The OkCupid homepage on April 3, 2014
Type of site
|Online dating service|
|Alexa rank||973 (November 2018[update])|
|Registration||Required for membership|
|Launched||January 19, 2004|
OkCupid (sometimes abbreviated as OKC) is an American-based, internationally operating online dating, friendship, and social networking website that features multiple-choice questions in order to match members. It is supported by advertisements and paying users who do not see ads.
The site supports multiple modes of communication, including instant messages and emails. OkCupid was listed in Time magazine's 2007 Top 10 dating websites. The website was acquired by IAC's Match.com division in 2011.
OkCupid is owned by Humor Rainbow, Inc. OkCupid's founders (Chris Coyne, Christian Rudder, Sam Yagan, and Max Krohn) were students at Harvard University when they gained recognition for their creation of TheSpark and, later, SparkNotes. Among other things, TheSpark.com featured a number of humorous self-quizzes and personality tests, including the four-variable Myers-Briggs style Match Test. SparkMatch debuted as a beta experiment of allowing registered users who had taken the Match Test to search for and contact each other based on their Match Test types. The popularity of SparkMatch took off and it was launched as its own site, later renamed OkCupid. In 2001, they sold SparkNotes to Barnes & Noble, and began work on OkCupid.
In 2008, OkCupid spun off its test-design portion under the name Hello Quizzy (HQ), while keeping it inextricably linked to OkCupid and reserving existent OkCupid users' names on HQ. However, the original Dating Persona Test has since been removed.
Since August 2009, an "A-list" account option is available to users of OkCupid and provides additional services for a monthly fee.
In February 2011, OkCupid was acquired by IAC/InterActiveCorp, operators of Match.com, for US$50 million. Editorial posts from 2010 by an OkCupid founder in which Match.com and pay-dating were criticized for exploiting users and being "fundamentally broken" were removed from the OkCupid blog at the time of the acquisition. In a press response, OkCupid's CEO explained that the removal was voluntary.
On March 31, 2014 any user accessing OkCupid from Firefox was presented with a message asking users to boycott the internet browser due to Mozilla Corporation's new CEO Brendan Eich's support of Proposition 8. Users were asked instead to consider other browsers. On April 2, 2014, the dating site revoked the Firefox ban.
The website added a bevy of nontraditional profile options for users to express their gender identity and sexuality in late 2014. These options—which included asexual, genderfluid, pansexual, sapiosexual, and transgender categories—were added to make the website more inclusive. Through this addition, OkCupid popularized the concept of "sapiosexuality", meaning romance or sexual attraction based on intellectual, rather than physical, traits.
Rudder updated the "OkTrends" blog, which consists of "original research and insights from OkCupid," for the first time in three years in July 2014. Entitled "We Experiment On Human Beings!," the post discusses three experiments run by the website without the knowledge of users. Rudder prefaces the experiment results by stating: "... 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."
2014 experimenting on users
In 2014, OkCupid CEO Christian Rudder revealed in a blog post that experiments were routinely conducted on OkCupid users. He revealed that one experiment included removing users' profile pictures on January 15, 2013 ("Love is Blind Day") and analyzed user responses to messages, conversations, and contact details. When the photos were restored, users who had started "blind" conversations gradually began tapering off their conversations, leading Rudder to remark "it was like we'd turned on the bright lights at the bar at midnight". Perhaps the experiment that generated the most controversy, however, was when OkCupid took pairs of "bad matches" (i.e. users with around 30% match) and sent these users a message indicating they were "exceptionally good for each other" (displayed 90% match). Rudder also suggested that doing this actually caused people, who were originally "bad matches", to actually like each other: "When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other".
The revelation that OkCupid conducted these experiments on users led to much criticism. In one article, James Grimmelmann suggested that companies like OkCupid that conduct experiments on users without their knowledge are potentially breaking the law. Grimmelmann argues that the so-called "Common Rule", a federal law, regulates research on human subjects in the United States and stipulates that in order to conduct this type of research, informed consent must be provided by the participant and an IRB (Institutional Review Board) must sign off on the research. Grimmelmann suggests that this process goes beyond a simple agreement to the terms and conditions of a website, which OkCupid CEO Christian Rudder referred to as providing a mere "charade of consent".
Additionally, Grimmelmann notes that certain states have specific laws that govern the informed consent process. In Maryland, for example, House Bill 917 requires that all research, whether publicly funded or not, must comply with the Common Rule. He further argues that even if a corporation like OkCupid is not based in a state like Maryland, some of its users are and if these users happened to be subject to an experiment without their authorization then this is a violation of state law. OkCupid CEO Christian Rudder attempted to defend the company, in part by suggesting that it would be unethical not to experiment on users:
"I think part of what’s confusing people about this experiment is the result. The algorithm does kind of work, y’know and power of suggestion is also there. But like, what if it had gone the other way? What if our algorithm was far worse than random? Then if we hadn’t had run that experiment we basically are doing something terrible to all the users. Like this is the only way to find this stuff out, if you guys have an alternative to the scientific method I’m all ears."
Grimmelmann, however, notes that the weighing of risks and benefits of a particular study is a decision that participants should make for themselves and not a decision that belongs to a researcher (or CEO). Others noted that Rudder's blog entry disclosing the OkCupid experiments did not mention whether users were informed they were participants Evidently, Rudder responded by including the message users were sent at the conclusion of the experiment:
Because of a diagnostic test, your match percentage with [nameB] was misstated as [%]. It is actually [%]. We wanted to let you know!
2016 data scraping and release
In May 2016, a team of Danish researchers have made publicly available the "OkCupid dataset" project, containing (as of May 2016) 2,620 variables describing 68,371 users on OkCupid for research purposes (e.g., for psychologists investigating the social psychology of dating). The data release spurred considerable criticism, included an investigation by the Danish Data Protection Authority.
2017 switch to using real names from pseudonyms
In December 2017, OkCupid rolled out a change that would require users to provide their real first name, in place of a pseudonym as was previously encouraged. Although the company later clarified that nicknames or initials would be acceptable, despite a list of "banned words" being employed, this change has been criticized as potentially paving the way to harassment of individuals and minorities and doxing, and it has been noted that unlike other dating sites that encourage the use of first names, OkCupid "encourages long profiles full of intimate details, including candid answers to questions about sex and politics", making connecting that information with a real name more problematic to users.
OkCupid claimed 3.5 million active users as of September 2010. According to Compete.com, the website attracted 1.3 million unique visitors in February 2011.
The site used to have a highly active journal/blogging community as well. Journals are not available to new members and the feature is now "retired." Members have the option of saving favorite user profiles, which display the favorited person's responses to questions and profile updates on the member's front page.
Any adult may join the site and all users may communicate with others via private messages or an instant messaging "chat" function. OkCupid was the first major dating site to offer unlimited messaging free of charge, although this was limited in late 2017 when OkCupid's official blog announced the site is "getting rid of open-messaging" and making sent messages invisible to the recipient until they in turn interact with the sender. A-List (paying) members see no advertising and have more filtering options and preferential placement in an "A-List Matches" section of search results. A-list members can also browse openly while choosing whether or not their profile is displayed to those they visited.
OkTrends, the official blog of OkCupid, presents statistical observations from OkCupid user interactions, to explore data from the online dating world.
To generate matches, OkCupid applies data generated by users' activities on the site, as well as their answers to questions. When answering a question, a user indicates his or her own answer, the answers he or she would accept from partners, and the level of importance he or she places on the question. The results of these questions can be made public. OkCupid describes in detail the algorithm used to calculate match percentages. Assuming a user is a paid user ("A-List"), the site notifies a user if someone likes that user.
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