As someone who spends most of their time single, it’s pretty much inevitable that every now and then I overcome my mild disinterest in the subject, decide it might be nice to try that not being single thing again for a change and reactivate one or more of my various online dating accounts.
This basically starts a cycle which lasts a few months and a dozen or so dates and ends up with me stopping using online dating again, frustrated at what an unpleasant experience it is. It definitely works for some people, but not really for me, and my frustrations with it definitely don’t seem to be unusual.
Naturally as someone who is interested in technical solutions to social problems and can’t resist a good problem when it’s sitting in front of me what then happens is that I design my own online dating site. I quickly remember that this isn’t an industry I want to get into and that the idea of bootstrapping it sounds hellish, but the result is that I have a lot of shelved ideas for how I’d do an online dating site if I took leave of my senses and decided to make one.
Which meant that when the latest wave of outrage about someone having done something terrible on the internet passed by, and when it was basically about online dating where you bribe people to go on dates with you, I was well primed.
My quip in response to it was “but of course this is a good idea. You see, markets are efficient, so everyone is going to end up with the best date”.
Unfortunately my second thought in response to that was “Wait hang on there’s something there”.
For those of you lucky enough not to have used OKCupid or similar, one of its key features is the compatibility score. It gives you a percentage score for how likely someone is to be a good match to you.
They’re a bit rubbish. I mean, a low score is a pretty good indicator that someone is going to be a dreadful match for you, but a high score at best indicates that you probably won’t hate them and everything they stand for (and there are plenty of people on the site you will hate everything they stand for).
One of the things I often wonder is why it doesn’t do complicated learning off the other info you’re providing to the site – you provide a lot of text which it could train classifiers off, why not learn what you’re looking for in a profile and use that? I suspect the short answer is because it’s hard. There’s a lot of nuance that it’s hard for a computer to extract from the profiles.
On the other hand, people are quite good at extracting that info from the profiles. Natural language processing is sortof our thing. If you could get people to provide you with compatibility scores that’d probably work rather well…
And markets are a decent way of soliciting information from people.
Of course, the idea of people bidding to go on dates with someone is revolting. Of all the things I don’t want online dating to do, reinforcing a commodity model of dating is pretty high up there. But with a twist, you can easily avoid this problem. You’re not bidding on going on dates with someone. You’re bidding on the chances of two other people going on a date.
i.e. you’re running a prediction market to get peoples’ compatibility scores.
I think I would describe this idea as “compellingly awful”. Amongst all the online dating sites I’m not going to build, I’m most not going to build this one. But it’s got into my head and I’ve accidentally designed the whole thing, so now I’m going to tell you about it to get the damn idea out of my head.
Here’s how it works: You use a fairly constrained prediction market based off a fake currency. Because the name amuses me I’m going to call this currency “dating dollars”.
Dating dollars can be bought for real money. They can never be redeemed for real money. Their worth is created by the fact that you must pay dating dollars to use features of the site. In particular it costs dating dollars to message someone for the first time (if they’ve already messaged you you get a discount but still have to pay some). You can also spend dating dollars for things like “promote me in search results” or “prioritise finding me some matches”.
As well as by spending real money you can get small amounts of dating dollars for providing feedback to the site. If someone messages you and you aren’t interested, clicking the “I’m sorry I’m not interested” button will give you a little bit of dating dollars. Once you’ve started talking to someone you can tell it if you’re going on a date or not. As long as your answer to that question agrees with the answer the other person gives you get rewarded. Also once you’ve been on a date it will ask you if that date went well. It will reward you either way for this one (so people don’t have an incentive to lie if they think the other person is mistaken). Basically the site is saying “Thanks!” for providing useful feedback it can use (and also it will nag you if you don’t provide that feedback).
And then there’s the third way, which is the actual point of the site: The prediction market.
This is a game you can play. What it does is it shows you two profiles side by side and asks you to the following question: With this payoff, would you pay one dating dollar to bet that if one of these two messages the other then they will go on a date and report that it went well?
If you say yes you pay the dollar and the bet is recorded. The following then happens:
- If at any point the two of them go on a date and both report it went well you get the pay-off
- If at any point they indicate that they’re not going to go on a date (e.g. by rejecting a message, by explicitly clicking “No we’re not going to go on a date”, etc) you lose the bet and are informed of such
- If after one week neither has shown any sign of interest or disinterest in the other, you get your dollar back and a dollar is deducted from the payoff. The bet remains active though, so you still have the potential to gain or lose money.
The profiles you are betting on are out of your control. You get shown them one after the other picked mostly at random (people can pay to appear more often in these). It probably makes sense to only vary one member of the pair at a time to reduce cognitive burden.
This game is then used to determine the “market rate” for a pair. This is 1 over the lowest value that most people will pay for the pair. This gives you your compatibility score. Peoples’ bet that a date between the two of you would be successful. You can then see your most compatible voters.
I suspect displaying the actual compatibility score would be… depressing. Assuming the prediction market is actually broadly accurate, most dates end in failure so most scores are going to be quite low. You’d almost certainly want to show the order + maybe a “great/good/eh/NOPE” badge based on where you lie in the global market for pairs.
You might need some protection against market manipulation. Hellbanning people who manipulate is probably a good way to do this (not necessarily from the site over all, but not counting their bets as contributing to the market price). You might also want to get people to predict only for pairs which are far away from them.
I think the main obstacle to this is market liquidity. On the one hand the fact that the seller is the computer and is powered by a fiat currency helps a lot, but you still need to get people to actually bid, and getting people to bid on enough pairs might be challenging. Or it might not – enough people might really enjoy the game of matchmaking that they’re happy to devote loads of time to it. I suspect work could be done to make this compelling. It might not be enough though – you probably need at least three offers for each pair, and there are order \(n^2\) pairs (actually it’s not that bad because localisation) and order \(n\) people.
You’d also have to watch the money supply – if you’re offering bids that are too generous then people will be flush with dating dollars and no one will pay you real money for them. If on the other hand you offer bids that are too stingy then no one will bid and play your game and your source of information will dry up. You could solve this with a bid and ask system, but I think the market is unlikely to be sufficiently liquid to support that. Though if it were you could support more complicated trading of instruments… e.g. predictions that at least one person from one group would go on a successful date with at least one person from another. Bundling assets together. etc. No. Argh. Bad David.
In short, I think that as well as being a ludicrous idea this is probably actually a bad one. The problems of keeping it balanced are probably too great. Which is good because I’m not going to be making it. Really.