ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Professor Marie Hicks joins us again, this time to discuss the yummy history of computer dating. Did it start with Operation Match at Harvard? Or was it a young entrepreneur in London? What were their reasons for thinking that computers could match people better than people could match people? And was the early history of computer dating as neat and clean as a computer punch card? Perhaps not! If you don't want Professor Buzzkill to fill in your profile for you, you'd better give this episode a listen!

English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

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00:00:56this is Gregory Rasputin spiritual advisor to Tara Nicholas and Empress Alexandra I was having a night on the town when jealous henchmen from Royal Court what's a couple of bullets in my back and heal my wounds but I am going to be on the mega that is new episode this he'll slip on a bulletproof vest and Wesson with me
00:01:29guess here we are with Professor Marie Hicks from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who's going to talk to us this Valentine's Day week about the history of computer dating how are you Professor I'm doing pretty well to hear all snowed in of course but that's what that's also very common winter valid February sort of situation there's a standard story of how this computer dating was started and how it developed at all sorts of seems to have this Locus around Harvard around these wizkids these wizboyy on male undergraduate and that we find out that that's a myth but let's talk about what it was and then what people tend to think happened before we go on to the bus that myth sure there's this like you say this kind of popular method that computer dating started at Harvard University that Harvard University undergraduate came up with the idea and they have the first successful computer dating business called operation
00:02:29and then everything just kind of went from there and that's a very cute little story but it's a lot like something you actually might put on an online dating profile it's something that maybe you think people expect to hear that maybe people want to hear but in fact it isn't true and for a long time you know folks didn't really question it because like you said we have so many of these stories where it's like you know boy Genius this and Wizkid that so we're just Prime to hear those stories, but in fact you don't I think the real history is more interesting because as it turns out computer dating didn't start out with college students and it didn't start out with young men doing it what years are we talking about the operation Match Miss and then later on would really happen
00:03:2950 for the 60s or the 70s talking about mid-century height of the Mainframe Euro so we're talking about the 1960s and specifically what we're going to talk about today is the mid-1960s which is when computer dating kind of really gets going as something that is something that can become a business now they're happened kind of one-off situations where folks had tried to use computers to match people up for like dances and things like that and that had been kind of a popular gimmick and Europe on even before the stuff that we're going to be talking about but this specifically what were talking about today is when computer dating comes into its own as a business and people start to see oh we could actually make money off of this mother helping matchmaking services in before this and and they're obviously you know who famous matchmakers
00:04:29claim to be able to pick up people for you to do that sort of you know personally and individually not true no release not advertising it through computers but this is something new stuff like this going on without computers for a long time and I always like to draw and some of the the continuities because like you say it isn't something that's radically new you know it's using a different kind of Technology but technology had been all bound up in matchmaking for decades if not centuries you know people using newspapers to place personal ads people using postal mail to communicate with you know they're Paramore's people having sex in cars that was obviously a huge thing by the mid-twentieth century American culture technology is always part of matchmaking stories and romance stories you know you don't have to look too far for I
00:05:29so computers and some ways or just a natural evolution of that but you're right that at the time because a lot of people didn't really understand how computers work it's sort of had this veneer of newness like oh well you know what how did how does that work right how did that happen in and so maybe it had a little bit of a veneer that it was something revolutionary when actually it was you know it was just sort of evolution of the computer so you know we're so smart and rims calculations through so many times but you know because they couldn't get it wrong yes that's I think that's a really really important part of this whole mess which you know we still fall for today when we were you know using online dating apps and things like that this idea that somehow computers are computerized systems have better judgement then people do and that they take it all this data and that they can somehow
00:06:29use logic to make correct decisions about highly illogical things at the store for how does it actually start off as computer dating as a we would know it eventually computer dating as we would know it doesn't actually start off with the operation match guys at Harvard they come around and start running their you know first computer dating matchups in around 1965 and they go on to do this for a couple of years they got a lot of publicity but as you might expect with students who are just kind of doing this you know they're doing it as a business but also kind of has a large if you know their business doesn't last very long and what actually is the case in terms of you know the first computer dating business which is operated for over a decade that actually
