An Interview with The Supreme Cupids of Datamatch Made Me Believe In Love

By Courtesy of Datamatch

In case you’ve been in nonstop Zooms for the past week, Datamatch is out, and there’s still time to sign up! For those of you unacquainted with Harvard’s best tradition, Datamatch is the exact intersection of two of everyone’s favorite things: personality quizzes and free food. In normal times, you would sign up, take a funky quiz, indicate if you’re looking for platonic or romantic matches (or both!), and then get matched with other Harvard students through a top-secret algorithm. If you and your matches both clicked “Match,” you could grab some free food in the Square with your date!

The “meet up for free food” side of things looks a bit different this year for obvious reasons, but Datamatch is still helping you land fun, free dates no matter where you are in the world. I had the pleasure of chatting with Isabelle S. Zheng ’22 and Bill W. Zhang ’21, the Supreme Cupids of Datamatch, to uncover how Datamatch is adapting to the new normal, the inspiration behind some of the new features, and relationship advice from the finest matchmakers on campus. Spoiler alert: Love is real, and Datamatch will help you find it. :-)

First things first, let’s talk about free stuff — remember the good ‘ol days when you used to get bribed to go to events with free food? Luckily, there’s perks for students on and off campus. Here’s what our Supreme Cupids have in store in terms of free dates:

For on-campus folks:

You can expect the standard Datamatch treatment: free food with your top match at local partners in the square. “Thanks to Harvard moving to Level Yellow,” Zhang said, “we feel very comfortable allowing in-person dates to occur at our partner restaurants this year, which include Amorino, Black Sheep Bagel, [and] Kung Fu Tea. In past years we always run out of dates, because everyone wants to go on a date, but this year due to the limited student population on campus, we feel there’s a much better chance that everyone will get a chance to go on a date with their top matches.” Sounds like good news to us! Also, the on-campus options aren’t limited to students living on Harvard property, but are open to participants residing in Cambridge near campus as well.

For off-campus folks:

If you’re not on campus right now, Datamatch has still got you covered. “For students who are not on campus, we have a new very exciting virtual escape room option that we paid for for all of our top matches, which is a really fun collaborative experience to have with the person you’re matched with,” Zhang said. Additionally, the Snackpass partnership extends to all cities that Snackpass serves, so you might still have a shot at free food in your hometown!

So, now that you know what’s in it for you, head on over to Datamatch and bask in the glory of its beautiful aesthetics (p.s., there’s definitely not a cute Easter egg if you spend enough time clicking around the landing page. No sir.). Datamatch, as always, has a fantastic quiz, but there’s new features this year, too. You can customize so many things about your profile, and even link your Spotify.

One especially helpful new feature is the addition of the Blocklist. Still mentally cringing over that time that you broke a plate in Annenberg in front of your crush? Just don’t want that asshole devil’s advocate from section in your matches? Enter their email into your Blocklist (you can still preemptively block them even if you don’t know if they’ve signed up), and the algorithm will make sure they aren’t in your matches.

If the gorgeous website and fun features haven’t convinced you to sign up yet, don’t worry. This year’s Datamatch is better than ever, thanks to a ~spicy~ new addition: the Crush Roulette feature. Crush Roulette allows each user to submit the emails of two people they think should get together, and the algorithm adjusts their chances of matching accordingly. Each user can only submit one pairing, though, so scheme wisely. Zhang and Zheng can explain the secrets of Crush Roulette better than I ever could, so I’ll let them take it from here.

ISZ: We were really trying to shake it up this year. We wanted to get more users more engaged and offer new things to play around with on the website, and one of our members came up with Crush Roulette. This was totally member-led; they designed the feature, they built the feature, they worked out all the kinks with it, so we’re really excited about it.

BWZ: As far as I can tell, it’s all my blockmates and my friends can talk about — who they’re gonna put, or asking around for which friend they can help ship. Empirically, it seems that things are really getting heated with Crush Roulette.

BWZ: The goal here, of course, is to allow people to feel like they have more control. We’re not going to go into any of the details of the algorithm, just because that’s some, uh, magic sauce. We will say, just to make sure people don’t have false hope, it’s not that if you just put [an email into Crush Roulette], that person becomes your number one, because that would be too easy. So, we do account for it in the algorithm, but it’s not the end-all be-all result.

BWZ: And that’s also necessary, because otherwise I could just put Isabelle and Isabelle could put me and we’ll just get our free food. So, we did wanna make sure that does not happen.

Welp, there goes our hope for gaming the system. Sigh.

PAJ: Is it like a laborious, intensive, multi-day process [to create the matches]?

ISZ: So usually, after the survey closes on February 14th, our algorithm team stays up all night to run the algorithm for all of the schools. So, it does take multiple hours to run, but I wouldn’t say it takes days.

BWZ: Yeah, at this point we’ve successfully discovered how to use computers, so it’s no longer like the laborious hand-matching process that I’m sure our predecessors, like, twenty-some years ago who started Datamatch had to use. But, it’s still something that requires a lot of attention, and you know, making sure that different users requests — whether it’s like the different preferences, or the Blocklist — are accounted for. So it is something that we pay a lot of attention to, to make sure we get it right.

