Can explicit big data replace implicit chemistry?

20130101 Experimenting with a Lott's Chemistry Set c.1956

I’m happy to say the BBC News business section has a piece which I found via ZoeIs big data dating the key to long-lasting romance? Of course I have many thoughts about this whole piece including the memory that I still need to read Love in the Time of Algorithms.

Dating agencies like OKCupid, – which acquired OKCupid in 2011 for $50m (£30m) – eHarmony and many others, amass this data by making users answer questions about themselves when they sign up.

Some agencies ask as many as 400 questions, and the answers are fed in to large data repositories. estimates that it has more than 70 terabytes (70,000 gigabytes) of data about its customers.

Applying big data analytics to these treasure troves of information is helping the agencies provide better matches for their customers. And more satisfied customers mean bigger profits.

US internet dating revenues top $2bn (£1.2bn) annually, according to research company IBISWorld. Just under one in 10 of all American adults have tried it.

Just look at those numbers! 1.2bn a year and 70 Terabytes of data plus its growing all the time! You can just imagine the shareholders hovering up the profits… However this is all explicit data, stuff you got to type in. Stuff that people tell porkies about, specially when having to fill in 400 questions…!

Dr Zhao’s algorithm can then suggest potential partners in the same way websites like Amazon or Netflix recommend products or movies, based on the behaviour of other customers who have bought the same products, or enjoyed the same films.

The facebook angle is good and recognised by the likes of Tindr and Grindr. Collaborative filtering of people implicit actions is good but its still not the missing element, aka chemistry.

We already know there is something to the theory that opposites attract. How does this work when your algorithm is based on matching? You almost need a inverse of that but you need to understand human needs and wants, and thats not as simple as copying what we do. Its the whole don’t do what I say and don’t do what I do problem? Imagine somewhere someone is looking at this thing in a totally different way, via a different lens. Because frankly I think all the explicit and implicit data in the world won’t describe why people get together. It looks to be unquantifiable and thats quite surprising from someone like me.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

1 thought on “Can explicit big data replace implicit chemistry?”

Comments are closed.