00:07:29starts a year or so earlier in England so in the early 1960s a woman from East London who's kind of you know she's kind of not we imagine when we think about tech Pioneer because she's a woman she's kind of working-class you know she's from the sort of Hardscrabble background she sets up what was in that day called a marriage bureau and then very quickly she computerize us it and then in 1964 so it like a full year before the operation match guys even start doing their thing she is successfully running a computer dating business and she even changes the name to reflect the fact that she's focusing on matching people up by computer
00:08:19okay so the old the old name or sort of the traditional name of Marriage Bureau thing of eventually starting a starting dating that it would eventually obviously lead to marriage in the fifties and forties and 30 before that she feels that it has to release that the name has to be sort of updated to reflect computer to make it more when I don't know Snappy you or or I don't know technologically cool
00:08:44right so she had a marriage bureau that was called the the Saint James friendship Bureau and very quickly after she starts using a computer to make matches she changes the name twice and fact once to the the st. James computer matchmaking Bureau and then again to comp at which is short for a computerized compatibility and she's very much pushing out into the Forefront of her in a marketing the fact that her service works and works better she says because she's using computers and she takes a really interesting tap with this as well because she's not saying like some folks to come a bit later than her too she's not saying oh look this makes everything so you know wonderfully logical and it finds you you know the perfect match she say
00:09:44look this is a way to manage all of the folks that are looking for other people the volume of those people is just so high that we we just need a computer kind of help us sort out the data it's not necessarily about how computers never make mistakes or anything like that but it's about you know scaling up this kind of bespoke process of making matches and the thing that I really like about her is that she doesn't say okay what do you want and we'll find you somebody else who you know is the same or wants exactly the same things which is what most computer dating businesses do even today which she kind of says she says what's a deal-breaker for you Alice tell us what you don't want you to will still take into account what you do want but tell us what you don't want because we found that
00:10:44what's the deal breaker everything else is negotiable and I think that's a very interesting and very shrewd and as we might talk about later it really reflects who's using her business and how their house their navigating their way through Society that's what you come up with this sort of negative approach to ask you what you don't want because of her experience with with her olor old St James marriage bureau you know did she kind of figure it out on our own or have there been thoughts before in the I don't know when the psychological precipe will that one of the things that works in in matching up people Lauren and finding people of similar interest is that you find out what you don't like
00:11:29that's a really interesting question and I don't know what you no psychologist were made by saying at the time about compatibility but I do know that if they were saying stuff like this she wasn't aware of it she was like you said coming up with it from having had experiences matching up folks in non-computerized setting and figuring out what worked when she did that sort of thing and so she found out that you know yeah a commonality is work well to set people up maybe once or twice but if you want something long-term and you want to make sure people maybe I don't keep coming back to you month after month for new dates and new matches but they actually have a long-term relationship or you know this. The goal is still to get married from most people if you want that then you should look for the deal breakers and be very upfront about you know what what what is it that's really going to
00:12:29you know three or four dates down the line make somebody say I'm out I can't do this in there must be something sort of intuitive about it because after all as you go through life you end up deciding against far more things and you decide for you know I decided against a zillion professions and then and went with one and and etcetera etcetera etcetera so in other words our dislikes and I don't mean that in a bad way are much greater number than our likes and so many times you know even in our personal lives and especially in our professional eyes as he pointed we use this process of elimination you know because nothing's perfect and we decide well what is it that we absolutely can't tolerate you know the rest we can maybe get used to and I think that's really actually kind of a nice little maybe it's not very romantic it's always nicer to think like oh I'll meet my soulmate and will be absolutely perfect and Italy
00:13:29nice fantasy but then there's also something like the pragmatist in me really likes the idea that well no it's really not that complicated you just you know you just figure out what you absolutely cannot tolerate and then from there you know you come to an understanding what the other person like you don't you don't try to to find that perfect person who honestly if they're just like you that's going to be really boring so you have somebody that you were you don't want to murder straight off the bat and then maybe you have a long relationship or at least you know a a shot at a long relationship when you get to know them better and that to me is kind of more interesting than oak ismet you know we knew right off the bat we love each other whatever so how did it work out of Jordans how to jump all make it work two people fill out a form today that they write in the letter y o how did it did you how to cheat gather the data or
00:14:29info that she needed
00:14:31yeah they could do it by mail or in this case you know since it was London and people were transiting through London anyway a lot of folks would just come into the office in person and they would basically be given our or administered a questionnaire and a questionnaire would ask them things about their likes and their dislikes and their age and their background and all of the same sorts of things that you know honestly you'd answer in sort of like an online dating service like match.com or what-have-you similar questions and then somebody would take that data they would put it on a punch card or maybe several Punch Cards and that would be run through their computer dating program or as we like to call them now you know computer dating algorithms but it's actually you know it will be put into a big data pile with a bunch of other Punch Cards representing people who had signed up for the