ISZ: I will also personally add that our members have been working a lot on making the algorithm even better this year using anonymized data, trying to figure out what makes a match good. So, we’re continuously trying to improve those matches.

PAJ: So do you guys work kind of continuously on Datamatch since the start of the school til launch, essentially?

BWZ: It’s definitely becoming more and more a year-round endeavor, um, partly because as you can see a lot of these really cool features they take a lot of time to brainstorm, design, and also partly because we’ve sort of been introducing new variants of Datamatch. Last May, when everything became virtual, we tried, like, a quarantine Datamatch that was open to all students and they got put into a single pool. In the fall we now have a Meet program, called Meet24, for freshmen to platonically — platonically — get to know each other. And, in recent years, Datamatch also became the organization that conducts Match20 — or, this year it’ll be Match21 — which is for, like, the outgoing seniors to get, like, one last shot. So, as a result, there’s things going during, like, all parts of the year.

ISZ: I also wanted to add, just really quickly, that we’re trying to build a lot of education into Datamatch’s “comp”, quote-unquote, as well. One of our web leads put together this entire web bootcamp curriculum that ran over the summer, and again in the fall just to kind of teach everyone that goes through it a lot about web development and coding and getting them into the specifics and basics of Datamatch.

PAJ: So, like, anyone can join Datamatch? Even if you’re not computer-inclined?

BWZ and ISZ: Yes!

BWZ: Absolutely! We sort of paint ourselves as these CS nerds, who, like, come up with this algorithm, but there truly are a ton of other things to work on. In fact, if you look at, like, the credits page, you see the web team, the algo team — very typical, like, STEM-oriented teams — but the business team, the design team, all the other campus leads and campus members, what they work on day to day is a lot more operations-focused, a lot more creative — like writing the questions, reaching out to the businesses, establishing partnerships, finances. Our comp is completely open, there’s no interview, there’s no cutting. Our philosophy is: We want you to have fun doing it, and you will know at the end of it if you had fun. We give you responsibility wherever you want it, wherever you ask for it.

So, basically, Datamatch is one of the most wholesome groups on campus (almost on the level of a certain blog run by a certain newspaper). Not all that surprising, given that love and connection is kind of their deal.

PAJ: Since you guys happen to know everything about love, any advice for Datamatch hopefuls? Any pro tips from the people behind the machine?

ISZ: Oh yes, yes! I actually worked on a project after Datamatch last year that just collected anonymous survey data from a bunch of the users on Datamatch, and just wanted to provide a report and cool data visualizations of what dating’s like at schools around the country. So, one of the stats we found was that Datamatch users who actually go on a date with their Datamatch were actually 30 percent more likely to be in a relationship in college. So, I think the message in that is just, keep your mind open, match all of the Datamatches you get, and just, like, see what comes out of it. Having that practice in being open-minded means that you might be open-minded to other things in the world as well.

BWZ: Yeah, and like reinforcing that message of being open, we definitely also saw that Datamatch users who have profile pictures, filled out their bio, just provided more information about themselves, were more open to their potential matches — they got matched more often, went on dates more often. And so, that’s also sort of similar to Isabelle’s message: be comfortable, be open; don’t be shy, don’t be skeptical. Everyone on the website is a fellow Harvard student, right? Nobody else is gonna see you that you don’t want to see you and you have the Blocklist, so really be open and try to form new connections. And, if you have that mindset, then people will come to you.

Bruh. That’s some cute shit. This is the most emotion I’ve felt since last year. Honestly, love might be real, y’all.

PAJ: Just one last question: If you had to describe your love life as a HUDS dish, anything come to mind?

ISZ and BWZ: [silence]

BWZ: Oh man.

BWZ: I would say my love life is like the Red Spiced Chicken. On the outside, it’s like people always think that things are going on, but no. On the inside it’s just plain chicken. Like, it’s just the most normal, ordinary thing.

ISZ: I’m just, like, very fond of, like, the biscuits and honey butter. I can’t exactly describe why I wanna tie that to my relationship status or whatever, but it’s just, like, you know, a little bit salty and sweet, and it has that nice honey flavor. The textures are great. Just like a nice, I don’t know — I don’t think that really applies. [laughs] I don’t know.

BWZ: What about you?

PAJ: Oh, jeez, I dunno. I should’ve prepared an answer to this! [silence] I guess, kind of like ordering something from the grill because it takes a long time, and by the time you get it you don’t really want it anymore. [awkward laugh]

PAJ: So, any closing thoughts for our readers?

BWZ: One last message I wanna leave is just that Datamatch, we’re always trying to bring love to more people. Um, this year, I think we’re doing a little too well. There’s other schools on our tails in terms of signing up. A message to Harvard students: please sign up, we can’t lose to other schools!

ISZ: Particularly, WashU!

BWZ: We have to keep our Harvard dominance in Datamatch!

At the time of publishing, UW Madison is somehow beating Harvard by nearly 900 sign-up’s… y’all. This is just sad. Go! Sign! Up!

If you’re not convinced by now, maybe you just hate love. Just kidding. Kind of. But, seriously: Sign up, get your free food, and find the platonic or romantic love of your life! Happy matching!

Xoxo,

Flyby

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