Press-Republican

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October 25, 2013

Love without an algorithm? One matchmaker proven wrong

WASHINGTON — When Aaron Schildkrout co-founded HowAboutWe.com, he envisioned it to be something very different than the other online dating sites, which relied on complex mathematical calculations to decide whether people were compatible.

On HowAboutWe, users suggest real-life dates that they would like to go on — seeing a movie at a local theater or taking a walk, for example — and interested users respond through the site's messaging system. "It's about getting offline, going to the real world and getting chemistry," Schildkrout said. "We branded ourselves as the offline dating site, as explicitly an alternative to these profile-heavy matching algorithm dating sites."

But since its founding in 2009, HowAboutWe has evolved to depend more on formulas, not less. "With hundreds of thousands of people we could show you, who we show you has become increasingly important," Schildkrout said. "To create a great experience, we need to get smarter about who we show you."

It's how most major dating sites work — processing large volumes of information about which two users are likely to show interest in each other, and tweaking the algorithms as more data on successes become available. But depending on the target demographic and the site's philosophy on what makes a good match, the methodologies vary widely.

HowAboutWe's two-person data science team, for instance, created an algorithm that combines a user's profile information, such as date ideas and demographics, with data about a person's behavior on the site, such as what profiles he or she looked at and how often.

Compared with casual daters on HowAboutWe, eHarmony believes its users are looking for something different: long-term relationships. As a result, people are required to fill out a personality questionnaire with hundreds of parts. Based on decades of data about thousands of happily married couples, eHarmony then predicts which users are likely to be compatible.

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