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OKCupid: 'We experiment on human beings'

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Experimenting on people seems to be a trend online nowadays, and dating website OKCupid is angling to be the outspoken champion of turning users into guinea pigs whether they like it or not.

As it turns out, the company has been performing social experiments on users similar to the controversial "emotion contagion" study performed by Facebook. However, instead of keeping its tests secret, OKCupid is defending its practices, telling people that being experimented on is part of the reality of using the Internet.

In a blog post entitled "We Experiment on Human Beings," OKCupid founder Christian Rudder gave a rundown of the social experiments that his company has performed on users. 

"We noticed recently that people didn't like it when Facebook 'experimented' with their news feed... But 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," he said.

Rudder described three experiments. The first one, with the subhead "love is blind, or should be," involved an app that was meant for arranging blind dates. The app turned out to be a flop. According to Rudder, the company worked a year and a half on the software, only to pull it from the app store six months later. The company launched the app with "Love is Blind" Day on Jan. 15 last year. To celebrate the new app, all profile pictures were taken off the site. The number of users who logged on to the site during the occasion dropped drastically. However, it worked better because users responded to initial messages at a rate that is 44 percent higher. Rudder also claimed that conversations between users went deeper and contact information was exchanged more quickly. 

The second experiment, which asks "So what's a picture worth?," was conducted to confirm the company's suspicion that users only looked at profile pictures. For the tests, the company took a sample size of users and showed their profiles with and without the texts. This meant that their profile generated two scores, one with a combination of picture and profile text and another with just a picture. In most instances, the profiles with just the picture scored higher. 

The last experiment, subtitled "the power of suggestion," involved taking two people that are bad matches and telling them that they are compatible with each other. To do this, the company took people that were 30 percent matches and told them that they were 90 percent compatible. Rudder claims that the mere suggestion that the two people are a good match is enough  to make them like each other. He said that people act like they are good matches even when they are not. 

It's still not clear whether OKCupid will suffer the same backlash as Facebook. However, if it does become an immediate object of hatred, it can at least claim that it was honest about its sins. 


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