00:15:31rest and den on people will be matched up. You were given them their names or what how it looks sort of like you know this is way before the smartphone in the swipe right swipe left things what what how do you find out how do you get in contact with you supposed to Paramore's necessarily get somebody's phone number you might just get an address you know the way you met them first could be by phoning them or it could be that you wrote to them or they wrote to you
00:16:07yeah people forget I'm sure a lot of our younger listeners won't realize that you know no one phone in the house if if they had that especially in England of the time and it wasn't exactly you know people still communicated by letter came twice a day it was rusted parts of the country so you know it was almost like okay for going to check your email twice a day or you're going to check your your physical mail twice a day it was a pretty quick way of communicating and one thing that I always like to mention when people talk about computer dating being you know maybe a little bit on toward or even though it's not so much of the case anymore but within the past decade people would look at online dating and they so what's going to be the end of the sort of moral Panic about it and I said who you know in the late 19th or early 20th century there was a similar moral Panic about a technology that people were using to kind of meet each other
00:17:07arrange you know perhaps illicit encounters between unmarried young people and that moral Panic was about postal mail the idea yeah the idea that you know young women for instance could receive direct communication from young men in the mail that their parents wouldn't know about or vet in advanced and that was that was a huge tomorrow Paddock so you know nothing is ever kind of as revolutionary or scary as we might think we have any idea of how well or how well well the matchmaking part of the service worked it did it did was she able to kind of proved or this to herself at the new note using the deal-breaker algorithm and the and the postal service and all that sort of stuff ended up finding a lot of matches
00:18:00well that's the really interesting thing about her model because it really was focused not just on sort of matching people up for dates and then saying okay it's in your hands because it was really focused on trying to get people into long-term relationships and the reason for this was that her marriage bureau actually serve a clientele of older folks then you might think our love would be going in for like computer dating so the folks who are bit older a lot of them were divorced divorcees so divorced women in particular also some divorced as you know who are not necessarily you know very old widowers but people who were not this wasn't their first time at the rodeo right one day they wanted to have some help matching up with other people because essentially you know I think this is still the case but especially back then folks like that works
00:19:00damaged goods and very kind of straight-laced social mores at the time they needed a bit of help to kind of find other people who would accept them and sort of see past okay you've been divorced and be interested in getting into potentially another you know marriage with them and so since she was focusing on a crowd like this even before her business computerized she was very Savvy about making matches that work and it wasn't just a gimmick about well we'll use a computer to match people up on dates which honestly that was kind of in ophir for understandable reasons that was the case with a lot of other early computer dating businesses especially once headed by young men who are right out of college because they just um you know their experience wasn't
00:20:00the same it wasn't coming through having experience matching people up it was coming up with this oh hey we have a brilliant idea to use a computer to kind of take some of the messiness out of meeting women and I think it should be said that a lot of the young man who set up computer dating businesses and this era and later they were setting them up and itialy cuz they wanted a way to find dates for themselves without without having to go through traditional channels like the operation match guys were very vocal about the fact that they were setting up operation match because they absolutely hated what they called the particular social evil of the college mixer you know someone Harvard there's the the sister College Radcliff Transylvania go up to Radcliff for like a social mixer and it would be terrible and awkward and they wouldn't come away you know having met somebody or meeting somebody that they light and they
00:21:00they never wanted to have to go through that process again so they're like well how can we get a computer basically to just kind of serve us women which is interesting it was clever it's also a little bit creepy and problematic because like for one thing this was a. In which like I said women were all sequestered at Radcliff kind of up the road from the young men and it was a. I actually broke my undergraduate dissertation when I went to Harvard on this topic it was a. When Harvard was trying to integrate the genders and basically have what they called fulco education and fulco residence so women in measurement we should remind listeners at Harvard with all mail until the 70s Yale was all mail until the 70s you know and this is not that's where that's why Brad Pitt wanted
