Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, a NY Times best seller, came up with a follow-up book called “The Upside of Irrationality“. He dissects many interesting aspects of human behavior with scientific experiments and hard data. One of the chapters in the book, Ariely focuses his attention on online dating sites.
Ariely, in collaboration with a bunch of researchers from MIT and Harvard, decided to measure the effectiveness of online dating sites. So the team put up an ad in a online dating site that invited members to participate in a research study. Participants answered questions about their dating experiences and how much time they spent browsing for partners, responding to emails, and number of in-person meetings they managed to get out of the process. The results of this study, as depicted in the diagram, was pretty discouraging (especially for those that are single and need the help of a online dating site). The odds of actually meeting someone through dating sites was worse than 6:1. This meant, you end up slogging for 6 hours to have a meeting for 1 hour that could go nowhere (the consolation being, this ratio is much better than B2B sales conversion!).
To find out why online dating is such a hard work, the research team did one more study to figure out the culprit. They discovered that dating sites broke down members by searchable attributes as opposed to experiential attributes that is difficult to measure. Also, people automatically made assumptions based on the profiles about the potential partner’s likes and dislikes only to be proved wrong later (if they meet).
Now comes the interesting part. Can dating sites create an opportunity for potential partners to share experiences to establish compatibility before they waste any more time? Can the process of searching and exchanging emails become fun rather than nerve racking suspense? Ariely and his gang of researchers decided to build a virtual world, where participants picked out a shape (square, circle, etc) and a color. They could then explore the virtual world that had images, art, movie clips and other items. As they got near other shapes (representing other members), they could initiate a chat session and communicate about the virtual things around them or introduce themselves to each other.
So what was the outcome of this experiment with virtual world based dating? Ariely found that participants in the study that had met other daters through the virtual world were twice as likely to meet each other in real world. If you are wondering why the outcome was better when virtual dates are involved, stay tuned for my next post.