Love It or Hate It: Big Data

Big data—you either love it or hate it. As a public relations practitioner, I have come to fall into the category of loving it! I have found that it just makes me that much more effective at accomplishing communication goals. In fact, I think I have carved out a niche for myself working in school public relations for using data generated by the school system to inform my decision-making. Plus, it makes it easier for me to determine whether or not I have been successful. For me, the use of data by communicators is a hallmark of a practitioner being on his or her game. Fail to use it and I want to read into what one is presenting to understand their (lack of) methodology.

Think I haven’t done it? Just Ask my #schoolPR colleagues with whom I regularly participate in a moderated Twitter chat with that can be found by searching the hashtag #k12prchat. If you could see and hear them when you asked the question about me, you’d probably get an eye roll and a collective groan.

Yes, put me in the “love it” category!

If you work for a large organization, then you know your company collects many, many pieces of data no matter what industry for which you work. It’s no different for the love industry. In this week’s Modern Retro PR, I am drawn to a case study I first learned about through a now-canceled podcast, called “Undone,” and produced by Gimlet Media in 2016.

The episode, “Operation Match,” billed itself like this:

“Before Tinder, before eHarmony, before the internet, there was Operation Match. This is the story of the roots of online dating, when, in 1965, a computer the size of a van helped people find their perfect dates.”

Click to listen to this episode of Undone here.

Modern: Online matchmaking apps and websites

At the turn of the century, online dating had a stigma—that something was “wrong” if you needed to go online and find a date. I recall two people I went to college with who used me as their cover story for meeting when they really met online. (During their process of getting to know one another, they each realized they both knew me.)

These days, no one would think twice about telling others they met their partner online. In fact, Pew Research has seen the momentum shift since they first began measuring this topic in 2005. Since that point, 13 percent fewer people would categorize “people who use online dating sites as desperate.” See table below as indicated by three separate administrations of the survey by Pew in 2005, 2013 and 2016, respectively.


Unfortunately for my friends, they met prior to Pew’s first popping the question of American adults, and hence the way they told their story of how they met.

But for all those looking for love on websites/apps like e-Harmony, Match, Tinder, Grindr and the like, endless amount of data are needed to find the perfect match. In 2017, Pew Research found that 15 percent of American adults have used online dating services. Consider that each person shares vitals like name, photographs, height, weight, age, dating preferences, vocation, etc., that is copious amounts of data!

Each keystroke or click of a mouse represents data that someone is hoping to find them “The One.”

But it hasn’t always been as easy as to swipe right or left for love.

Retro: Operation Match

In the 1960s, college students looking for love would attend a mixer and hope to meet someone. Unfortunately, there is a lot of variables at stake with a mixer. Let’s face it, it was probably not ideal for an introverted college student or for someone who lived in an area with what they felt to be limited options.

survey question

Interested to see what matchmaking looked like in 1965? Here is one question from the questionnaire developed by Harvard University students. Want to see more of the survey? Click to view

In the spring of 1965, a group of college students from Harvard University decided to create shake up the process and let a computer do the work. It all started with a 100-question survey that yielded information on a potential suitor’s background and attitudes. Those answers would be put into a computer which would generate a list of names and phone numbers of possible dates.

According to an article published in The Harvard Crimson in 1965, the number of approximately 70,000 American students who sent in “three dollars and a completed questionnaire” was cited.

Final Thoughts

Although I didn’t meet my mate online, more and more people are. In fact, the popular wedding website The Knot found that in 2017, 19 percent of brides had met their mates online. Statistically speaking, that number could easily increase.

Love is, apparently, big business. A 2017 report from IBISWorld indicated that the online dating industry is now a $3 billion a year business. That number could increase as Pew Research found in 2016 that the trend for online dating increased slightly, with 12 percent of Americans ever having used a dating site.

When considering Moore’s Law and the idea that the “power of technology hardware doubles every 18 months,” a great example can be found in the world of computer-assisted matchmaking. The number of people looking for their match has been multiplied more than 500 times as compared to the statistic cited in the Retro example in The Harvard Crimson. The rough math of the number of people using online dating help tops more than 37 million people! That number mushroomed in just more than 50 years!

At this rate, the technology has to continue improving with an uptick in the number of users—that’s with only 15 percent of the population using the services. What happens if more year for tugs of their heart strings via an app? The technology must continue to improve.

However, online matchmaking isn’t all just science, it’s art, too. Data aside, even with a computer-calculated odds of a successful match, there is one thing a computer just can’t replicate: an on-target strike of Cupid’s arrow to the heart.

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