00:22:00what Radcliffe existed right that the that the old stoled * on your the old the old school universities in the United States were all me even though they had their coordinates sister colleges they were very late to integrate and so Radcliff women would be educated in the same lecture Halls as Harvard men but then night they would go back to their own dormitories they would have their own dining Halls all of the their own libraries all the places where you might actually like get to know somebody on a college campus those were gender-segregated Radcliffe students in particular were very upset about this because this meant that for instance they couldn't use the main undergraduate library at Harper cousin so bizarre to us nowadays but it wasn't that long ago it wasn't that long ago and I mean I remember when I was an undergrad there in the 1990s of course I could use the main on
00:23:00graduate Library it was fully gender integrated at that point but there was one women's bathroom and there like 6 men's bathrooms and that was a clear artifact of this gender-segregated past things works at Harvard and now operation match got going it in full and then and all the technical details of how it worked we have to take a quick sponsorship break and will be back in a minute
00:23:30okay here we on a sponsorship break and I want to tell you about Steelers hellofresh solves the age-old problem what's for dinner at least for all types of people say you got a young family lady boss, I had this problem a lot we almost never plan meals or we left at the last minute and buy meal time the bus lines were running around like crazy doing their own thing we'd make something quick and salt and half the time they didn't need it because they're picking their kids and we get frustrated well we don't have this problem anymore hellofresh has solved all that they do the planning in the shopping and they send us great meals made of healthy locally-sourced ingredients the Muslims love them and we get them involved in the preparation because of the clear instructions that hellofresh includes
00:24:18the kids are becoming little chefs and you know what we're becoming super parents because we provide them with the healthy home cooked meals they need and they love go to Hello fresh. CA and use the code buzzkill 50 to get 50% off your first box do it now Buzz colors and say hello to a fresh new life okay we're back but for some reason it's talking about the the history and development of computer dating before we left Professor you're talking about operation match which is often considered the innovator of computer data knows talk about how that wasn't the innovator but you talked also talked about how it sort of worked with and kind of worked against the gender-segregated nature of Harvard at the time could you explain more about how that you know how all that sort of in detail how it kind of cracked its way through the computer so to speak I think that it's important to remember that the whole reason for instance operation match gets
00:25:18sorry it is because these young men not only are having trouble meeting women because Harvard isn't fully co-educational but they also they don't want Harbor to be fully co-educational people say oh it'll be easier to meet women if for instance they are in the same dormitories and they eat in the same dining halls and these young men in particular that they're very conservative they say no we don't we don't want that I'm using this computer system is sort of an end-run around greater gender integration that might have gotten them the same result in a more organic fashion and that's really important actually because for instance at this point in time you note separate but equal for women versus man or for white people versus black people on it was never really equal women lost out black people lost out they got put in colleges in hospitals and schools and everything that were under-resourced and so computer dating is you know nada
00:26:18is it not revolutionary in this context but it's actually kind of really upping very conservative ideas about how for instance of men and women should in society and the fact that this computer dating services like just for college students and primarily and I was focusing on a white male users needs and desires that's not an accident and there's also nothing revolutionary about that listen to explain this you know I know that you said that that they that they set us up partly or least mean probably mainly to to get dates for themselves but when I talked about it as a potential business why they didn't think about abandoning the university situation and try to create an operation match for Greater Boston
00:27:16yeah well you know I mean I'm way I think they were very Savvy they understood that by focusing on University students they would be going for a market that they understood because it was essentially themselves and they would have a lot of built-in publicity because they could basically like go on campus and hand out flyers they sent people around the country to other universities in the second and third years that they did this you know they went to Big Midwest universities nice order do the same thing with paper and campus with flyers and advertisements so it was kind of a nice way to just start slow and to sort of have training wheels into this business venture and it turns out that they never really got beyond that but but I think it made sense to focus on college students even though that was pretty conservative I should mention that with Joan Paul in England
00:28:16in many ways she is doing similar things like she's being pretty conservative and how she matches people up you know she's not like for instance matching up a lot of people of different races that was something that you know she thought was not going to result in a good match at that time I mean then there was enormous racism and classism during this period that meant that a lot of people who went into be systems or maybe didn't even decide to use these systems because they knew they wouldn't get it fair shake you know there were these these problems of social Prejudice and conservative social mores being built in to computer systems but the reason that I mention that is because in June Paul's case because she's not this sort of like scampish young Harvard student who can do no wrong she actually has a tough
