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On Valentine’s Day morning, more than 25,000 students spanning 13 colleges found their email inboxes struck by the arrows of Harvard’s “Digital Cupids” — the 2019 Datamatch team — offering food, friendship, and a chance at true love.
Participation in Datamatch, a free matchmaking service run by the Harvard Computer Society, more than doubled from last year’s numbers due to the program’s expansion to nine additional schools across the country, according to organizers.
This year, Datamatch funded approximately 1,000 Harvard dates at Flour Bakery, Zinneken's Waffles, Berryline, and El Jefe’s Taqueria as well as at the Hasty Pudding Theatricals annual Valentine’s Day show. By 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, all food-related dates for Harvard students had been claimed by matched couples, according to Russell F. Pekala ’19, Datamatch lead staffer and “Supreme Cupid.”
Created and administered by the Harvard Computer Society, Datamatch began offering its services to Harvard College students in 1994, when personality surveys were completed with pencil and paper. Now, the matchmaking program uses an online algorithm — controlled by a handful of Harvard students — to match potentially compatible students based on their survey results.
“It’s a pretty creative algorithm. I do wish we could talk more about it, but you know, it’s top-secret,” Pekala said.
While Datamatch’s structure and question style remained consistent with past years’, its 2019 website design was dramatically revamped. Pekala said that HCS also added a last-minute feature in which all students were matched with the food discount app “Snackpass.”
“We ended up adding a deal with Snackpass a few days ago,” Pekala said. “We thought that was cool because even if you didn’t get a date with someone on your list, you could maybe take a friend to Snackpass for 50% off.”
Approximately 8,500 male, 14,000 female, and 219 non-binary identifying students across 13 universities participated in this year’s Datamatch, according to Theodore T. Liu ’20, a Crimson technology chair. Students could choose to search for a platonic “Best Friend,” romantic “True Love,” or both. About 6,700 students searched for a “Best Friend,” 13,500 students searched for “True Love,” and 5,700 students indicated that they were open to either.
Though the official deadline to submit Datamatch surveys was 11:59 p.m. the night before Valentine’s Day, matchmakers decided to extend the deadline to accommodate a wave of last-minute submissions.
“We got our highest traffic around 11:30 to midnight; we were getting 200 requests a second to the website,” Pekala said. “We always get last minute emails saying, ‘Please!’ So we don’t tell people, but we extend it until 12:45 a.m..”
After all survey results were in, the Datamatch team tested and ran the algorithm all night, releasing results to students beginning at 6:00 a.m. Then, throughout Valentine’s Day, at least one Datamatch staffer remained awake at any given time to respond to emails and questions.
Out of 65 Datamatch participants surveyed by The Crimson, 45 said that they have not made plans to physically meet with one of their matches on a date. But students praised both the new website design and the survey questions, which were written exclusively by Datamatch staff.
“I thought the questions on Datamatch were incredibly funny,” Moaz Selim ’22 said.
Some students, however, questioned the practicality of the Datamatch-sponsored restaurant dates.
“One waffle for two people is ridiculous!” Adip Vora ’19, who has made plans to meet his Datamatch partner, said.
Upon reflection, Pekala said, he is glad that he has been able to give back to the Harvard community by leading Datamatch 2019.
“I think that it’s a healthy thing for people to do, to get out of their comfort zone and meet new people in a very low pressure environment,” Pekala said.
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