Business - Written by on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 13:14 - 12 Comments

Naumi Haque
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.



12 Comments

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Jude
Apr 14, 2010 14:21

Great post Naumi. I’m checking out their blog now and there’s a wealth of cool info there. A few months ago I came across this article on the 4 myths of profile pictures in online dating, which is a report originating from a big study they did on anonymous user data: http://ow.ly/1ytKv

I found it particularly interesting because I suspect the type of profile picture has a profound impact on the volume of conversations and type of person it attracts. I always love the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover” simply because I find it ironic that everyone judges a book by its cover, at least in the initial stages of attracting your attention, the key first step to any engagement. Increasingly I believe we make snap judgements about information based on a incredibly small amount of information due to the limitedness of our time and the abundance of media available. The profile pictures are one example but it could extend to all manner of media consumption such as whether or not a 140 character tweet’s descriptives are “structured” to attract attention and clicks, or the same with a blog post title. Ads that look like ads get tuned out, as an example.

I think you’re right on the money about the real value being in the data. With a good free service to facilitate user engagement and the collection of data, companies will surely be interested in accessing this aggregate info, but I can also easily see a lot of people willing to buy upgrades that make their experience even better, especially if the free experience is compelling enough to capture the user in the long run. How much would an individual be willing to pay for additional information or tools that would help them do something another site can do? Probably not a whole lot, but if that service suddenly helps you find a loved one, or some other important use, I think people would have a much higher willingness to pay.

Naumi Haque
Apr 14, 2010 15:10

Hey Jude,

Thanks for the comment. Good point about the ‘upgrade business model.’ That’s definitely the other angle that works when trying to monetize social media – give people a taste for free and then get them to pay for exclusive content, expert services, or some sort of service guarantee (in the dating world, I believe this is called “marriage” ; )

That post about profile pics is definitely one of their better ones – must have taken a long time to go through all those pictures and codify them (i.e. add the metadata for analysis). According to the methodology, they used over 7,000 pictures: “We finalized our data pool at 7,140 users. Aside from running each picture through a variety of analysis scripts, we tagged, by hand, each picture for various contextual indicators. We double-checked the tags before generating our data.” Wow – that’s a lot of work, especially to give away for free. (I guess automated methods aren’t yet available to let you know if a picture is a “MySpace Shot” or not.) When you think about the work that goes into these, I think it reinforces my point about the demand for (and cost of) sense-making amidst all that data. I think this will be especially true as we deal with more and more unstructured data like text, pictures, and video. Just imagine what Facebook could do if they had some way (assuming they don’t already) of analyzing all of the user photos they host. By their own admission, users upload more than 3 billion photos to the site each month!

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Chris
Apr 23, 2010 6:32

Great piece, perfect example of the sort of information you can get from data mining. Thanks for sharing.

Sigmund
Apr 23, 2010 9:34

If you lose the right to bear arms the right to vote will follow.

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sara
Jul 25, 2010 2:48

im getting really annoyed when okcupid says they have technical difficulties its 2 days theyre telling me this aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgggggggg

Felten
Oct 9, 2010 2:08

This is a very good blog,I hope that I can read more content.

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