Beware a Statistician with Dating Data

It’s no secret that as we interact with more web services we are creating a larger and deeper footprint with respect to our digital behaviours. I think we are also volunteering more personal information when asked online.  The result has been an explosion in individual-level data available to data wranglers in organisations with a digital presence.  Often, the negative sides of this are reported in the media; the decline of privacy and the risks of data abuse to individuals.  However, it also provides for some fascinating aggregate-level analysis that just hasn’t been previously possible.

For instance, Google Flu trends shows how aggregate search behaviours can be used as an early warning signal for potential public health issues.

And then there is a post I recently found which examines correlations across answers to a questionnaire completed by users of a popular dating site…  The aim: to identify first-date questions that “(a) most people were comfortable discussing publicly, and (b) were mathematically likely to tell you something you couldn’t just guess”.  The analysis isn’t exactly in the interest of public health, but it is hilarious, well thought through, and accessible.  And no individual’s data is exposed in the process.

(Note, the content at this link isn’t really safe for work; if it were a TV show there would be a ‘contains explicit language and sexual themes’ disclaimer before it started.)

OKCupid: The best questions for first dates.

A couple of gems from the post that apply across the sexes (go to the post for the direction and strength of relationship):

To predict: Will my date have sex on the first date?
Ask: Do you like the taste of beer?

To predict: Is my date religious?
Ask: Do spelling and grammar mistakes annoy you?

And one that shows just how bad we are at judging our common ground with others:

Which describes you better, normal or weird? might be fine to ask, but doing so is of little value because almost everyone has the same answer. 79% of people think they are weird.”

Disclaimer: The OKCupid sample is large, but probably doesn’t reflect the general population of people looking for partners. So, if you attempt to apply these nuggets of wisdom your mileage may vary.  That said, the differences presented are substantial enough that I’d be surprised if they don’t hold to at least a small degree outside of OkCupid’s target market!

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