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Forty Years of Computer Dating

Article #139 • Written by Greg Bjerg

The online matchmaking service eHarmony claims that their service has resulted in over 10,000 marriages since 2001. Millions of people use services like eHarmony and Match.com hoping to find romance by answering a questionnaire and spending a little cash. If all goes right the computer will be your cupid and maybe you'll find happiness with that someone special.

The road to today's computer assisted matchmaking began 40 years ago when two Harvard undergraduates were talking on a dateless Saturday night over a few drinks. Jeff Tarr and Vaughn Morrill came up with a far-out idea: use a computer to arrange compatible dates. Thus was born Operation Match and as Tarr recalls, "The goal was not to make money but to have some fun and to meet some attractive ladies"

David Crump and Douglas Ginsburg (a future Supreme Court nominee) aided Tarr and Morrill in creating a questionnaire. The questionnaire ran several pages and asked everything from height and weight statistics to how a person would react to a hypothetical situation.

Here's a sample of one of the questions:

Your roommate gets you a blind date for the big dance. Good-looking your roommate says. When you meet your date, you are sure it's your roommate who is blind - your date is friendly, but embarrassingly unattractive. You:
(1) Suggest going to a movie instead
(2) Monopolize your roommate's date leaving your roommate with only one noble alternative.
(3) Dance with your date, smiling weakly, but end the evening as early as possible.
(4) Act very friendly the whole time and run the risk of getting trapped into a second date.

The group believed that opposites don't attract, that attitudinal likenesses do attract and physical looks that are consistent with expectations also attract. The questionnaire they wrote was both scientific and whimsical and billed as fun to fill out. Respondents paid $3 to participate.

The students knew nothing about computers. Tarr paid $100 to a computer science student to write program code designed to match up questionnaires. Being 1966, all the data from the questionnaires were transferred to punch cards. The team then rented a room-sized computer, an Avco 1790, on which they were allowed to work with from 2 am to 4 am. It took six weeks to produce a match list.

Questionnaire respondents then received a letter saying who they were matched to, with phone numbers, and they were very pleased. One woman at Vassar got over 100 matches.

The image of using a computer for romance worked positively and negatively in the mid 60's. There was a belief that using computers would take all of the romance out of dating. But the idea of using computers at that time seemed very modern and very cutting-edge.

The questionnaire evolved over the years with the toughest question to deal with always being: "How good looking are you?". Ugly people tended to say they were good looking, and good looking people would say they were ugly.

Thanks to publicity in Look Magazine and appearances on a few television shows Operation Match continued to grow. The first year the service ended up with 7,800 respondents from Harvard, Vassar, Smith and Mt. Holyoke. Every letter contained the $3 matchmaking fee. By 1968 Operation Match had solicited more a million respondents and mail was coming from colleges nationwide. But the service was not making a profit. Eventually Operation Match (and its parent company Compatibility Research Inc.) were bought up by investors who used the technology to match up college roommates.

Jeff Tarr went on to become the chairman of a New York risk-arbitrage firm and Vaughn Morrill went on to a 31 year career as a science teacher in St. Louis.

The idea of computer dating was an idea before its time. When the personal computer became commonplace people were less resistant to electronic matchmaking. The introduction of the Internet also accelerated the creation of many new dating services with customers numbering in the tens of millions. They all run on essentially the same principles as Operation Match only with more sophistication... and no punch cards.

Article written by Greg Bjerg, published on 17 March 2006. Greg was born and raised in Iowa and graduated with a degree in Journalism from Drake University. Sadly, he passed away on 20 March 2011.

Edited by Alan Bellows.

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35 Comments
Jason Bellows
Posted 17 March 2006 at 03:12 pm

I once dated a computer cuz I heard she would output.


Alan Bellows
Posted 17 March 2006 at 04:09 pm

Jason Bellows said: "I once dated a computer cuz I heard she would output."

I don't think you can call it a "date" if you paid to have your laptop serviced.

Thank you... I'll be here all week.


