OKCupid: For The Love Of Data

If you’re not reading OKCupid’s blog, OKTrends, you should be. Even if you have no interest in online dating, this is a site that will entertain and educate you with data-driven posts about the science of profile pictures; why statistically-speaking, young men should pursue older woman; and how a mathematical, multi-dimensional analysis of political identity can highlight the struggles of the Democratic Party.

OKCupid gathers personal information based on community-submitted questions that users answer. This allows the company to better match couples based on the unique values of each person. Their slogan is: “We do math to get you dates,” which includes going so far as to create decision charts that visualize the formulas leading to love (or at least a date) for various individuals. With their data, OKCupid reveals information about the effectiveness of various romantic approaches, male and female attitudes and biases, insights on what behaviors result in conversations, behavioral changes based on age, and a variety of other findings.

From a research perspective, OKCupid is a fascinating subject. I’ve references them before in a post about labor incentives. Today’s post is about the potential for data-enabled business models and new markets for user data. Even more insightful than some of the racier findings from OKCupid (such as the sexual appetite of the average 40-year-old Floridian woman), user activity on this site generates a tremendous amount of data that extends beyond the realm of dating and could be useful to other groups and industries.

For example, OKCupid is able to generate detailed demographic and geographic data about political views, social issues, and public opinion on issues ranging from contraception to First Amendment rights to acceptable means of protest.

OKCupid charts

What OKCupid is doing not unique—often the collection of data can yield new insights and provide additional contexts beyond its intended purpose. As more and more customer and user processes become digitized, what we’re going to see over the next few years will be the growth of data-driven strategies that gather, interpret, and present data for new uses and new audiences. The abundance of data and relative scarcity of reliable sense-making information will create a flourishing market for data and analytics. In a recent nGenera survey we found that already over 40% of respondents say that data from external sources leads to competitive advantage.

Two years ago I wrote about how the idea that online social networks will make money selling eyeballs (advertising) or products is missing the entire value proposition of a social network. The real opportunity is in harnessing the rich data that is created by those participating in conversations and interacting with each other. Companies that have social platforms are increasingly seeing a business model around providing free services and aggregating anonymized customer and user data for sale.

OKCupid has a very open approach to data, but it’s easy to imagine a variety of groups—lobbyists, politicians, economists, sociologists, and so on—that might be interested enough in this type of information to pay for it, especially if presented in interactive charts that let the user filter based on factors such as age, race, gender, employment, and so on. If you think about the possibilities available when data extends beyond the realm of online dating, you see that companies in a variety of industries could use customer-generated interaction and polling data to gain a deep understanding of what drives purchasing behavior, brand loyalty, and even the desire for new products.

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Naumi Haque has more than a decade of experience in the research and advisory industry. Naumi has been at the forefront of customer experience management, recently arguing that enterprises need an integrated customer experience strategy to meet customer expectations. He has conducted research and provided thought leadership on a wide variety of topics related to emerging technology and business innovation, including: social media strategy, customer experience, next generation marketing, enterprise collaboration, open innovation, digital identity, new sources of enterprise data, and disruptive web-enabled business models. He received his MBA and his Honors in Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.