Dan's software reminiscences #1 - Online dating

I’ve been around for a while, and have had some unique computing experiences. I frequently find myself reminiscing about some of these experiences on CG. So now I’m making it official. I’m an old fart, and I like to talk about my boring past.

Let’s see how popular this is. I’m putting a survey link near the top of the post, so that you don’t need to read the whole thing to let me know how much you hate it. :sunglasses:

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In 1995 I was a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The Internet was still a pretty new concept. Most of my fellow students accessed it through portals like AOL, or (text-only) through the school’s Vax / VMS cluster. The Netscape Navigator web browser was in its infancy, and few had even heard of the world wide web.

There was no networking provided in the dorms, but each room had a serial jack that could be used to connect a dumb terminal to the main VMS cluster. Students could use this system to register for courses, to read and write email, and to chat with each other.

Chat was very rudimentary. You could get a list of users logged into the same Vax node as you, and then you could send a message to the screen of any logged-in user. Someone, at some point, had written a set of scripts that would notify you if one of your friends logged in, and these scripts were widely distributed by word-of-mouth.

I got tired of this manual process, especially since it didn’t support multiple users well. So I wrote a script that would read input from stdin and echo it to the terminals of a list of users. A sort of bare-bones chat room kind of thing.

Around this time, I met a very lovely young lady, and was immediately infatuated. She was deaf, and I knew no sign language, so we spent a good amount of time chatting “online”. We were getting pretty close, but I was an insecure college nerd, and didn’t know how to take the relationship to the next level.

One day, my neighbor across the hall mentioned to me that he was writing a survey designed to evaluate compatibility between couples for a psychology class he was taking. Lightbulb! If I could get my lady friend to take that survey, and if we were compatible… Okay. It’s the stuff bad 80s sitcoms are made of. But I was dumb and desperate.

I wrote a VMS script that would ask users a modified version of my neighbor’s survey questions. The results were stored in a (text) database file, and responses were compared with those of other users, utilizing the algorithm that my neighbor had developed. The program would then print a list of the most compatible users of the opposite sex, along with a numerical compatibility score, and contact info.

Voila! I had invented one of the first online matchmaking programs! It was incredibly popular at first, spreading rapidly through the student body. Within the first week, hundreds had used it. There was a problem, though. At the time, RIT was more than 80% male. :fearful:

Any girls brave enough to take the survey were quickly flooded with emails from horny nerds pleading, This program say’s we’re compatible! I got a bunch of complaints, and I took the program down.

Sigh. Opportunity lost. Oh well. At least I got a date with that girl! I never did quite get the nerve to ask her out. We were chatting on the Vax at one point, and I asked her, Do you ever go to the movies? She responded with, I’d love to go to a movie with you! We were going to watch Mr. Holland’s Opus, but it didn’t work out so we went bowling instead. Now, more than 20 years later, we are happily married.

  • danBhentschel

who said programming was not romantic? :smiley: Loved the story, keep them going!

1 Like

When I was a 300 baud dial-up bbs warrior in the 80’s, I took a break from TradeWars to try a similar matchmaking program that ran on the NOCHANGE system. It matched my 15-year-old self with the 30-something years old wife of the bbs operator. Since the BBS community in my town was small and met in person a lot, I mentioned it to her as a joke the next time we got together.

She just rolled her eyes. She and another sysop’s wife were the only females on the board and so of course they were matched to everyone.