Prince
Posted 17 March 2006 at 10:29 pm

Ba doom tish


Prince
Posted 17 March 2006 at 10:30 pm

Punch cards, man thats old school


Furnace
Posted 18 March 2006 at 07:07 am

I've never heard of the service being used to match up college roommates, although that's a really good idea. When I interview people at my company, a good chunk of the interview is used to determine if the applicant could even tolerate working there. Maybe I should automate the process.


tobobo
Posted 18 March 2006 at 09:20 am

ohhhhh....
if you want to be possesive, it's just I-T-S, but if it's supposed to be a contraction then it's I-T-apostrophe-S!


Fredrated
Posted 18 March 2006 at 01:37 pm

Millions of users and 10,000 marriages? Let's see, 10,000 marriages would be 20,000 people married from (say) 2 million users . That's 1% that found what they wanted. Doesn't sound impressive to me.


beanaroo
Posted 18 March 2006 at 02:40 pm

Fredrated said: "Millions of users and 10,000 marriages? Let's see, 10,000 marriages would be 20,000 people married from (say) 2 million users . That's 1% that found what they wanted. Doesn't sound impressive to me."

It says Millions of people use internet dating services. eHarmony boasts the 10,000 mariages. It doesn't mean that millions use eHarmony, only that millions use the internet to find dates.


another viewpoint
Posted 18 March 2006 at 03:38 pm

Computer dating? Naaaaa...I prefer individuals that are carbon based instead of silicon based.


indra c
Posted 18 March 2006 at 06:57 pm

carbon with some silicon is fine too


Fredrated
Posted 18 March 2006 at 11:56 pm

beanaroo said: "It says Millions of people use internet dating services. eHarmony boasts the 10,000 mariages. It doesn't mean that millions use eHarmony, only that millions use the internet to find dates."

Nonetheless, 10,000 is barely one tick mark on the Internet Scale.


beanaroo
Posted 19 March 2006 at 02:39 pm

Fredrated said: Nonetheless, 10,000 is barely one tick mark on the Internet Scale."

I agree if that is the whole number, but I am sure Match.com can boast at LEAST several thousand as could Yahoo personals and any of the dozen other internet dating sites. And of course you only get what you put into it. How many of the millions of internet dating users are the ultra super picky type who will never find their perfect person (because he/she doesn't exist)? How many sign up and then never visit the site again? I am willing to bet that when some of the numbers that shouldn't count are weeded out that the sites are running at a 30-40% success rate. In dating terms that's a pretty good success rate. Heck even 20% would be pretty good. When you factor all the people someone may have dated in high school and collage and after before they found the person they wanted to marry I bet most people are running at less then a 20% success rate even without the internet to help them.


towerrat
Posted 22 March 2006 at 01:03 pm

Beanaroo, did you learn how to spell collage in college?


Spirrah
Posted 20 April 2006 at 03:35 pm

My hubsand and I short-circtuited the program by using the ole text chat room back when real conversations took place on them.


JJ
Posted 14 May 2006 at 08:12 pm

Wow, the jokes are flowing freely aren't they.


Cathryn
Posted 31 December 2006 at 12:00 pm

if you r computer dating then you r and the other person are guaranteed to be ugly. other wise you wouldnt spend hours on the computer with some fat old man that you dont know who calls himself brad pitt. honestly, get off the damn computer and find a date in real life, i guarantee the brad pitt you think your talking too is most likely a michael jackson. the only dance he can do is the truffle shuffle, his idea of a date is trading yu gi oh cards and talking about starwars, there idea of a hot woman is princess laya with a hotpocket, and the closest they've ever been to a woman or man or what ever they want is there parents (chances are they are chatting with you from there parents basement). and, if you actually talking to a hot girl or guy, there getting paid to do it.


Tink
Posted 01 January 2007 at 02:07 am

Cathryn said: "if you r computer dating....there getting paid to do it."

I see you have tried this and it didn't work for you.
Damn it, tell us how u reeally feel.

(I bet you used to beat up the little MR kids in school. Common, you still laugh about it at night too, don't cha?) LOL


Cathryn
Posted 01 January 2007 at 12:25 pm

Tink said: "I see you have tried this and it didn't work for you.

Damn it, tell us how u reeally feel.

(I bet you used to beat up the little MR kids in school. Common, you still laugh about it at night too, don't cha?) LOL"

yeah, im only 15. i do not computer date...i still have a future ahead of me.


Katee
Posted 01 January 2007 at 12:42 pm

Cathryn said: "yeah, im only 15. i do not computer date…i still have a future ahead of me."

