When I came back from a six-week tour of India in summer 2004, I began another odyssey: I started reading Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. The 1,488-page opus chronicles the widow Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s hilarious and heart-rending search for a husband for her daughter Lata.
In India, as you may know, marriages are still arranged by families. But before prospective spouses and their parents agree to a betrothal, an astrologer determines the compatibility of the couple.
That’s right: Close to 1.1 billion people believe in consulting an astrologer before they tie the knot. (Of course, not all of India’s citizens are Hindus who follow Vedic astrology. Still, there are plenty of Indians living outside the Subcontinent who rely on astrology to find a mate.)
We’re just joining this party in the West, but we’re harnessing the power of technology. Under the auspices of Astrology Explored’s Beth Turnage, I’ve learned about a new Web site called Starlinked that uses astrology to help you find your soulmate.
Starlinked’s president, Kurt Grandis, was kind enough to do a Q&A with Astrology Mundo via e-mail. What follows is an edited transcript of our “interview.”
What is Starlinked?
Starlinked is an online astrology-based matchmaking service. We are dedicated to providing high-quality astrology-based information to our members to help them find that special someone. While the inner workings of our compatibility engine are grounded in traditional astrological techniques the entire user experience is designed for [someone] who may not have much experience with astrology.
Actually, Starlinked is often the first foray into astrology beyond daily horoscopes for many of our users. Our goal is to bring the benefits of sophisticated astrological techniques in evaluating relationships to people less familiar with the power of astrology. We recognize that technology alone can never replace a personal reading by an experienced astrologer, so we plan to incorporate features that will help our members connect with qualified astrologers in their area.
How long has it been in existence?
The Starlinked idea has been floating around for awhile now. Active development on the site and its underlying technologies began about eight months ago and we just launched in October 2008. We took our first couple of weeks to focus on North Carolina, where we are located in Mebane, but are now beginning to roll out into the rest of the U.S.
Are there competing sites that use astrology to match up people?
There are a few other sites out there that do some form of astrological matchmaking, but most reduce it to something along the lines of sun sign matching. We are proud to be able to go leaps and bounds beyond that and base our compatibility measures on real astrological techniques.
You are not just 1 of 12 buckets we sort out. The matches we find for you are entirely personalized to the exact time and place you were born.
How do you make sure people aren’t lying about their ages?
Great question! This is something we are obviously concerned about since we wish to ensure the integrity of our compatibility measures. We do our best to balance the integrity of our natal information and the privacy of our users. We explain the importance of accurate birth dates and also offer our members the option to hide their age from others. This provides less incentive to “tweak” their birth year.
What if someone doesn’t know when he was born? What happens then?
This is often the case for our first-time visitors, who haven’t had astrological consultations before. We allow folks to come in and make a rough guess if they have some idea (e.g. sometime in the evening) or just plain-old say “I don’t know.” At the same time we record the data confidence or quality (like a Rodden Rating [pioneered by AstroDataBank founder Lois Rodden]). This way users can enter the system and get started without knowing their exact birth time.
Their compatibility scores are initially penalized due to the uncertainties associated with the data. Once they’ve had a chance to call Mom or check their birth certificate they can lock in their actual birth time.
What compatibility factors does your program look for? I’m thinking of Sun/Moon conjunctions, trines between Venus and Mars, and contacts involving Saturn, often the “glue” in long-term relationships?
Our compatibility engine runs a number of analyses in order to calculate each individual pair’s overall score. We look at a number of planetary interactions, including the ones mentioned, the nature of the aspect, its orb among other things. We consider composites as well as synastry.
For the time being, we have minimized Saturn’s influences due to some of its interpretive subtleties. To cater to our users with more astrology experience, we plan on incorporating features to allow more advanced users to customize the factors involved in their compatibility calculations. There is still a lot to do and this will likely not be our first priority, but we take these kinds of concerns seriously and will work towards the most comprehensive matching possible.
What other factors besides astrology are used to match people?
At this time we are focused on identifying matches based solely on astrological factors. This is in part a conscious choice; we want to differentiate ourselves from other matchmaking services that require users to answer so many questions to find their matches. We always encourage feedback from our members and will respond if people express a desire to consider other factors as well, but ultimately it is our intention to keep the site focused on astrology-based factors.
How does the system work?
As soon as a new user registers on the site, our compatibility engine calculates match scores for all members within 50 miles. New members are encouraged to fill out their profile information, but can immediately start reviewing their matches if they choose. If you don’t find someone right away, Starlinked can notify you of new matches as often as every day, once a week, or once a month if you prefer. Once you find your match, simply fill out a few forms to subscribe and start communicating with as many other members as you want.
Does it cost money to join?
It is free to sign up, create your profile, and view your matches. Then you can subscribe to the Starlinked service when you are ready to contact other members. A Starlinked subscription is $29.99 a month or three months at $19.99 a month.
Who are the brains behind Starlinked and what are their credentials? I’m particularly interested in the astrological credentials.
Starlinked, before it was named as such, came to me after watching a number of friends and family use online dating and matchmaking sites. It just seemed like an astrology-based solution should be available.
Then, as a classic Mars in Taurus, I considered working on the project, poked at it, and found myself spending more and more time on it until finally the floodgates opened and BLAM: Starlinked! I’ve had tremendous help from people along the way. I think we have built quite a pool of energy behind this project.
One thing I am particularly excited about is using the collective wisdom of the community to refine the compatibility engine. For instance, what happens if I take five astrologers and ask them to tell me about a potential relationship between two people? What happens is that the same major planetary aspects and contacts tend to make appearances, but everyone weights and interprets their importance and influence slightly differently.
Rather than hide, ignore, or run away from those variations, as some other computerized analysis systems do, we embrace them and use some powerful computational techniques to harness that information. In the end we are able to provide results that best resemble the opinions of the community.
We don’t claim that these numbers are the end-all and be-all of astrological compatibility, but rather a great place to start based on some real traditional techniques. And look, you just met someone with whom you’re probably pretty compatible…why not chat?
It seems to me that more women than men are interested in astrology. How will you get around that?
I think this is definitely the case when you are talking about astro-savvy people who are interested in the inner workings and methodologies of astrology. Take a few steps back and consider folks with a casual interest who might not know what a rising sign is, but do check their daily horoscope. You still have more women than men, but the gap has definitely closed. At one point Match.com reported about 60% male membership. We hope women will strong-arm their guy friends into creating profiles :)
Does the system match gay people?
Starlinked does match gay people using the same compatibility system used for straight relationships. Since we are not relying solely on sun signs and are considering numerous other types of (common) planetary interactions the potential differences in relational interpretation should be tempered. I know there has been and continues to be a lot of research done this area and I would certainly like to see Starlinked’s matches reflect that work.
What do you think Astrology Mundo’s readers should know about Starlinked?
As I mentioned earlier, for many of our users Starlinked is their first real exposure to astrology beyond their daily horoscope. For these people we encourage them simply to register, review their matches, and start getting to know people with whom they are astrologically compatible.
For people with more astrology experience, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with the project from authoring introductory relational astrology articles to participating in research to improve our compatibility engine. We are also working on establishing a consultancy or referral program for astrologers; when a user wants more detailed or personalized information, about a match or maybe regarding their own natal chart, they can select from a number of professional member astrologers offering their services.
We are excited about Starlinked and love to hear from our users on how we can improve the system. We have a number of things in the works and are always glad to take some direction from our community. Come on by and check us out!