Digital Story Critique – Data Hacking for a Date

This week I decided to critique a story from a Moth Radio Hour segment (Episode:1618, Sept. 6, 2016, starting at 33:52) titled LA Confidential:Data Hacking for a Date which is a story by Chris McKinley. At the time of his story, Chris was a doctoral student working on a PhD in Applied Mathematics at UCLA.  While at UCLA in 2012 he had access to a super-computer known as Yellowstone, and McKinley came up with the novel idea of using the super-computer to “reverse engineer the match algorithm” of the online dating site OKCupid to see if he could come up with the perfect match for himself.

McKinely does an excellent job of building the story by relating the tale of his change from a lonely doctoral student who slept in his cubicle and spent most of his time working on programs for his thesis to a guy who managed to use the super-computer to analyze the match data from the site and determine the most popular characteristics with women on the site.  He soon became the top match for over 30,000 women and he was so popular that he actually got to a point where he was going on a new date every hour with each date lasting only around 3 minutes or so. He got to the point where he was purposely sabotaging the dates because he didn’t want to make the effort to reject the second date offers (of which there were many).  And it was when he started getting dates with women outside of his match preferences that he finally met a woman whom he was really interested in, and ended up marrying her a few years later.

McKinely does a good job of building his story with the following traits –

  • Economy: McKinely has a good flow to his story by starting with the image of his humble beginnings (alone, poor, totally engrossed in his work) and builds slowly but effectively with his narrative.  He is efficient in his explanations of a difficult topic – data mining.  He also keeps the audience interested in his travails and accomplishments by using humor at key points. Most of the asides from the main story-line are humorous points that keep the story interesting. In the end, we have an image of a nerdy guy who is now something of a dating king-pin, with more dates than he knows what to do with.
  • Sense of Audience: McKinley has a good grasp of his audience, knowing that many of the people in the audience have probably used online dating services.  And that even those who haven’t used dating sites can relate to his story of wanting to be so successful at dating that he is turning away good candidates on a regular basis.  But at the same time, he is able to relate to his audience that even though he thought it would be great to have so many dates, in the end it turned out that there was no quick or easy path to finding the person that was special to him.  Fortunately for him he had a happy ending by finding his future wife. But the moral of the story could well be that even using the latest technologies and techniques of the information age will not necessarily bring the relationships we all seek.
  • Research:  I picked this trait because in essence this story is about research.  A guy who spends his entire life working on research suddenly has the all too human desire to find more in life.  And he uses the research that he knows so well to help him find the perfect person, which initially seems to work, but in the end creates a not so ideal situation.  So although there probably wasn’t much research involved in writing this story, the theme of research is very prevalent in the story.

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