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Datamatch pairs over 2,600 Brown students

Harvard’s matchmaking algorithm couples students based on humorous survey

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

This morning at 7 a.m., thousands of Brown students opened an email in their inbox with more anticipation than any “Today@Brown” or even “Today’s Café Specials” message could garner. The Valentine’s Day email included the contact information of Brown students who were paired with the user through Harvard Computer Society’s matchmaking service — Datamatch — introduced to the campus this year.

By Tuesday night, just over 2,600 Brown students had already filled out the survey. The survey remained open until Tuesday night at 11:59 p.m., inviting more students to leave their Valentine’s day plans to the Computer Society’s algorithm — though there is no obligation to contact a match.

“The goal is to provide a fun tradition to people within a school that … has school-specific humor,” said Russell Pekala, one of the co-business leaders for Datamatch at Harvard, adding that Datamatch is “just a fun distraction to keep (students) happy during Valentine’s Day.”

The survey is brief, containing 17 mandatory multiple choice questions, space to include a short bio and other optional features, such as linking a Facebook, LinkedIn or Spotify account. Students can indicate whether they are seeking a romantic or platonic relationship with their Datamatch.

Cashen Conroy ’19, Brown’s Datamatch “Cupid” — as she is referred to on the Datamatch website — and a deputy managing editor for the Blognonian, wrote the questions for Brown’s survey with Blognonian Editor-In-Chief Allison Gordon ’20. “We were just trying to think of questions that were funny but also could reveal a little bit of insight into … the personality of whoever is taking the survey,” Conroy said.

The Harvard Computer Society created Datamatch in 1994 for Harvard students as a “humorous and casual” service which has developed into a lasting Harvard tradition, according to the Datamatch website. This year marks the program’s first year of expansion, reaching Brown, Columbia, Barnard College and Wellesley College this Valentine’s season.

In previous years, individuals from many universities, including Brown, had reached out to the Harvard Datamatch team in attempts to bring the service to their institution, Pekala explained. This year, when they were ready to expand, Harvard Computer Society reconnected with those students, many of whom had graduated — including the individual from Brown.

After discovering the Brown student had graduated, the Harvard team reached out to the Blognonian because they found the often humorous tone of the website to be fitting with the survey’s comic questions, Conroy said. Blognonian “agreed because it … seemed like a really fun … way for people to meet other people that they might not have otherwise,” Conroy added.

By connecting with campus organizations, the Harvard Computer Society could be sure to preserve the “personal … flair that makes Datamatch so great here at Harvard,” Pekala said.

For example, matches from Harvard and Wellesley can pursue their relationship with free food or deals from local businesses, such as heart-shaped pizzas for Wellesley students and Belgian waffles for Harvard students. This year, the Brown Datamatch team focused on getting the program up and running, Conroy explained. The team aims to add the free food component of the service to campus next year, she added.

Sasha Pinto ’21 has never been enthusiastic about the concept of dating apps — “the idea that a click or swipe can magically produce a date is unnatural,” she said — but she signed up for the service. “Datamatch seems different” because it is available only at the five aforementioned schools and “because of its reduced expectations with the option of either a platonic or romantic match,” she added.

Using a survey released each year, the Datamatch team found that platonic friendships have formed through Datamatch, with participants meeting and bridging friend groups or discovering common interests, Pekala said. However, they don’t know of any long-standing relationships forged through Datamatch pairs.

With the expansion of Datamatch comes the potential for more success stories. “Our hope is honestly that we take this to as many colleges as we can next year or in the few years after this, because … this is just a great tradition that can easily scale to other colleges,” Pekala said.