Amy Webb: How I Hacked Online Dating

Amy Webb used data science to find love. After a difficult breakup of a relationship when she was 30, and feeling the pressure of her heavily involved family, this data geek started crunching numbers to try to calculate her odds of finding a man in Philadelphia who would be a match for her needs and personality. The result? Out of the 1.5 million people in the area, she figured there may only be about 35 men for her to date in the entire city.

A data fanatic, Webb decided to try online dating, since the matches are based on algorithms — a methodical system that appealed to her. After a number of bad experiences, she decided to start tracking data points during her lousy dates, which helped her discover that the limitation of the dating algorithms were defined by the user-generated data that was inputted into online profiles. Like most people, she’d done a poor job of representing her true self. She also felt that the questions in the profiles were too superficial for her purposes.

Taking matters into her own hands, she decided to use the online dating programs as databases to reverse-engineer the system and create her own questions based on her desired traits in a mate. She ended up with 72 different data points, which she prioritized into a two-tier ranking system. She then built a scoring system that helped her mathematically calculate whether the man she found online would be a match for her. Her system worked to a point — until she realized that her scoring system needed to be a two-way street. The men she picked needed to pick her back.

In order to maximize her profile, she created fake male profiles to perform market research that would enable her to create qualitative and quantitative data sets. Her hard work paid off. She created a very popular online profile and eventually found the man she’d been looking for all along — whom she ended up marrying and having a child with.

Amy Webb was previously an award-winning reporter for Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, and is the author of Data: A Love Story. She heads the digital strategy house Webbmedia Group, and is the founder of SparkCamp, a weekend discussion series that focuses on big ideas around media. Watch her TED Talk: How I Hacked Online Dating.