What’s Wrong With the OkCupid Algorithm for Matching People?


My blog assistant sent me this link about the science behind OkCupid’s algorithm.

I watched the seven minute video and while I found it entertaining, I saw two big flaws in the way OkCupid purports to match you based on compatibility:

1) OkCupid has three pillars of their algorithm – what you think, what you want your partner to think, and how important it is to you.

This all makes sense in theory, but it falls apart in practice for this reason: people don’t know what’s good for them. Really. If they did, I would be out of a job.

Simply put: what you’re attracted to and who you’re compatible with are two very different people. Most people – myself included – are wildly attracted to the opposite sex versions of themselves. Do you like skiing? Then HE better like skiing!? You’re charismatic? HE better be charismatic! You make a lot of money? HE better make a lot of money! Such commonalities may cause you to be more attracted to someone, but none of these things are good predictors of true compatibility.

That second pillar of the OkCupid algorithm doesn’t say much of anything – it only goes to show how narcissistic you are in searching for someone who is just like you.

As such, that second pillar of the OkCupid algorithm doesn’t say much of anything – it only goes to show how narcissistic you are in searching for someone who is just like you. For this algorithm to work, people would have to be a LOT more self-aware about compatibility – and they’re not.

Because you could find a neat-freak who likes being the center of attention, but if he doesn’t believe in marriage, or doesn’t make a livable wage, or doesn’t believe in sharing household duties, it doesn’t matter.

2) The way OkCupid weights importance is seriously out of whack (see 4:43 in the video).

Irrelevant = 0
A little important = 1
Somewhat important = 10
Very important = 50
Mandatory = 250

A little important is BARELY scored higher than irrelevant. Mandatory is TWENTY FIVE times more important than “somewhat important”. I’m positive some very bright people put some thought into this and decided on this scale, however I don’t know how “somewhat important” can be ten times more valuable than “a little important”, while “very important” is only five times more valuable than “somewhat important”. It’s all very arbitrary and inconsistent, if you ask me.

Frankly, I think eHarmony’s compatibility testing is probably smarter and more relationship-based than OkCupid. The problem, of course, is that eHarmony took all the fun out of their questions and removed attraction from the equation. So you have OkCupid, which is fluffy compatibility pseudoscience based on physical attraction and common interests (as if mutual love of horror films has anything to do with anything) and eHarmony, which is undoubtedly deeper, but ignores the base human impulse to look up attractive faces. Most people I know are using OkCupid because it’s more fun, not because it produces better matches.

Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.

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  1. 21
    Peter 61

    I agree with EMK.   Most people don’t know what’s good for them.   They don’t have much insight into themselves either.   The biggest challenge is knowing yourself.   A list of banal questions does take some of that responsibility away if they are subsequently correlated to success.   However, what is a successful couple?   We dated?   We fell in love.   We married?   We divorced quickly without too much damage?   We are still hanging onto a 12 year old marriage blessed with children after cancer and bipolar?   26 years out of 30 without sleeping in the same room? We died in our 90’s within months of each other?
    My brief on line dating experience was with znakomka.ru.   I found that a relatively complete profile and questionnaire was a good indication of seriousness.   Too little was a married woman or a drunk.   Too much was a control freak or someone in love with the reflection in the mirror (perhaps a fault of many of us commentators here?).   Too much could be a harangue against men, a vast list of requirements or acres of poetry.

  2. 22
    Karl S

    @The InBetweener
    Tolerance is about what you are willing to permit that is different to your own thoughts. Let’s say you think gay marriage is sinful – if you would still vote to support it because people have a right to choose for themselves, then you show tolerance. If you vote against it because you think it’s sinful, then you are intolerant. I might not like that you deem certain things “sinful” at all, but if you are willing to allow such things in others because they are adults who can make their own decisions, then your labels are ultimately not my problem.

  3. 23

    Well, the system might be fine if people are honest with themselves and are self aware, but many of the questions people might do what they do in relationships, and just say what they think they should say…which would then screw up the algorithm a bit.
    Overall, I’m not convinced about the matching potential but it might perhaps give an indication of who you would get along with overall. But getting along with someone is not really an indication of a romantic connection or if you’re on the same page with the stuff that matters.