Do you like to pick on 15 year olds "Tink?" R they no longer aloud to express how they really feel about a subject? i believe what she said was the truth and you had no right to tell her different. you probably think you pretty funny dont you? well i for one think that it is pathetic for you to tease on a 15 year old for simply posting her opinion. You know...i dont even think you are good enough to computer date. so, in other words...leave the kids of this site alone. this is only making you look bad. She is right, she does still have a future ahead of herself. Unlike you, you probably spend you day looking for comments to make fun of you troll. Im also wondering why you are so defensive about computer dating. did you get dumped back in the day on a computer site? Did your man or girl say brb and never come back? Man you must be some loser.


Dan
Posted 01 January 2007 at 12:49 pm

Wow "Tink," r u having fun making fun a kid? Common, you still laugh about it at night too, don't cha?) LOL" You internet troll.


Bambibabe
Posted 01 January 2007 at 01:02 pm

Tink said: "I see you have tried this and it didn't work for you.

Damn it, tell us how u reeally feel.

(I bet you used to beat up the little MR kids in school. Common, you still laugh about it at night too, don't cha?) LOL"

Your sick tink. you should really be ashamed of yourself for even saying anything like that to a 15 year old, the comment about the MR kids was lude and viol. my little brother is mentally retarded. thanks alot tink. i cant believe what people say just to sound clever or funny.


Bambibabe
Posted 01 January 2007 at 01:05 pm

Alan Bellows said: "I don't think you can call it a "date" if you paid to have your laptop serviced.

Thank you… I'll be here all week."

lol


Chellagirly
Posted 01 January 2007 at 01:25 pm

Tink said: "I see you have tried this and it didn't work for you.

Damn it, tell us how u reeally feel.

(I bet you used to beat up the little MR kids in school. Common, you still laugh about it at night too, don't cha?) LOL"

Do you really think what you said was funny. you have no right to be mean to a girl at the mear age of 15. what did she ever do to you? fyi, the MR kid comment was absurd.


Tink
Posted 01 January 2007 at 03:43 pm

Hey people, I had no idea that Cathryn is only 15 years old. She spoke with a worldly knowledge that belied her age and experiance. If I offended any one with a tounge in cheek crack then I apologise. There is no need to call me a troll. As for the MR comment, get a grip. I care for the mentally ill in my home. I have 11 residents and am surrounded by love, they understand a joke when they hear one. As for you all who signed up just to slam me...well I would venture to guess that the regular members here who post at least once a week know me well enough to recognise that no evil or harm was intended here. Of course with a few exceptions, they are adults and able to grasp adult humor and satire.

Again, just to clarify, Cathryn, I apologise, deeply, and sincerley and hope that my comment will not scar you for life.

Happy New Year.

Cathryn said: "yeah, im only 15."


Chellagirly
Posted 01 January 2007 at 03:54 pm

i still think that there was no need for the MR comment. but i respect that you came out and appologized.


Dan
Posted 01 January 2007 at 04:01 pm

yeah, what chellygirly said


Bambibabe
Posted 01 January 2007 at 05:23 pm

im one of Cathryns friends. ill bet you also didnt know that she had a brother that was mentally retarded who died recently. what you said really hurt her.


James
Posted 02 January 2007 at 02:40 pm

I took no offence Tink. Although I don’t see how you could have mistaken Cathryns for an adult given her writing style. But I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. These people are just blowing smoke. And Bambibabe who has the brother again? you are Cathryns? hmmm

And as for Cathryns comment:
I think you are referring to chat rooms those are different from internet dating sights. Internet dating sites have a picture (which usually really is of them) questionnaire and so. In other words lots of “normal” non computer Geek people. I know lots of people who do this and if you knew then you would defiantly not consider then geeky or ugly. Chat rooms on the other hand they can be anybody often grossly misrepresent themselves and can actually be dangerous for a 15 girl so be careful. But it sounds like you have a good grip on not getting yourself in trouble with those


Bambibabe
Posted 06 January 2007 at 12:29 am

James said: "I took no offence Tink. Although I don’t see how you could have mistaken Cathryns for an adult given her writing style. But I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. These people are just blowing smoke. And Bambibabe who has the brother again? you are Cathryns? hmmm

And as for Cathryns comment:

I think you are referring to chat rooms those are different from internet dating sights. Internet dating sites have a picture (which usually really is of them) questionnaire and so. In other words lots of “normal” non computer Geek people. I know lots of people who do this and if you knew then you would defiantly not consider then geeky or ugly. Chat rooms on the other hand they can be anybody often grossly misrepresent themselves and can actually be dangerous for a 15 girl so be careful. But it sounds like you have a good grip on not getting yourself in trouble with those"

i actually met cathryn through our brothers, they attended school together. she is over this whole thing, next topic.