00:29:16time like advertising her business early on because people here computer dating and not only are they may be a little bit squeamish about the prospect of a computer but they think that it might be a front for like prostitution newspapers they don't want you to take her advertisements for her business because they think there's something a little bit maybe a little bit it feel a little bit more Ali off about this whole idea that it's actually not doing exactly what she says it's doing its maybe like you know wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of thing and so because of Siri use it legitimately exactly and we should totally talk about that later in relation to compact successor Dateline but what she does
00:30:16because newspapers won't take her out early on because of this sort of you know fear that maybe she's not doing exactly what she says she she's doing or she's doing something untoward she starts advertising with the puppy Pirates which were these pirate radio stations that play the rock and roll off the coast of UK they couldn't transmitted within the country because basically the government in the BBC controlled what could be played on the airwaves will they wanted to play rock and roll and so they went off the coast and set up transmitters on these kind of rickety floating and these old ships and people with tune in to them especially at night when the interference was lower and one of the things that they did to keep themselves literally a flow is they took advertisements and they took her advertisements so she actually
00:31:16she advertised in this very technologically advanced way for the time using Pirate Radio to get her message to the people initially and then as time goes on she does kind of get the ability to advertise and more and more unicorn end of respectable venues and newspaper venues the bus goes should know that if they don't know that that was a bit part where he was a very big deal in the 60s and early 70s in Britain because because of exactly what you say a lot of things couldn't be played or it was too difficult time slots couldn't fit they couldn't didn't get enough rock and roll and radio Luxembourg from way back when and then and radio Caroline in the in the sixties were very very big deal if the Beatles talked about a lot about how that Rocky radio Caroline especially really boosted their popularity
00:32:05yeah exactly you know it was more so than like computerizing dating I do I need a pop Pirates are this really good example if you know the cultural tensions of the time of the cultural shift that's going on with people saying No this this is the sort of culture we want yeah yeah and an in the case of computer dating and of the establishment does start to catch up like I said more and more legitimate you know venues respectable newspapers start to take Joan balls ads and by the late 1960s you know things are really going gangbusters for her she's doing a lot of business thousands of people are using her matching service and she's having a lot of success you know she actually talks about 1
00:33:05man who comes back and he's in he's been matched up it's been a year or so and it comes back and he's very upset and he wants his money back and this was quite unusual they didn't really get people coming back and saying you know we need another match up or we want our money back or things like that and she says well I'm so sorry you know of course what happened and he says well you know I I I met a woman to your service and we got married and well she died what is it supposed to be totally match you up with a spouse but keep that spousal I exactly so I mean this shows that she had a pretty high rate of success and it also shows how empathetic she was because she hears This Man story she realizes it's not about her right this guy is he said he's angry that somebody that he probably loved has died so soon
00:34:05and so she helps him you know I think in the end she doesn't just give him his money back she tries to set him up again because she sees what's going on is you know it's sort of an artifact of his grief with the situation as you point out in your articles about this John balls business gets bought out eventually
00:34:30yes so the 1960s things are going pretty well especially by the late 60s for the United Kingdom for Britain as a country you know they are they're finally really kind of recovering from the austerity of the post-war period and their economy is picking up and this is like this is a tide that's lifting all boats right so she's doing very well she's a very Savvy business woman I should mention that like a lot of very smart people and Savvy business people she actually is dyslexic and so she can't easily read and write she can't even do numbers a lot of the time herself because when it gets to having a write things down whether their numbers are words her dyslexia simply is so severe that she can't she can't do it but she is doing a fabulous job running the business
00:35:30it's just a little you know was extra effort for somebody who is dyslexic and also in this. It wasn't really understood so she's hiding her dyslexia you know Oregon and so everything is actually going pretty well for her she's overcome a lot and then in the early 1970s disaster hits because what happens is the whole economy of the country just starts to take a major dive and in fact in the early seventies there's this year where there are such intense labor strikes that the government has to effectively shut down for most of the week's simply because the coal miners who are providing coal to power like the electrical grid they are on strike so much that like the government can't function and
00:36:30very real negatives for her business because for instance there's a big postal strike and because so much of her business is done through the mail through the post postal strike means that essentially her business comes to a standstill for the duration of that strike and then it has to recover from it and in this the sort of General atmosphere remember I I told you how you know she was having a lot of trouble advertising but then she finally got into more respectable Publications well the main publication that was advertising her business and I was bringing in a lot of business for her ended up making a mistake in her add somebody transpose a couple of numbers and compacts phone number and so all of a sudden there's this postal strike and then there's this sort of like black out there not getting any phone calls and they don't know what's going on