  4. 24

    Hello, I wanted to say that your comments ring true with regards to my experience on Ok Cupid. I only ever seemed to receive interests from men who appeared to be my complete opposite in terms of the match scores – usually 30% match or below! Interestingly, they were the men I got on with best. Whilst the few high score matches I communicated with failed miserably! I am currently in a relationship with someone I met on OkCupid who was a low score for me and I couldn’t be happier. I also must add, the site was definitely better in terms of the quality of men I was talking to when I compare it the other free sites like Oasis or Plenty of Fish. Actually was even better than Match.com.

  5. 25

    @Morris #20 – I’ve never answered “questions” etc on any site in 18 yrs….  My profile says everything I want them to know.  I’m sure more women answer them than men that’s why there’s more women on eHarmony a site that they tell me has 200 questions to answer for your profile etc… then you can’t even choose who you want to correspond with. No thanks. OkCupid  even though Match owns it now rarely (at least in my area)  has even 1 woman I want to email so I never  put up a  “real” profile there  although I peruse it from time to time out of curiosity. Match always has the most new profiles every week because everyone knows it has the most selection and a matching scheme which for the most part everyone ignores just like Plenty Of Fish. So I stay on Match and POF. Don’t even get me started on the “People Media” owned sites that are all owned and connected to each other by the same corporation and have the same profiles on every site…..lol  ALL 30 sites!

    1. 25.1

      Maybe you do need to rethink your profile if you are still looking after 18 years online.
      Or maybe you only use the internet for hooking up? If so, that is cool. Just $0.02 worth

  6. 26

    All this OKCupid algorithm does is shed some more light on someone. I don’t think anyone takes it seriously that a 99% match is your soul mate. It just helps things along. What harm can it do to find out if someone prefers their mate to be on time and likes sex 2x a week? No harm in that. Its just another thing to find out about a person, that’s all.

  7. 27

    Each site has a different audience. More sites = a wider net. Use your common sense and look for people who are looking for the one. Then date them to know them.

  8. 28

    ON OK Cupid Im not sure why I get so much contact from guys 20-35 I m interested to hear if other women in their 50s are getting this specifically on OK Cupid because my profile is pretty much the same as on other sites. This makes this site less useful to me although I prefer the format  
    Conversely I find men, most especially older than me on Match, to be extremely ageist. I can’t tell you how many times men my age and older have explained they don’t date women their own age because women over 50 are “washed up and without passion” . ( Not a brilliant thing to say to a woman who hangs out with some impressive older athletes).   
    POF Is pretty good because age doesn’t seem to be so highly weighted but you have to be good about sorting out the players. I think Ive met more guys from POF than anywhere else.

  9. 29

    100% agree with this post, Evan! And you succinctly captured my feelings on eHarmony. My physical attraction towards a person can either go up or down based upon their personality. However, my interest needs to be piqued by an attractive person in attractive photos. Eharmony misses the mark on this, and it is really frustrating. Even worse, when I contacted the site about this, the response was really condescendibg and dismissive of my concerns. Fail!  
    Thanks for your blog, Evan. It’s really spot on, clear and concise. I have been living your advice for a few months and my dating life has never been more fun or more satisfying! I’m now at a slightly awkward point of Needing to choose between the men I’ve been dating to go to Exclusive relationship status. I really needed the shift in perspective that you gave me!  

  10. 30
    Karmic Equation

    @Kathleen 29
    Something in your profile is attracting the young. So 1) odds are you look hot, so that’s why you’re getting the 20-35. 2) Perhaps your profile is written in such a way that it attracts the young? 3) If you’re not looking for a relationship, there’s no reason why you can’t “fling” with a youngster 🙂
    Look more closely at the 35 yo’s. If they already have children and not looking to have more and they find you attractive and you them, there’s no reason why you can’t date them, either for fun or seriously.
    My original profile attracted a lot of 20-somethings. Then I used Evan’s profile writing services and the 20-seomthing contacts dropped off. Guess I don’t sound as fun. lol
    The problem I have is that the men in the late 40’s-50’s who are messaging me, most I don’t find attractive. The ones who look good in their pix, sound too serious in their profile.

