THE NEW YORKER - July 4 - In 1964, on a visit to the World’s Fair, in Queens, Lewis Altfest, came upon an open-air display called the Parker Pen Pavilion, where a giant computer was selecting foreign pen pals for pavilion visitors. You filled out a questionnaire and received a card with the name and address of a like-minded participant. Altfest and his friend Robert Ross heard about a program called Operation Match, which used a computer to find dates for people. A year later, they had a prototype, which they called Project TACT (Technical Automated Compatibility Testing). Each client paid $5 and answered ~100 questions. TACT transferred the answers onto a computer that spit out your matches.
Online dating sites draw on the premise that there has got to be a better way. They rely on algorithms, some add an extra layer of projection and interpretation. There are thousands of dating sites; the big ones, such as Match.com and eHarmony and PlentyOfFish and OK Cupid (among the free ones). Mark Brooks, the editor of Online Personals Watch, said, “Starting a site is like starting a restaurant. It’s a sexy business, looks like fun, yet it’s hard to make money.”
The dating sites are themselves a little like online-dating-site suitors. They want you. They exaggerate their height and salary. Each has a distinct personality and a carefully curated profile. Nothing determines the atmosphere and experience of an Internet dating service more than the people who use it, but sometimes the sites reflect the personalities or predilections of their founders. If the dating sites had a mixer, you might find OK Cupid by the bar, muttering factoids and jokes, and Match.com in the middle of the room, conspicuously dropping everyone’s first names into his sentences. The clean-shaven gentleman on the couch, with the excellent posture would be eHarmony.
Match.com went live in 1995. It is now the biggest dating site in the world. eHarmony is the one most overtly geared toward finding you a spouse. It was launched, in 2000, by Neil Clark Warren, a clinical psychologist who had spent three decades treating and studying married couples and working out theories about what made their marriages succeed or fail. By reputation, OKCupid is where you go if you want to hook up. OK Cupid was also perhaps the most desirable eligible bachelor out there, until February, when it was bought for $50M by Match.
by Nick Paumgarten
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