Jun 14 • 6 min read

Modern technologies are helping people make decisions in their daily lives across a broad spectrum of contexts. Ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft connect passengers with drivers while professional networking services such as Zip Recruiter connect potential employees with employers.  

Platforms like these are also known as “matching markets.” While a typical online marketplace uses its technology to deliver a product or a service as a one-sided transaction, matching markets require both parties to choose each other in order to complete the “selection” process.  

This complicates the ways in which people engage with a platform and how they perceive their available options while searching. These challenges extend to the designers, who are tasked with building the platforms in a way that promotes high engagement and quality matching outcomes.    

JaeHwuen Jung, an assistant professor of Management Information Systems at the Fox School of Business explores these platforms in his paper “The Secret to Finding a Match: A Field Experiment on Choice Capacity Design in an Online Dating Platform,” which was recently accepted for publication in Information Systems Research. 

“There are many types of matching markets, and we are studying the best design to meet people and engage more online,” says Jung, who co-authored the paper with Chul Kim from the City University of New York and Hyungsoo Lim and Dongwon Lee from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.  

The team conducted a randomized field experiment in collaboration with an online dating platform that granted them the ability to passively observe users’ engagement with the service. The team’s research was conducted around a key design feature in online platforms known as “choice capacity,” which describes the number of potential options a user can view and select while using a platform.  

One of the most counterintuitive findings, according to Jung, is that controlling the levels of choice capacity available to users allows designers to build platforms better suited to the company’s goals. The findings presented by Jung and his team challenge the maxim that more is better and offer a conceptual framework to more accurately gauge the effectiveness of a platform’s design.   

“We tested different choice capacities to figure out which was most effective at increasing engagement and finding a match on a platform,” Jung says. “There are many platforms that allow users to select or view whatever they want, but it might not be the optimal design for increasing engagement and matching outcomes.” 

Based on their findings, the team defined four mechanisms that affected users’ matchmaking outcomes. The mechanisms are paired into two groups of effects, with each pair weighing the impacts on user behavior that come from different choice capacity designs. 

Choice overload: How many options are too many?

The first pair are called Positive Same-Side Effect and Negative Cross-Side Effect, which consider how many selections users will make while searching for a match. While some designers believe that increasing the number of choices available to a user will lead to a user selecting more potential candidates, Jung’s research reveals that this is not always the case. 

“We argue that there could be some competing effects, that increasing the choice capacity on one side can decrease the overall choices made on the platform,” Jung says. “If more workers apply to a job, then employers will seek for less employees because they are already getting lots of attention.” 

Standing out against the competition

The second pair of effects consider the selectiveness of users when they are offered a high choice capacity, which are called Choice Effect and Competition Effect. Choice effects impact scenarios in which having more options to choose from leads users to believe that their chance of making a match increases. Jung’s team observed how a user’s identity, particularly how a user’s gender, impacted how they perceived their chances in finding a match. 

“If you have a chance that you can select multiple users, are you going to select more attractive users or less attractive users?” asks Jung. “Generally, the choice effect says that if I have more choices, there is a higher chance that I will get a match, so I might try to aim for a more attractive user.” 

Competition Effect describes doubts that may arise about a user’s chances in making a match. If a user on one side of a potential match believes that the other side is receiving a lot of attention from users, then they may feel that it becomes less likely to successfully match. This sense of competition can create situations in which people adjust the criteria for what they could consider a good match.  

“If I can make more choices, that means other males can make more choices,” Jung says. “That may mean my choice is less likely to be reciprocated, so that’s a reason that I may select a less attractive person.” 

These effects illustrate underlying mechanisms that drive people’s behavior, offering a glimpse into the complicated ways in which people engage with others online and weigh their decisions. 

Jung offered the dating platform Bumble as an example of a site that is designed in a way that could offer better matching outcomes for users on both sides of a match. Bumble is unique as a dating platform because as a rule, when heterosexual users are seeking a match, men cannot reach out to women first. By granting female users the ability to make the first move, Bumble avoids some of the pitfalls that are possible in environments in which women are outnumbered by men and can become overwhelmed by requests for potential matches.  

“The Bumble idea may not be the best idea for increasing engagement, but it’s the best way to increase matching on the platform,” Jung says. “It supports our idea, why different choice capacity designs may work.”  

The research by Jung and his team extends beyond the context of dating platforms, offering insights for designers working on creating a variety of matching platforms. By considering the ways in which choice capacity can affect user behavior on either side of the match, designers can fine tune their technology to balance a platform’s desire for engagement and a user’s desire for a matching outcome.  

“Once we find the mechanism, what’s driving the results, then we can see if this applies to more contexts,” Jung says. “We argue that the mechanisms that we found can be the same across contexts.”   

See Jung’s previous research in the story “Falling in Love with Big Data.”

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