00:37:30until they realize that this major advertisement has actually messed up their phone number and they have to just punch of unfortunate about lemons exactly and so they have to scramble to get that fixed and then one day John Ball walks into the two but the London Underground you know to take public transit and remember she's been fighting so hard to get her ads into mainstream Publications and advertising in the tube is like probably the most mainstream thing you can do right because it reaches literally millions of people every single ride ride the tube she walks through the tube and all of a sudden she starts seeing all these ads for computer dating she start seeing all these ads for a company called Dateline and she almost throws up can't she can't believe it because suddenly she seeing all these ads for
00:38:30service very much like hers and she would never would have dreamed that it would have been possible for her to be able to place ads and a venue like the London Underground given all of the pushback she had known for a decade so how does he react to that both as a person and as a businesswoman
00:38:48well that's the thing as a person she's kind of shocked and she's like I said she almost feels sick because she thinks what's going on how did this happen you know I have been working so hard and all of a sudden you know this place where I was never allowed to advertise is plastered with ads from a competitor that has just come on the scene and she comes to find out that this new company called Dateline which was founded by a man named John Patterson interesting leahue as a young recent college grad he actually travel to America and he saw operation match in the other computer dating service that cropped up at Harvard at the exact same time he saw them in action and then he decided right I know what I want to do with my life he went back to England and he started a computer dating business and Patterson was very very shrewd to put a generously and maybe it to put it
00:39:48a little less generously he was extremely unscrupulous he was a businessman through and through and he wasn't about making a people necessarily happy if they were happy that was great but he wanted to make money and what he did early on to get his computer dating business off the ground and you don't even have to talk about of veneer of sleaze he actually did things like he took a lists of the women who signed up for his computer dating business and he presented them to men as though these women were prostitutes and he said you know you pay a certain amount I guarantee you'll have the night of your life with one of these women and he actually was brought up on charges for doing that
00:40:39and so here's a problem that now this kind of sleazebag is the competitor of John Ball
00:40:46right and he's doing very very well because she's already kind of softened up the market for him especially in terms of advertising and he's like I said he's a very shrewd businessman and after he gets brought up on these charges you know he he pays his fine he I think he may be dad to do some minimal jail time and he he picks himself up and he keeps going and his ID which is a pretty smart ideas look I just need to keep maximizing the pool of users right because the more users the more money and also the more users potentially the better matches you'll get but in fact what you see with his Services even though it's very economically successful he makes a lot of money again and again people who use it say it doesn't work I'm not getting sometimes people weren't getting any matchups and they would say look this is a scam the government actually investigated
00:41:46business and several other computer dating businesses for this reason in the 70s in a lot of times people would say look I asked for certain things I put certain things on my questionnaire and I'm being matched up with people almost in a random way exactly and so one thing that newspaper reporters would always ask him was they say well how does your program work how does your algorithm work and he would be very tight-lipped he wouldn't say how it worked or Justify if it worked he would just say well even if nobody has anything in common in other respects at least they have in common the fact that they've all signed up for Dateline
00:42:33yeah yeah so he you know he was very a very very shrewd businessman and what that meant was he was actually better able to whether this stuff. As Britain goes into the 1970s while meanwhile for a variety of reasons some are just bad luck but some are sort of the general economic decline of the ear after John balls very successful business you know it's it's almost a decade old at this point she actually is starting to see it become more and more difficult to pay off her bills to sustain her business and at a certain point she just gets a bit desperate and she thinks I can't do this anymore and I know what's happening
00:43:23well I think it's a beauty Beyond scrupulous and getting anybody and everybody and just messing with randomly to just you know if it overwhelms did this the cashe of the st. James marriage bureau her, and her birthday they're getting so hard for marriage service in a way yes but I think really it's more that Dateline was just kind of the last straw you know things have been going wrong because like I said of this General economic situation in the country their ad gets misprinted they're running into a lot of bad luck essentially and then Dateline comes on the scene and it is a very powerful competitor at a certain point you involved things I'm tired of doing this I'm worried that I'm not going to be able to pay my workers she gets to the point where she thinks maybe she needs a change and maybe this is going to be too hard of a slog maybe be unsustainable you have to remember also that you know she comes from a background where is she doesn't have the same
00:44:23safety net as somebody like John Patterson who comes from a wealthier family he went to college she got a degree in mechanical engineering you know what he is doing all of this from a position of like far greater privilege socioeconomically and also you know he's a he's a man and that counts for a lot at this time women women didn't run their own businesses for a commonly they didn't manage other people very commonly so you know I'm not saying he had it easy but he certainly had it easy and a lot of the obstacles that Joan ball was hitting in this. Given her background you know maybe if her back on had been a little bit different maybe if she hadn't been a woman it's possible she would have been able to get through them but as it is she realizes look. I feel like this is the end of the line for me and she and John Patterson knew each other because they were the two big dogs and computer dating and her they were always enter
