pictures, and whether they mattered more than the content of the profiles themselves.

According to results, looks and personality were considered "the same thing," drawing the conclusion that the image mattered nine times more than the text on a profile.

The third the one drawing most attention involved OKCupid tampering with the match percentage that so much of the site's interaction hinges on.

Wondering whether the apparent accuracy of the percentage based on a specific algorithm really just pointed to the power of suggestion, they decided to alter the displayed percentage in a variety of ways and see how users responded.

Results showed that, while the ideal combination was a high percentage coupled with the suggestion of high compatibility, incompatible' couples were much more likely to get along if they were told the opposite.

In other words: "the mere myth of compatibility works just as well as the truth."

Facebook's own social experiment in which they attempted to determine how well emotional states are transferred through the site depending on the content of people's newsfeeds resulted in an uproar from users recently, who accused the site of being needlessly manipulative without their knowledge.

Caroline Preece

Caroline has been writing about technology for more than a decade, switching between consumer smart home news and reviews and in-depth B2B industry coverage. In addition to her work for IT Pro and Cloud Pro, she has contributed to a number of titles including Expert Reviews, TechRadar, The Week and many more. She is currently the smart home editor across Future Publishing's homes titles.

You can get in touch with Caroline via email at caroline.preece@futurenet.com.