Sparking more than 30,000 first dates a day, OkCupid has become a massively popular hub for people to meet and connect. And according to Co-Founder and President Christian Rudder, the interactions taking place on the site can offer some valuable lessons about human behavior that are relevant to business.

Rudder appeared at the 1st Tuesday speaker series to share how the data of human interaction informs business. He was also one of three panelists who discussed the data behind online dating at Date Night, an event hosted at the Carlson School by the Social Media Business Analytics Collaborative and MinneAnalytics.

Check out three insights about business and big data that arose from the discussion:   

Not all metrics are created equal

Christian Rudder

According to Rudder, it’s crucial for a business to define objectives, and choose the right metrics to measure them.

For OkCupid, the yardstick for success is not site visits or page views, but how many in-depth conversations are taking place among users.

“The typical engagement measurements don’t work for OkCupid: if someone comes to our site every day for a year, that’s not a good indication of the health of the site. We look at ‘message health,’ which means as many people are having as many conversations as possible. We call them ‘four-ways,’ which means the users exchange four or more messages. Everything we do is dedicated to driving that number.”

—Christian Rudder, founder and president of OkCupid

Data doesn’t describe everything

Chris McKinlay

In 2012, UCLA student Chris McKinlay hacked OkCupid to meet his fiancé. Using statistical modeling, he raised the visibility of his profile on the site to connect with more potential partners.

He says that while the treasure trove of data offered by OkCupid helped him narrow down his prospects for dates, the data failed to encapsulate the most important component of romance: chemistry.

“I was getting 10 messages a day and started going on a lot of dates, but they were all very similar. And there was so much that I found out that could not have been determined by the questions they answered online. Data is powerful, we all know this, but it hit me in a visceral way that we can’t capture everything. You can’t train a model to explain a vibe.”

—Chris McKinlay, author of Optimal Cupid: Mastering the Hidden Logic of OkCupid

Increased availability drives selectivity

Carlson School Professor Kathleen Vohs explains that online dating platforms demonstrate a fundamental shift in psychology that takes place when people are faced with choices—as prospects increase, humans become more selective.

The data suggest that users who receive a lot of matches are more critical when evaluating a potential partner and choosing who to date.

“Online dating is kind of like being in a giant bar with a ton of people who are all interested in the same thing you are. Making that pool so much larger is an advantage of online dating. When people perceive there are a lot of options out there, they raise their standards. There are all these people around that could be a potential match for you, and it affects psychology.”

—Kathleen Vohs, Professor, Land O’ Lakes Chair in Marketing

For more lessons on big data and business, register for the Tech Cities 2015, a conference that brings together professionals, policy-makers, and educators to chart the future of Minnesota tech.