  11. 31
    Peter 61

    @Kathleen.   Younger men are looking for an easy sexual conquest.

  12. 32

    Peter 61  
    Its been my experience that men of all ages are interested in an easy sexual conquest   😉
         I was just curious why this was happening on only one site when essentially using the same profile as on Match  
    Karmic #31
    True !   I did go on a date with a 35 year old who was particularly interesting and mature. During the evening he got carded LOL!!  

  13. 33

    I was on OKC for three months in 2011. At the end of three months, I had a few good friends (that I still stay in touch with) and a bf. I was over 90% compatible with all of them; 95% compatible with the bf. (The remaining 5% finally got us, and he’s now the ex-bf, but we had a very good two years together.) So in summary, OKC’s matching system worked great for me, and I plan to rely on it again when I go back to dating in a few months. That said, my mindset is different from most women’s (and some men’s) in that I’m more logical than people usually are, and rely on chemistry a lot less than most people (including my ex) do. Maybe that was why the OKC matching system worked for me, while it may not work for someone else who’s wired differently. Personally I have no complaints about it.
    Want to add, I used the matching system, not so much to find my 99%-match soul mate, as to weed out the bad matches. I’ve tried talking to a few people that were low matches, looked at people’s answers to see what had caused the low match, and without fail, all of those men were completely incompatible with me. So it got to the point where, if I had a message in my inbox from a 30% match, I used to just save us both valuable time and ignore the message.

  14. 34

    Apologize for double post, I missed Kathleen’s #29 on my first try. Kathleen, I had the same experience on both OKC and Match. I was 44 and on OKC I’d get flooded with messages from guys in their 20s. Once a guy messaged me that was the exact same age as my son, ewww no! Why was that child even on a dating site? I still preferred OKC to match, because I was at least being contacted by a lot of people from my age group. Whereas on Match, no one under 50 would even consider me. I’ve also had two 67-year-olds contact me on Match and then get bent out of shape when I said no. Sorry Sir, if you are old enough to be my father, you’re too old to be my boyfriend. I’ve gotten two or three good dates from Match, but I won’t be going there again, because I just don’t think I got a good enough return for the price. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that, in my location at least, OKC attracted the better educated, more intellectual crowd, while on Match most people actually listed watching sports and grilling as their only interests. Don’t know if Match still has this, but two years ago, there was a “last book you read” question on their profile. The answers people gave to that question, would’ve been enough for anyone to lose their faith in humanity.
    To your question Kathleen, I think it’s the site’s demographics rather than your profile. I see no way to deal with it other than the delete key.

  15. 35
    Newly Married Woman

    On POF I got 1 lifelong friend and 1 long term relationship. On eHarmony I got lots of 1-3 dates and one wannabe friend/skulk-around-hoping-for-change-in-the-weather whose phone calls I had to stop returning after several months because his values were so off-center from mine (deep compatibility??!!).

    The first day on OKC I got an email from Mr. Wonderful.   He made me his bride 52 weeks later.

    Results speak for themselves, so you can call me and my beloved bridegroom big fans of OKC. The mileage of others may vary.

    As for analyzing? Although the caliber of men on eH seemed to be uniformly higher than the great unwashed sea of humanity on POF, the stultifying rigamarole involved in getting past the barriers to the actual person seem to A) stack the clientele full of women.   B) suck the life out of both parties before they ever meet.

    I know A is true at least for my area because I learned I was paying a much higher rate than the men were. A reverse of the “Ladies Night” pricing used by bars. I know B is true because I lived it.

    OKC was a wonderful hybrid of filtering and reasonably swift access.
    What I especially appreciated about it was the questions because some guy could look really good on his main profile but in the questions reveal some definitely not for me sexual peccadillo or other personality trait.
    I got plenty of response on OKC but my beloved really stood out and I closed out my profile in just a few weeks. During that time, I did find it to be the best of the services I had tried. Is the OKC algorithm perfect? Why should it be? Nothing else in life is.   Ultimately people do the choosing and rightly so. eH seems to think they can take the humans out of the equation. Results: blech.

