Cupid or statistics? Datamatch uses algorithms to find you true love
The online survey platform designed by Harvard students has made its way to Vandy’s campus, with plenty of quirky questions to answer
February 11, 2021
Which on-campus library describes your past relationship?
Stevenson – lots of effort gets put in, but a bit bleak
Biomed – new and pretty, but not in an ideal location
Owen – usually you like more mature people
Central – homely and cozy, but basic
No library – you prefer being in your room alone
Above is just one of the questions featured on Datamatch’s 2021 Valentine’s Day matchmaking survey, now available to Vanderbilt undergraduate and graduate students.
Datamatch began in 1994 when a group of Harvard students decided to create an algorithm-based matchmaking service for students. Since then, the survey has expanded to more than 30 schools across the United States.
Now, if you are anything like me, you might be skeptical about finding that ~special someone~ through some online questionnaire. However, as I sat down to take the survey (which launched Feb. 7), I was surprised to find it consisted of 15 witty multiple choice questions that were all Vanderbilt-related. I found myself chuckling, for example, as I pondered question 12, which asks participants to identify the “most attractive” feature of our mascot, Mr. Commodore. Faced with five choices all dripping with sarcasm, I decided that “his toned arms in that basketball jersey” felt most suitable.
Charlotte Novy, a Vanderbilt sophomore and member of the Datamatch team who oversees the survey, said the goal of the questions is to encourage participants to have fun with the matchmaking.
“We wanted the questions to be as lighthearted and silly as possible to make it a fun experience for people. It’s about the process, not just the end result,” she said.
The survey will close on Feb. 14 at 12:01 a.m., after which the results will be released for all those who participated. Each participant can expect to receive results based on a tailored algorithm which analyzes their answers to survey questions and generates a list of around ten Vanderbilt student profiles.
Harvard sophomore Kevin Huang, member of the homebase algorithms team in Cambridge, spoke about the work that goes on behind the computer screen as Datamatch team members play Cupid. He could not elaborate much on what he called the “nitty-gritty” aspects of the computer program.
“A lot of what we do involves running simulations on the computer and scoring algorithms to match people up,” Huang said. “The algorithm is part of the allure of Datamatch.”
Regardless of whether or not I understand the matchmaking magic, I am excited to see my results on Sunday, even though the questions posed aren’t really related to my interests, hobbies or passions. Perhaps this is the “allure” Huang is talking about — a certain trust in Datamatch’s algorithms to connect me with others.
Once results are available, users have the choice to “match” with the profiles they are interested in. If the “match” is mutual, users will be able to see and communicate with one another via a Datamatch direct message or on a social media handle they have the option to provide. Participants can set their sexuality preferences before completing the survey. Those not looking for anything serious are welcome to answer the survey questions as well by designating in their profile they are looking for friendship, not love.
Last year, 453 Vanderbilt students took the survey, with the majority of them being first-years. Of the students who took the survey in 2020, 30 percent of them came away with at least one mutual match, meaning one of their matches also chose to match with them.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how Datamatch played out last year,” Novy said. “It was all positive reactions from what I heard, which was really nice.”
This year, love is in the air, or at least a wifi connection is. As of Feb. 10, 504 Vanderbilt students had already set up a Datamatch profile. Of course, this year will look quite different from years past given COVID restrictions, but both Novy and Huang are optimistic about Datamatch’s ability to deliver quality results and foster new relationships.
“We are hopeful that in-person dates can occur, but we are still encouraging people to be safe and comply with COVID guidelines,” Huang said.
Novy added that given the isolation brought on by the pandemic, Datamatch provides the perfect platform for people to socialize and interact in a lighthearted way.
“I think people are so eager to chat with each other as much as they can with what’s going on right now. I think it’s going to go even further this year given the circumstances,” she said.
In a world of dating apps that prioritize appearances and quick, gut reactions that prompt users to swipe left or right, Datamatch is a refreshing new take on online matchmaking that is also appropriately tailored to pandemic restrictions. The survey questions are humorous and relatable, and will surely serve as conversation starters for newly-matched participants come Valentine’s Day. After all, I am certainly curious to know which of Mr. Commodore’s features my matches find most attractive — do they, like me, share a knack for toned, jersey-wearing mascots with oversized eyebrows?
If Datamatch sounds like the way to your heart, sign up using your Vanderbilt email and be sure to take the survey before Saturday at midnight.