Taking a Chance on Love, and Algorithms

THE invitation from Yoke.me, a new online dating start-up, seemed innocuous enough. It suggested that I meet some of the single pals of one of my friends.

Yoke.me pulled in data from Facebook — my city, for example, and what movies I prefer — then generated matches with people from my extended social circle, based on common interests, like a shared love of Rihanna’s music or “Game of Thrones.”

 

It is ingenious, in a way. How many single people have trolled through a friend’s photo album on Facebook, spotted someone cute and then asked for intel about his or her availability? Poring through a trove of friends of friends can seem better than gauging whether the creep factor of a random person is low enough to warrant an in-person meeting.

 

Yet the idea was still troubling. My friends and I started a long e-mail thread about it, riffing that despite its elegant design, it seemed awkward and presumptuous. Not all Facebook “friends” are actually friends, and it’s not entirely clear that the bands and shows we’ve “liked” on Facebook can really be used to say anything meaningful about us.

 

“I’ve found my newest nightmare,” one friend said. “One match was a girl because we share a birthday,” said another. “One match was a guy because we both like Gilt,” a shopping site. “Is this for finding friends, dates or enemies?”

 

To be fair, the problem doesn’t seem to be confined to Yoke.me. It may be part of online dating itself. Sites and apps like OKCupid, eHarmony, Skout, Plenty of Fish and Match.com have attracted loyal followings. But in a world where we can pay someone for lunch by tapping two phones together and stream live television over a tablet computer, the de facto model of browsing through static profiles on a Web site or in a mobile app can feel comically outdated.

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