    Lest Evan cast a chary eye at how quickly we moved from 1st date to “I do,” let me say that everyone who meets my now-husband can see how top notch he is. He seems to think highly of me, as well. We were 49 and 51 when we met, plenty old enough to know our way around. We are very happy. Smartest thing I ever did in my life was say “yes” to him. Thanks, OKCupid!

  16. 36

    Like most I was on match.com, eHarmony and other paying dating sites. Finally about a month ago I started using Okcupid.  
    I like Okcupid because I find that people are more honest and blunt. Yes you find a lot of married man in open relationships and a lot of “I am not looking for love right now” but at least they tell you and are honest, maybe not everyone but most. I find that because is free, people don’t care to lose the interest of some. Also I love the questions because it does tell me a lot about the person. I think I would ask some of those questions to a potential match off line. People lie, exaggerate and omit, yes, in all sites but my personal experience in Okcupid is that 90% of the people who are different from or have very different believe system or moral views me A.K.A weirdos are open about it. I really appreciate it because I get the chance to “skip” as with particularly match.com they hide it and you find out later.  

  17. 37

    @Newly Married Woman #36 “The first day on OKC I got an email from Mr. Wonderful.   He made me his bride 52 weeks later.”
    That’s great that you had that kind of luck on OkC but really that’s like saying “I bought a lottery ticket at the gas station on main st and won a million dollars so in my opinion that’s a great gas station!” If your hubby would’ve emailed you on POF or Match you would of probably still emailed him back and the outcome would’ve most likely been the same. It had little to do with OkC’s   algorithm matching.
    All I’m saying is most people go and sign up for  where they see the most available options in the area in which they live and the age range they’re looking for. In my area that’s Match. In my experience (18 yrs of online dating) people email well written  profiles with quality attractive  photo’s and the statistics that they’re looking for not compatibility and goofy algorithm percentages etc…. That includes women….lol probably even more so. 😉

  18. 38

    I think luck plays a factor in when people find the right person. So many people do all the right things and never find the right relationship. Post #36 is very indicative that luck plays a role. It’s such a myth to think hard work is what leads to success. Go and read Malcolm Gladwell’s book on Success entitled: Outliers.

  19. 39

    @ Paula, I am not sure of what point your trying to make, as my understanding of Outliers is that the people the author profiled put in a lot of work (i.e 10,000 hours)  to be successful and when opportunity struke they were then prepared. I do believe, the main idea of the book was that hard work + luck = success and that you needed both.
    I do agree that a certain amount of serendipity is an ingredient in most relationships where the  SOs  give feedback  that they are happy, but with out insight, or relationship skill, it’s highly doubtful one could be soley successful on luck alone, in my humble opinion.
    The specifics in dating websites, seems to be a minor detail, because if your dating and available, your going to meet someone worth while as opposed to going to work and home and back to work again.
    Though watching the ID channel this past weekend has me feeling a little leery of Match. Lol.

  20. 40
    Newly Married Woman

    @JB #38,   I do understand your point, I really do.
    But I believe the OKC algorithm does have value because it put the two of us in the same cyber-neighborhood at the earliest opportunity and it did so with some justification, not randomly (POF) and not with onerous restrictions or dubious calculations (eH).
    I believe the barriers in eH tie up too many of the dater’s resources: time, attention, emotional energy, false sense of investment in the process. The fact that I did not get a single relationship or even friend out of eH tells me something is not so perfect about their idea of who is good for me.
    This makes me wonder if eH would even have ever put me in my husband’s batch or he in mine.  
    I did get several successful outcomes out of POF and, of course, a wonderful marriage out of OKC.
    @Paula 39,
    I agree luck does play a part.   Not everyone will find love on OKC, but for me and my lovely guy, its system proved valuable and effective and better than random chance. YMMV.
    P.S.(I forgot about a couple folks, I got not one but three relationships out of POF as well as the one friend.)

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