''We're not psychologists. We're math guys,” remarked Sam Yagan, the chief executive of OKCupid. He wasn’t being self-deprecating.
OKC suggests romantic pairings based on information gathered from a sprawling, seemingly endless questionnaire. When filling out the questionnaire, users are also asked to rank the relative importance of each question and to say which answer or answers they would prefer in a partner. Users, in other words, describe to the OKCupid database their ideal “match” as a set of data points.
Because users are generally able to intuit the basic parameters of how the system works, they upvote the questions most likely to be useful in narrowing down a pool of millions of strangers—that is, the questions most likely to be incredibly divisive. A good OKCupid question is like a good question in a game of “Guess Who?”--one that eliminates the most candidates.
The questionnaire asks users to provide their own definitive standards for in-group and out-group belonging. Then, in their profiles, users are expected to distinguish themselves within their chosen group or groups through a combination of photographs and prompted text.
OKCupid profiles are sort of like really long pick-up lines pitched at an imaginary “perfect match.” In general, they show humanity in a humiliating light, and various OKCupid users have taken it upon themselves to liberate the profiles of others, condensing them into image macros and sharing them outside the context of the site. The ethics of this are out of focus, because the culture has not yet decided where sites like OKCupid fall in terms of public vs. private space, and what reasonable expectations people can have when they join these sites.
The found OKCupid profile has become one of the Internet’s most unsettling genres. Part Cindy Sherman film still, part Robert Browning monologue, the best found profiles match the uncanny visual embodiment of a cultural type with an elliptically unraveling text of unconscious self-revelation.