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40 years before Mark Zuckerberg came up with Facebook, a few Harvard students created Operation Match, the precursor to online dating. The New Yorker reports that in 1965, Lewis Altfest, a 25-year-old accountant, and his friend Robert Ross, a computer programmer for IBM, then made their own version: Project TACT (Technical Automated Compatibility Testing) for young New Yorkers living on the Upper East Side. Clients paid $5 and answered more than a hundred questions, such as whether women would prefer to “find their ideal man in a camp chopping wood, in a studio painting a canvas, or in a garage working a pillar drill.” The answers were fed into an IBM 1400 Series computer, “which then spit out your matches, five blue cards, if you were a woman, or five pink ones, if you were a man.”
TACT eventually spread all over New York, but was well ahead of its time, given that it was suspect in a criminal investigation after the Kings County Board of Education noticed students filling out “questionable” dating surveys. In this unbelievable 1966 New York Times article, “Boy-Girl Questionnaires Investigated” then-Brooklyn District Attorney Aaron E. Koota asked a grand jury to consider whether it was a crime to invite students to “Pick ’em cuter by computer”:
“The potential danger to physical safety and morals is clear. Some control is essential to prevent criminals, racketeers and sex deviates from this profitable field.”
Today, Match.com is the largest dating site in the world, with an estimated 20 million members.