Thursday, September 25, 2014

A/B Test

I am up in Seattle hanging out with the folks at Amazon today and talking about A/B tests, experiments that websites conduct in order to improve the user experience (and profitability too, sometimes). Coming home tonight, I hit upon the idea for a great Hollywood screenplay.

(Aside: I don't write screenplays, but, if any game theory alums do, I'd be happy to collaborate on this idea.)

Twins A and B (girls) have just come off bad breakups. They live in NYC and Boston but are otherwise alike in every way. They talk on the phone, as they do every night, feeling bad about their miserable love lives and determined to fix it. Twin A suggests they visit a popular dating website she read about. Immediately after the call, they each turn on their iPads and bring up the website. It turns out, however, that the site is conducting an A/B test on its matching algorithm just as they query it.

(Sidenote: as each twin calls up the website, a clock ticks down to the 1/1000 of a second as they query it. Twin A lands on an odd numbered time while twin B lands on an even numbered time since she started a tiny bit later than the other twin. This produces the A/B test, which is rigged to the 1/1000 of a second time a session starts.

Back scene: techies in some Silicon Valley startup. Techie 1 talks about how the website has succeeded by having likes attract. Techie 2 tells a story about how, with his girlfriend, opposites attract. What if that strategy actually produces better matches. Techie 1 says that data talks and bulllshit walks, so only an A/B test can settle things for sure. He proposes that, on Sunday night, they run such a test on the east coast and then track all the matches that result to see how love really works. Techie 2, confident that opposites attract, agrees and bets $100 that he's right. Techie 1 shakes hands on it.)

Back to our twins. Twin A is matched with someone just like her. He's outdoorsy and easygoing, ruggedly handsome and with a steady, albeit boring job. Twin B is matched with her opposite. She likes the outdoors while he is an urban creature favoring clubs, bars, jazz, etc. She is an all-American clean cut girl while he is rather grungy. After the first date, twin A has found her perfect match while Twin B is appalled, but yet fascinated somehow. Both go on subsequent dates and eventually fall in love.

The rest of the story traces out the arc of their lives. Since this is Hollywood, both have to run into terrible problems. If this is a PG film, then both will turn out to be with the right guys in the end. If rated R, then the person who seems to be alike will become a different, and controlling person, altogether. And violence will ensue, terrifying and possibly hurting Twin A.  The person who seems to be opposite of twin B will turn out to be alike in terms of his heart, so the outside bits don't count for much. He will also be the person to rescue twin A from her fate.

Or we can go rated R in the 70s. In this case, both guys turn out to be Mr. Wrong and wreck the twins lives. Divorced and with children to take care of, alone, the twins call each other in the ending scene to commiserate their fate.

The drawback to this idea is that it is a bit like Sliding Doors, a film from a few years ago, but different enough, I suspect, to be interesting.

No idea what this has to do with game theory, but it seemed interesting to me.

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