On pronouns, online dating and data laziness


Working from home confers significant benefits. Two of my favorites are a two-second commute and the ability to take afternoon naps without offending judgmental coworkers. Among the drawbacks, though: I'm not going to randomly meet someone at the office.

Like many single professionals, I have dabbled in the world of online dating, a $2-billion annual industry. It's somehow become less creepy over the last five years to tell your friends that you and your significant other met online. Ask ten people and you'll receive ten different responses. In the end, online dating is a mixed bag. Know in advance that your mileage may vary, but you didn't come here for dating advice now, did you?

The data side of dating

For those unfamiliar with the process, when users and customers sign up on dating sites, they have to provide at least some basic information. Examples include age, location, gender and the like. Of course, there's no way for most sites to verify your identity. That is, you can claim to be younger, better looking and thinner than you actually are. Most sites will happily take your money and data with only a valid user name and credit card.

I'm probably in the minority of subscribers to online sites like Match.com in that I think often of the data side of dating more than most. I don't doubt for a minute that, at a minimum, most sites use simple, structured data to pair their potential mates. For instance, restricting your matches to a 30-mile radius or a certain age range represents the very definition of a simple query. At present, though, it's much more difficult to match candidates on the basis of profiles, pictures and other forms of unstructured data.

Let's start with the premise that people who join dating sites actually want to find some form of companionship. If that's the case, then they'll correctly enter at least their gender, even if they add a few inches to their heights and/or subtract a few pounds and years from their real numbers. To the extent that most people get gender right, the following gender-neutral term on Match.com is pretty lazy:

They? Them? WTF? Why not use the data entered to provide for a slightly more personalized experience?

Simon says

Lost in all of the hubbub over big data is often the willingness or ability of many companies to use the small stuff. While the use of them is unlikely to make any given customer quit the site, omissions like these add to the overall impression that an organization doesn't know its customers. Why not take the two minutes to build a simple rule?

If gender = M then pronoun = "his" ELSE pronoun = "her"


What say you?


About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

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