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Doctoral Student Delves Into Online Dating

by Lauren Lopez-Ibanez, CHASS Communication Intern

With all the fish in the sea, sometimes finding your perfect match can prove to be a challenge. Many singles trying to hook a mate have turned to online dating sites to help them narrow the pool of compatible fish.

CHASS doctoral candidate Dawn Shepherd of the Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program has focused her studies–and her dissertation–on the technologies of matching. The Times of London recently interviewed her in an article about the challenges and methods of online dating algorithms.

Shepherd says she studies “the logics that power websites we engage and their relationship to identity. … In other words, how do the processes of matching me with people to date, books to buys, movies to watch, or websites to visit construct me as a user?”

In some ways, Shepherd says, online dating is “like online shopping. … Matchmaking systems use collaborative filtering to find commonalities between your actions and those of many others,” she explains. “This form of information filtering allows suggestions to be made relative to your actions. Just as clothing websites recommend alternate options in conjunction with purchases, matchmaking sites suggest potential candidate profiles based off those previously viewed.”

Although these algorithms are not yet savvy enough to know why there are certain connections between individuals and their choices, they do recognize that there is a connection, and they use that data accordingly.

Fishing for the perfect mate through online sites remains an imperfect science. But Shepherd puts great stock in algorithms. “I think it’s definitely possible that one day these algorithms will know us better than we know ourselves,” she says.