Cathryn
Posted 11 January 2007 at 10:42 am

Bambibabe said: "i actually met cathryn through our brothers, they attended school together. she is over this whole thing, next topic."

i thought that chat room dating was computer dating. and thanks about the nice comments.


Destroy09
Posted 02 August 2007 at 05:31 pm

Since we are currently on the topic of saying not-so-politically-correct statements about the mentally handicapped while arguing on the internet, I would figure this quote applies. (although, I must say it is quite distasteful). "Fighting on the internet is like competing in the special olympics; even if you win, you're still retarded."


Mirage_GSM
Posted 30 May 2008 at 01:04 am

@Cathryn/Dan/Bambibabe/Katee:
It would be less obvious that you are alll the same person (or at most two), if you didn't make the same grammar mistakes in all your posts...


ValiantDefender
Posted 11 December 2008 at 11:32 am

I met mhy wife on Myspace. Heh. I was a divorced dad working two jobs and just didn't have time for real dating. Also, dating divorced people is scary for religious people. I don't want to go into details, but, once you are experienced in intimacy its tough to refrain. Having been a virgin at the start of my first marriage, I was not prepared for that difficulty! Anyway, I'm not an ugly useless person and I don't care if Cathryn is 15 (17 now cause these comments cover 2 years) its still rude to say crap about people you don't know.

Cathryn said: "if you r computer dating then you r and the other person are guaranteed to be ugly. other wise you wouldnt spend hours on the computer with some fat old man that you dont know who calls himself brad pitt. honestly, get off the damn computer and find a date in real life, i guarantee the brad pitt you think your talking too is most likely a michael jackson. the only dance he can do is the truffle shuffle, his idea of a date is trading yu gi oh cards and talking about starwars, there idea of a hot woman is princess laya with a hotpocket, and the closest they've ever been to a woman or man or what ever they want is there parents (chances are they are chatting with you from there parents basement). and, if you actually talking to a hot girl or guy, there getting paid to do it."

Saying this kind of thing just brands you as a jerk. Don't be a jerk!


mcvpjd3
Posted 06 February 2009 at 08:45 am

Just came across this article why browsing random articles and thought I'd air my views. Firstly, Cathryn (who I didn't realise was only 15, and her writing style does not show this as that's the way a lot of people write these days thanks to growing up with texting) made a point which some people might have found very offensive (I'll come back to this). Tink then gave her opinion, and got lambasted because of this, and the main brunt of the argument was don't put Cathryn down because of her views, which is what these people were doing to Tink.

As for the Cathryn comment. I met my wife which chatting on the internet. I went into a Yahoo chat room, as these were new at the time and as a techy I thought I'd have a look. I met someone, started chatting and we ended up getting married. So her comment about people who computer date being ugly could be very hurtful. There are lots of reason for computer dating. Very shy, being disabled or "Retarded" (if you want to use that word), very busy, maybe you live out in the middle of nowhere or a small town and want to meet someone from far afield (myself & my wife lived in different countries). Anyway, the "Ugly" comment was a very ugly comment, but hey, we are all allowed to have our opinion, and that includes Tink.


ShellyMilwaukee
Posted 20 May 2009 at 11:20 am

I wonder when anyone ever solicited the opinion of a 15 year old. Oh, that's right, nobody did. And the reason a 15 year olds opinion wasn't asked for is because you have very little life experience to base your opinions on. I don't understand people coming to the defense of a brat who called all people who Internet date "ugly". Get serious. And to the person who said Cathryn's brother is Mentally retarded, really, uh huh, sure. Who'd buy that obvious lie. Anyhooo's, it's too bad there's not a way to limit anyone under the age of 18 from commenting on the www. Let's have grown up conversation on here. Yay! :)


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