00:45:23for the same television programs for the same newspaper stories and and he knows that she's his main competitor even though date line is at this point getting bigger than her business she still a threat to his his business and his profit so one day you know she calls him and she says look I'm looking to get out I have a small amount of debt you know 2,000 pounds of debt for the business I need to pay off my employees and so on would you be interested in buying my business essentially for the price of the debt and basically I mean he can't believe his luck he braces across London it to sign the papers immediately and that's how comp at ends and that's how Dateline goes on to become the most successful computer dating business in the world up through the 1990s it keeps going until 1997 when he
00:46:22Ashley Young he dies kind of dinner in a gory where you know he ends up he was an alcoholic and he ends up dead in a bathtub probably from you no alcohol poisoning but for that the 60 prefer the you know the tail end of the 60s through the 70s through the 80s and through most of the 90s he's actually the number one computer dating business in the world to the clean up their act in any way in terms of you know providing actual matches rather than just me no matching by sort of gross numbers that it's sort of depends on who you ask if it's sort of a yes and no answer to that the more people who use the service the Messier the matches became the harder they came to match people up well because honestly that requires a much more complicated computer program and so like I said by the 1970s he
00:47:22and all of the other computer dating businesses that are still around in the mid-70s they're getting investigated by the British government for being actual frauds for being scams that are taking his money and not providing the product that they claim so there's there's a lot of contention around this but I will say that you know he he does make his business that's a more respectable you know from the early days when he was essentially collecting women's names and then trying to sell those names to men as though the women were prostitutes like implying you know that they were prostitutes identification break for buzzkill nation and we will come back and find out what happens how this sort of operation match and other computer dating services wined up on this side of the pond
00:48:16okay we're back with Professor Hicks on the history of computer dating a professor before we had our break that we talked about that are you talked about how these two big companies in Britain sort of eventually ended up how does operation match at Harvard Man In The End presumably and competitors and copycat business how does all that develop in in the u.s. in the US with operation match in particular you know like I said these were college students doing something that was like a bit of a large and in fact operation match for all the publicity that it gets and it gets National publicity cuz these guys are well connected they have a friend for instance whose father is a producer on the the game show to tell the truth and she gets that mean National National media coverage on this television show so they have like this kind of very you know meteoric rise and then within just a
00:49:16few years they shut down because they realized well look this isn't just about getting ourselves dates this is really hard work this is a real you know business this isn't necessarily what we want to do with our lives and they actually go on and they have you know I've seen careers that you might say or more in line with their another middle-class upbringing is there a Harvard degree in fact one guy he goes on eventually actually to not only become a judge but he is Ronald want Ronald Reagan's nominees for the Supreme Court I don't talk about operation match wow and and I think what actually Torpedoes his nomination is because somebody digs into his past and finds out that you know probably back in this. He had smoked marijuana and someday remove his nomination at where he he he takes he doesn't you know take
00:50:16the nomination and go through all the rest of the wedding so you know that is that's kind of a very short little story much shorter in the case of operation match then in the case of John Ball and call Pat or in the case of John Patterson and Dateline and then in the United States there are also a lot of other little computer dating projects like this that get started on University campuses a lot of times by college students and they stick around for in most cases relatively short periods of time like I said Dateline was you know was the longest running of all computer dating businesses and that takes us up through 1997 and if you think about it 1997 96 or so that's when at least in the United States like the internet starts to really explode in a big way
00:51:16and I mean I remember back in the day you know right around that time in the late 90s that was when you know a lot of my friends and I tried it too we were doing things like Yahoo personals and we were getting into we were getting into computer dating that was online and that was the beginning of the year that were in now when we have reserved I was so it seems like a million different companies match.com OkCupid and I can't think of any other ones I think it's a nice to actually high in what's going on now with what we were talking about you know back in the 1960s because just like we were talking about computer early computer dating companies not being really revolutionary actually being quite you know they kind of rolled a set of conservative social mores into this new tech
