OkCupid Co-Founder Defends User Experiments


OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder has defended his revelation that the company performs experiments on its own users.

Speaking on OnTheMedia’s TLDR podcast, Rudder said that while he understood people’s concerns – and said this was partly because his post was “sensationally written” – the experiments were just part of their scientific method.

He said the tests were to prove that their algorithms and matching methods were working – and to better tailor and tweak the site’s success.

“For match percentage, if we change the way a variable is weighted of the math, we have to test that version B against the version A of the status quo, and inevitably people are gonna see two different numbers for the same process. And that’s just part of the scientific method. 

“For us, if you come up with an algorithm and you can hope that it works, but you have to perform experiments to prove that it works.”

He said they decided not to offer an opt-in option, as people change their actions if they know they are being tested.

Out of the three experiments Rudder wrote about on the reborn OkCupid Trends blog, it was the third which received the majority of criticism.

In the test, users were falsely told that people were good matches for them – when they actually scored low on the compatibility rating.

In the post, entitled “We Experiment on Human Beings!” Rudder said the tests were just one of the “hundreds of experiments” that every site performs on a daily basis.

Earlier in the year, Facebook said they emotionally manipulated their users by altering the news feeds of 70,000 people.

However OnTheMedia’s Alex Goldman said that OkCupid and Facebook’s experiments were not akin to testing the design and font of a website, as they affected mood and relationships.

Rudder replied: “I understand why it might seem that we’ve somehow violated that trust. However, my answer there is that doing experiments to make sure that what we’re recommending to the four million people that come every month is the best job that we could possibly do is like upholding that trust, not violating it.”

On the podcast, Rudder also explained that part of the intent with the blog was to start a conversation about the use of experiments that people perhaps don’t realise are happening – saying “Tinder also tests, and so does Match and everywhere else”.

“If you think that OkCupid has unlocked the mysteries of love and has an ironclad algorithm, prophetically can tell you exactly who is right for you, you’re crazy. So we’re doing our best, for sure, and it’s the same thing. 

“I think people will realize that that’s how these sites work, that’s how they evolve, they’re doing the best job that they can, and they also have their own interests as well. And maybe that’s the process that we’re looking at. And that’s the kind of, again the kind of conversation that I think Facebook on accident, and OkCupid on purpose is trying to kickstart.”

Read a transcript and listen to the podcast here.

Simon Edmunds

Simon is the former editor of Global Dating Insights. Born in Newcastle, he has an English degree from Queen Mary, London and after working for the NHS, trained as a journalist with the Press Association. Passionate about music, journalism and Newcastle United.

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