From our language to our pathways, communication has changed dramatically since the rise of social networking platforms, especially in terms of dating. Today, 40% of Americans are using online dating platforms varying from OkCupid to Tinder. While the stigma surrounding online dating has decreased just recently, its origins trace farther back than the digital age. Before the Internet, matchmaking and personal ads existed. These concepts were not turned digital until 1965 when Operation Match was created by Jeff Tarr and Vaughan Morrill, two students at Harvard University. Known as the first online dating service, Operation Match was used by over one million Americans throughout the 1960s. The project matched participants based on their mutual likes and dislikes. While this was not the first attempt at matchmaking, it was the first time a computer algorithm was trusted to perform the pairing.
The next significant online dating platform was Match, launched in 1995. Today, Match remains the most successful online dating website in terms of dates, relationships, and marriages. Beyond likes and dislikes, Match allows its users to sort their results by criteria, like preferred age range. In 2000, eHarmony took a different approach in which it eliminated the search process altogether. Rather than its users sorting through their pool of potential matches, eHarmony presents those matches directly to the user. In addition, eHarmony emphasized a focus on forming long-term relationships by using a more in-depth questionnaire. Another distinct approach to online dating algorithms was taken in 2004. OkCupid asks their questions in three parts: how you answer, how your desired match would answer, and how important the question is to you. Over time, there is an ongoing effort to continue narrowing the selection process by relying more heavily on data.
In 2007, the smartphone was widely introduced along with the first online dating app, Zoosk. For the first time, online dating was accessible from anywhere in the world, not just your computer at home. Notably, Zoosk allowed its users to sign up by syncing their Facebook profile. This is commonplace today, but marks the start of intertwining online dating with social networking sites and sharing of data. With access to what you see on Facebook and eventually other social media sites, dating apps can incorporate that information into their matching algorithms as well. Zoosk also boosts a faster selection process in which users answer yes, no, or maybe for each potential match. In 2012, Tinder emulated this with by introducing the swipe feature. Users swipe right or left on each profile to indicate yes or no, respectively. In comparison to online dating websites, these dating apps put more emphasis on attraction and less on compatibility. From the start of Match where users manually sorted through profiles, Zoosk and Tinder speed up that process by encouraging quick decision making. As everything becomes readily available on the Internet (and now always on-hand through your smartphone), online dating follows suit.
Wired Magazine wrote, “twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love won’t look for it online will be silly.” As online dating and social networking platforms become the new norm, our lives are increasingly dependent and subject to the collection of data. How has this changed the way we communicate and form relationships?