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How does OKCupid’s algorithm work? A TED-Ed animator gets personal for Valentine’s Day

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OKCupid dating algorithm

Illustrator Frank Palomares used himself and his wife as the model for this lesson on OKCupid’s dating algorithm. Why? Because they met online.

How, exactly, does online dating work? In a this perfect-for-Valentine’s-Day TED-Ed lesson, OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder walks you through how the dating website does its matching — by using a carefully-honed algorithm to create a compatibility rating for two potential daters. In this fascinating video, Rudder shares how the site lets daters decide which factors are most important to them — and then crunches the numbers behind the scenes.

TED-Ed animator Franz Palomares jumped at the chance to animate this lesson, for a very specific reason — he met his wife online. We interviewed him to find out more.

What was your inspiration for wanting to work on this particular lesson?

The general inspiration was very personal. Seven years ago, I met my wife on a dating website! So I felt a great attachment to this lesson.

Artistically, I had a lot of different inspirations. I knew immediately that I wanted to split it into two categories. One a very personal and human side, represented by hand-drawn characters — the match that is being made by the algorithm. And then a technical side, represented by the 3D words and the heart transitions. The hearts falling are based on the raining code from the Matrix. I thought it would be a fun way to indicate that the program was working.

That male character certainly looks familiar. How did you decide what the characters would look like in the animation?

Ha. The two characters that represent the users were easy. I knew from the moment I took on this lesson that I would work in some drawings of my wife and myself. From there, I decided I should include a character that looks like Christian to be the narrator.

Christian’s lesson focuses on the idea that algorithms can be seen everywhere in everyday life. Do you think this is true?

After spending two months working on this piece, I see algorithms everywhere! It’s not just computers but anything and everything, including us. The decisions we make in a day and the decisions we make in our life. They are all step-by-step solutions to various problems. For example, just getting my day started is a solution to a problem. The problem is that I have to get from my apartment in Brooklyn to the office in Manhattan. The steps are simple: wake up, shower, eat breakfast, walk to the subway, ride the train to W. 4th St, and walk to work. That is my morning routine “algorithm.” Sometimes it may alter a little, but it’s always a step-by-step solution.

So for Valentine’s Day. Any special plans?

Now, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you, would it?

This post originally ran in February of 2013 and was updated for Valentine’s Day 2015. Interested in learning more about TED-Ed? Check out these lessons and stories: