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eHarmony’s matching mechanism is useful for other problems too!

A friend of mine started using eHarmony and I became fascinated with their people matching mechanic. It’s made me ask, why is it effective? What other kinds of problems could a similar matching be useful for? But first, a brief overview of online dating.

Classic dating sites overwhelm people with choice
A site like is like a bar scene, times 1000. You enter in a zip code, and it gives you 100s or 1000s of hits. You sort through them slowly, winking and messaging the ones that interest you, and skip the ones that don’t. Perhaps you read through their profiles, but because they are so many, I’m guessing that many folks simply glance , write, and keep going.

My guess is that it creates a “winner take all” type system, where desirable people get a huge number of matches and perhaps, haha, a Long Tail effect. It’s a “hits driven business” :) You don’t even have a physical limitation like in real life, where a person can only have a conversation with one or two people at once.

eHarmony’s matching mechanism is a selective black box
Compare this with eHarmony’s model, where the selection criteria is based on a black box. You go and take a long quiz about your interests, personality, and interpersonal style. Then you sit back and wait for matches. You might not even get matches immediately, but rather, you get matches over time, once a couple days.

Then once you’re matched, you go through a very long funnel process where you start by asking each other quiz questions, then more open ended questions, and finally you have unstructured discussion. I think this is a 5 or 6 step process, which is amazing.

This mechanism caters to a different crowd, and it’s marketed as such:

  • First off, the high qualification bar means only serious daters get involved
  • The low number of matches means that each match will be highly considered
  • More qualitative information is conveyed through the lengthier process, which means less opportunities for bad first dates

Where else might it work?
Ultimately, it seems that eHarmony’s matching mechanism might be useful for other problems, particularly when the following criteria are met:

  • Both parties need to have qualitative, compatible values
  • Each experience has to be highly personalized
  • Equivalent levels of interest are useful
  • “Bad” matches are highly undesireable

(Maybe other folks have parameters here that they agree with)

So what else would work really well here?? I think there are many possible opportunities, but just to throw some out, what if you used this to select service providers like graphic artists and programmers? Would it be important to have compatible aesthetic values, the same professional style choices (structured versus unstructured, etc.), the same technology ideas (RoR versus ASP, etc.)?

Another option here is also jobs – what if you picked your criteria for jobs and then had a couple hand selected for you rather than browsing hundreds of random job descriptions? Would that get you a better fit?

I will leave it an exercise for the reader to think through these scenarios. Another interesitng question to ask, as well, is how to do a multi-person eHarmony, to help find study or activity groups where people are all compatible.

I’ll probably blog more about this later :)

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