An Insider’s Take

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Datamatch in its 23rd year.

By PULKIT AGARWAL

Recently, the Indy got a chance to speak with Larry Zhang ’18, who leads the website team for the free online matchmaking service, Datamatch. We would like to share with you some snippets from this conversation, and our take on this traditional Valentine’s Day phenomenon more generally.

It is worth noting that Datamatch is an extremely popular, and surprisingly old, institution at Harvard. Having originally been founded in 1994 by the Harvard Computer Society, it has provided twenty-four classes of Harvard students a chance to find a companion for the widely-celebrated day. What is especially interesting about Datamatch is that while it does not pretend to be a service that would find you your loved one, it takes itself rather seriously. And as do most students at the College, upwards of 4,500 of whom are expected to have used it in the last week.

The reason for this level of interest, you ask? Let’s have a look at Larry, who joined the organization this year but had to apply three times before he could get in. He humorously recalls having been rejected the prior two times for his lack of CS skills, and having resolved to find a way in after gaining some experience in the field. He interviewed last year with the current head of Datamatch, Raynor Kuang ’17, and realized later that he was being considered to lead the entire Website team. This, along with the Algorithms and Statistics teams, makes up the three arms of the organization, with everyone chipping in to look after publicity.

The 23-year old website has undergone four revamps, we are told by Larry. “This year, we are also exposing a part of our algorithm to our users”, he said when asked about recent changes in the venture. Meanwhile, the algorithm itself has been transformed and worked upon hundreds of times; “Now it’s a beast.”

It isn’t just about the free food: Larry claims to know of more than a few couples that met through Datamatch and continued onto subsequent dates. “It serves a dual purpose; new restaurants around the Square want to work with us to get new customers, and students are happy to get the free food”. This year, in order to ensure that as many people are able to get meals as possible, the service has increased its reach to restaurants, and has arranged an increased number of time slots available for users.

Perhaps it is difficult to truly ascertain what sparks the level of interest in Datamatch that students on-campus and alumni take. When asked about it, Larry pointed to its “semi-satirical” nature, which has grown into something of a Harvard tradition. The questions for the survey are always lined with jokes about current events. No surprise, then, that this year’s version features more than the odd reference to our President. Unfortunately, the collaborative effort of Datamatch with SatireV to frame the comedic survey has expired as of this year, with the latter having launched its own satirical matchmaking service, NumberSex. Anecdotal accounts from campus do suggest, though, that Datamatch retains the pole position when it comes to matchmaking services exclusive to the Harvard community.

When asked about new competition, Larry claimed that it was a purely friendly affair. “The kind SatireV has with many clubs on campus.” Everyone seems to be having a little fun with the emergence of Datamatch’s counterpart.

Datamatch hasn’t failed to pique interests of neighboring campuses either. Larry claims that students from BU and Tufts have previously expressed interest in collaborating with Datamatch, but the team has instead chosen to grow domestically.

Like most clubs on campus, its members find its best asset to be the community. “It’s not a professional environment at all. We do miss our fair share of meetings, but never forget to share memes.”

Pulkit Agarwal ([email protected]) hopes that you are able to grab a meal with your match this week!