People have a tendency to get ticked off if you mess with their heads, especially without their permission. Facebook
, the world's largest social network, found this out the hard way when it revealed that it had altered nearly 700,000 user feeds to study people's emotions
. Not cool, but are these types of studies necessary in order to build a better online experience? Online dating site OkCupid seems to think so.
"OkCupid doesn’t really know what it’s doing. Neither does any other website. It’s not like people have been building these things for very long, or you can go look up a blueprint or something. Most ideas are bad. Even good ideas could be better. Experiments are how you sort all this out," OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder explains in a blog post.
According to Rudder, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time just by being online. It's the very nature of how websites work, which are constantly studying what works best and what doesn't. And in case you're wondering, yes, that includes OkCupid -- Rudder admits to conducting some interesting experiments on users.
One of those experiments tested the theory of whether or not love is truly blind. The company built an app that set up blind dates, and to celebrate its release, OkCupid removed all the pictures from its online dating site, dubbing it "Love Is Blind Day" (otherwise known as January 15, 2013).
In the next 7 hours, OkCupid observed that people respond to first messages 44 percent more often. In addition, conversations went deeper, contact details were exchanged more quickly, and in short, the site worked better towards its purpose, Rudder says. When the photos were restored, many of those conversations evaporated.
"The goodness was gone, in fact worse than gone. It was like we'd turned on the bright lights at the bar at midnight," Rudder explains.
There have been other studies, such as one designed to figure out if people equate "looks" to "personality," and another to test OkCupid's matching algorithm. The latter involved telling two incompatible users that they were a match for each other. Why do that? OkCupid wanted to find out if the power of suggestion -- telling users they're compatible -- outweighs its own algorithm for potential relationships.
What do you think? Should websites be allowed to experiment on users like this, or is it a slippery slope?