00:52:16ecology and they were much less revolutionary than we'd like to think well that's still going on you know if you think about the ways in which so many computer dating sites even today but especially you know as they were getting started in the early twenty-first Century they only catered to straight people they implicitly targeted people who were sort of you know middle-class and white because they were targeting communities that already had enough sort of wealth to to access the internet in this way that you see that the same thing happens a lot where technologies that we like to think our revolutionary well not only are they not revolutionary but they're actually kind of confirm social socially conservative patterns that we don't see because we take them for granted in a lot of
00:53:16Aces and you know within the past maybe 5 to 10 years maybe even just five years that started to change with more and more computer dating services and apps that explicitly are focusing on markets who you know aren't straight aren't white on cater to genderqueer people there's this new app called thirst that's all about it's created by women of color who are queer and its pitch towards essentially genderqueer people have called color so you know it's taking a while like it's taking us many many decades to unpack all of the conservative Norms that we're just kind of taken for granted and built-in to be systems you know we talked a lot about algorithmic bias today well that's that's spinner
00:54:16the internet is sort of the second era of of computer dating have anything to do with why why that's been cracked open I mean with the with internet base dating can be not only more I want to go see selective in in your audience right if you're not your catering to a certain type of person or a person with a certain sexuality or whatever but because the internet so why your your your audience is huge you see what I'm saying it in other words Dateline and and Joan ball and an operation magic enough technically could afford to be selective in there and how they in in their audiences but now you can't I mean selective in a positive way you know that you're approaching certain groups and saying this is offering the service yeah yeah definitely the volume really matters the volume makes a difference I mean even in the earliest days of computer dating one of the thing
00:55:16things that made certain companies like John Patterson state line so successful was that he just had a much larger user group and you know there's that old line like if you're using something if you're using a service and you're not exactly sure what their product is that means you're the product to think about a lot when we use like online media social media today well it's sort of is an instructive idea for computer dating both in the past and present because honestly what was happening was it wasn't necessarily that they were you know that a match or a successful match was the product on the most successful computer dating company is the product was actually the people you know and a lot of times women and dates with women that was positioned as that was positioned as the product so weak
00:56:16you know we can say that larger user groups sort of lead to better outcomes but are those better outcomes for the users or are they just for the companies who are making money and advertising revenue and making a fortune off of the folks who are using the service
00:56:39well I what I was thinking of the before there was it that the the user group was upset just say the LGBT community in an in a certain area or certain city for operation match in Boston would have been well if they might have thought of it as being too small to be worthwhile to make money but if you have the internet than the LGBT community becomes massive in terms of absolute numbers and so that's one of the reasons it's able to I want I want to say things like fracture or or on one of the reasons is able to specialize yet also have a have a pool of millions of people yeah yeah I think that's a really important point that especially as we're talking about portions of the population like you know the core Community where you don't folks and we have just statistically fewer options if you're looking at you know the entire world is the dating pool or the entire you know Community has the dating pool and so yeah
00:57:39online dating companies that are not online dating companies but online dating services attached to other internet services that start to crop up in the late 1990s online they're really really in some cases Lifesavers for folks who are gay or lesbian or queer and are trying to find other people like them sometimes for dates sometimes Justino to to find other people like them that they can that they can hang out with and one of the things that I think is important to remember is that because of a sort of free for all nature of the early internet and you know we're only sort of seeing the end of that free for all you're at just now there is less gatekeeping you know no longer do they have to really go through a John ball or a compound or a date line and a John Patterson or an operation match they can put up their own profile you know on Yahoo purse
00:58:39what's or whatever it is and it might be kind of janky and it might not really match them up in any sort of complex way with people who are like themselves but other people will scan Those ads see those ads and it will expand the pool of possibility to do on the show you show us the complications in the history of computer daily complications in the way personal relations over the internet now have become a sort of more complicated so thank you very much Professor it's been a wonderful episode and happy Valentines Day Happy Valentine's Day to you as well and I'll just say that if folks want to read more about this there's an article that I did for a magazine called logic that is all about the details of this history we're going to put it on the on the blog posts that's on the bus on our dresser bus go. Come about this episode so they can click on it and getting ready to admit both articles of absolutely fascinating
00:59:39well thank you for having me again okay boss colors will talk to you next week

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By Professor Buzzkill/ Entertainment One (eOne)
Professor Buzzkill is an exciting new blog & podcast that explores history myths in an illuminating, entertaining, and humorous way.
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329 episodes
since May, 2015
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