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OKCupid Experiments on Users Too 161

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the statistics-are-only-skin-deep dept.
With recent news that Facebook altered users' feeds as part of a psychology experiment, OKCupid has jumped in and noted that they too have altered their algorithms and experimented with their users (some unintentional) and "if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work." Findings include that removing pictures from profiles resulted in deeper conversations, but as soon as the pictures returned appearance took over; personality ratings are highly correlated with appearance ratings (profiles with attractive pictures and no other information still scored as having a great personality); and that suggesting a bad match is a good match causes people to converse nearly as much as ideal matches would.
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OKCupid Experiments on Users Too

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  • Flash panic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LordLucless (582312) on Monday July 28, 2014 @06:18PM (#47553877)

    World discovers A/B testing
    Freaks out
    Until the next reality tv show comes on

  • A/B Testing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mr Z (6791) on Monday July 28, 2014 @06:18PM (#47553879) Homepage Journal
    Isn't that what A/B testing is all about?
  • by slaker (53818) on Monday July 28, 2014 @06:37PM (#47553973)

    The people who run OKC were a bunch of statistics nerds. It runs (ran, anyway) on a custom web server that performs a lot of real time analysis. Their blog is chock full of incredibly detailed information about their users. This shouldn't be news to anyone who has even the slightest clue as to how OKCupid actually works.

  • Re:what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vux984 (928602) on Monday July 28, 2014 @06:48PM (#47554033)

    No. It's what some unethical douche bags do. it has nothing to do with how websites work, asshole.

    Anyone who has ever:
    a) taken any metrics about there site
    a) altered their website in any way
    b) measured whether or not it made any difference

    Change the font? Rewriting the sales pitch? Moving the photo to the left? Changing the checkout sequence? Showing more or fewer related products? Added bitcoin as a payment option? Offered a discount? Let you checkout without registering? Adjusted your online advertising budget or changed the keywords you were paying for or targeted a new demographic or region...

    Do any or all of those one at a time, checking whether sales increased or not... congrats you effectively "experimented" on your users.

    Whether or not it is insidious or unethical doesn't depend on "did you or did you not experiment" it depends on what EXACTLY you've been doing.

    Me, I've noticed that people tend to click on articles that are finite lists of things. Hypothetically take an article called "Retirement Savings Strategies Everyone should know" gets fewer clicks than "7 retirement savings strategies everyone should know".

    The only change is the addition of the number 7.

    The internet has gradually been replaced by "X Y's" articles, because it gets more clicks, as this has become increasingly "discovered" by people "experimenting" on users with different headline styles.

    The only upside is that I can safely ignore any "news" site with more than 1 article that starts with a count in the title, as containing nothing more than processed brain diarrhea.

  • by thisisauniqueid (825395) on Monday July 28, 2014 @06:53PM (#47554063)

    Findings include that ... suggesting a bad match is a good match causes people to converse nearly as much as ideal matches would.

    All this means is that OKC's match algorithms suck: there's only a weak correlation between match scores and real-world compatibility (like with every other dating site).

  • Re:Flash panic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stranger_to_himself (1132241) on Monday July 28, 2014 @07:09PM (#47554135) Journal

    World discovers A/B testing
    Freaks out
    Until the next reality tv show comes on

    When we (academics) do experiments on people however trivial we usually have to go through ethical clearance, get informed consent etc. I think its skipping that part that people are uncomfortable about. Of course that happens every day in the business world (and even did before computer scientists rediscovered basic experiments and called it A/B testing), but in some of these cases it does start to look like an academic psychology experiment. Perhaps use of OK Cupid implies consent to be experimented on but I doubt that consent is collected in a transparent way.

  • Marketing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bo'Bob'O (95398) on Monday July 28, 2014 @07:25PM (#47554253)

    The fact is that the experiment they Facebook conducted was mild to what other corporations do every day under the umbrella of "marketing".

    They use control groups and try every trick they can to manipulate your mood, feelings, impressions of their products. They carefully script interactions to take advantage of your feelings and social norms. Also take the recent example in the past few weeks of the scripts that Verizon's 'account retention' departments use to try and wedge people into keeping their account longer. Those weren't just thrown together, those were made with careful research and years of experiments on customers and focus groups.

    The only difference with what Facebook did and the rest do is that they shared their results with everyone. Was Facebook Unethical manipulating people the way they did? I think so, and I'm only less interested in the service after that scandal, but what they got them in trouble was sharing it with the rest of the world in a way that might have also done some honest good. Now they will learn from their mistakes, keep it to themselves, and use that research purely to manipulate people for higher profit and no one will say a thing.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Monday July 28, 2014 @07:39PM (#47554339)
    That probably depends upon whether you consider the terms of use of the online service, grocery store loyalty card, casino player's card, etc to be transparent. Those terms of use that no one reads.

    There is also consent by action. The casino does A/B testing by offering some a $40 steak dinner plus $40 in chips while it offers others $80 in chips. You clicked on the advertisement/offer, or you opened the envelope that arrived in your postal mail, etc.

    Similarly the coupons a grocery store offers you are often part of an experiment. Hell, changing the items on the isle end caps are sometimes part of an experiment.

    My marketing processor thought that grocery store loyalty cards were the greatest invention ever in the history of marketing. The data collected and opportunity for experiments enormous.
  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Monday July 28, 2014 @07:47PM (#47554383)

    or perhaps all people are shallow.

  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @02:27AM (#47555593) Homepage

    One of those standards involves informed consent.

    Which instantly makes any kind of unbiassed behavioral research impossible.

You see but you do not observe. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes"

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