Online dating or Internet dating is a dating system which allows individuals,
couples and groups to make contact and communicate with each other over
the Internet, usually with the objective of developing a personal
romantic or sexual relationship. Online dating services usually
provide unmoderated matchmaking over the Internet, through the use of
personal computers or cell phones.
Online dating services generally require a
prospective member to provide personal information, before they can
search the service provider's database for other individuals using
criteria they set, such as age range, gender and location. Most sites
allow members to upload photos of themselves and browse the photos of
others. Sites may offer additional services, such as webcasts, online chat, telephone
chat, and message boards. Some
sites provide free registration, but may offer services which require a
monthly fee. Other sites depend on advertising for their
Many sites are broad-based, with members coming from a
variety of backgrounds looking for different types of relationships.
Other sites are more specific, based on the type of members, interests,
location, or relationship desired.
United States residents spent $469.5 million on online dating and personals
in 2004, and over $500 million in 2005, the largest segment of paid content on
the web other than pornography, according to a study conducted by
the Online Publishers Association (OPA) and comScore Networks. The U.S. online dating market
is expected to increase spending to $932 million in 2011.
At the end of November 2004, there were 844 lifestyle and dating
sites, a 38 percent increase since the start of the year, according to
Hitwise Inc. However, market share was increasingly being dominated by
several large commercial services, including AOL Personals, Yahoo! Personals,
Match.com, and eHarmony. By 2007, many prominent studies show that Baby Boomer interest in online dating
In 2002, a Wired magazine article forecast that,
"Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love without
looking for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalog
to instead wander the stacks because 'the right books are found only by
accident.' Serendipity is the hallmark of inefficient markets, and the
marketplace of love, like it or not, is becoming more efficient."
Most recently, it has become common for online dating websites to provide
webcam chats between members. In addition, as the online dating
population becomes larger, sites with specific demographics are
becoming more popular as a way to narrow the pool of potential
According to online personals expert Mark Brooks from onlinepersonalswatch.com,
online dating sites are adding features including handwriting analysis
to match like-minded mates.
The most successful niche sites pair people by race, sexual orientation or religion.
The 20 most popular dating sites this year as ranked by Hitwise include
JDate (for Jewish singles), Christian Mingle, Christian Cafe and JCMATCH, Manhunt.net
(for gay men), Love From India, Black Christian People Meet, Amigos (for Latino
singles), Asian People Meet, MyTownDate.com, Shaadi (for Indian
singles) and Alarena.com (for Africans).
In March 2008, the top 5 overall sites held 7% less market share than
they did one year ago while the top sites from the top five major niche
dating categories made considerable gains.
One of the "hottest trends in online dating" is the babyboomers on
the top dating sites. Around 30% of America's 80 million babyboomers
Since 2003, several free dating sites, operating on ad
based-revenue rather than monthly subscriptions, have appeared and
become increasingly popular.
Several newer sites such as OkCupid are beginning to offer more full featured
dating services for free, and are starting to compete with staples in
the free dating site world such as PlentyofFish. Due to the level of competition
between free dating sites, as well as the overall drop in traffic to
and revenue for dating sites generally, some
sites are branching out into self service advertising. This
represents a break from traditional externally sourced ads and is just
one of the ways that the revenue models of free dating sites are
Especially popular in Eastern Europe, some sites offer
full access to messaging and profiles, but provide additional services
for pay, such as bumping profiles up to the top of the list, removing
advertisements, making paying users' profiles appear several times in
different places in the search results, and giving paying users a more
advanced search engine to work with (in one real example, free users
may only search for persons of specified age, gender, orientation, and
city, while subscribers may search for any and all parameters listed in
profiles, such as height, weight, interests, etc.). Also, this model
generally allows users to switch between free and paying status at will
and without having to do anything, simply providing advanced features
for a set period of time whenever the according payment is received.
Ease of payment is also generally higher, with such sites accepting a
variety of online currencies, letting users charge the payment to their
cellular phones, etc. Such sites earn revenue from a mix of advertising
and sale of additional options.
Virtual dating combines online dating with online
gaming. Virtual dating involves the use of avatars
for people to interact in a virtual venue that resembles a real life
dating environment. For example, individuals can meet and chat in a
romantic virtual cafe in Paris or on a Caribbean
According to Scientific American, virtual dating is
"the next step in online dating" (Feb/March 2007, p. 35).
A Time Magazine article entitled "Internet Dating
2.0" was published on January 19, 2007 citing current and upcoming
technologies and explains how people can now connect in a virtual
dating environment. Time describes how websites are allowing people to
meet for an avatar based, graphically enabled virtual date without
leaving their homes.
Researchers at MIT and Harvard have found that "people who
had had a chance to interact with each other (by computer only) on a
virtual tour of a museum subsequently had more successful face-to-face
meetings than people who had viewed only profiles."
These three dimensional experience has
reported more registrations from women than men. One explanation for this phenomenon is
that virtual dating allows women to have complete control over who they
select and how they interact. Virtual dating also eliminates large
amounts of emails in women's inboxes and allows women to enjoy a
friendly dating option.
Video dating is a form of virtual dating that allows users to use live dating
services with actual reality that stimulates a real dating experience. Sites offering
video dating allow 3-5 minute webcam interviews with online matches.
Online dating assistants
Not long time ago, various websites were
available on the Internet with access to valuable tips on how to find a
partner, and especially focused on how to find women. Dating Internet
services have expanded and are now offering many more services to make
it easier for people to find a partner.
Last June, 2010, The Washington Post published an article on a new service Internet
dating companies are offering: online dating assistants. Dating
companies offer the services of ghostwriters to help busy people find dates
The services start by helping customers build
their profile, a practice already offered by several online dating
sites. However, the service continues with picking out potential
matches, the writer then sends introductory e-mails to the possible
matches and continues messaging back and forth until they can confirm
the date. Although the service was used at first mainly by men, this
has changed with more ladies using this service as well.
Customers who have used this service claim they work long hours and do not
have the time to write back and forth, which is also a very repetitive
process, until finding a date. Therefore, they prefer to outsource that
This kind of service has been considered as
misrepresentation and, thus ethically questionable, by those against
The role of social networking services in
online dating has been explored in a book dedicated to the subject. The
findings of the study reveal that the online dating services driven by
subscriptions offer the least amount of social networking
opportunities, as they often only utilize the personal homepage genre
of online community, which only makes them effective for the bonding
and encoding stage of the relationship. The dating services modeled on
the free-at-the-point-of-use model scored much higher as many of them
utilized the Circle of Friends social networking method and a wider
number of online community genres. The highest scoring dating service
was Facebook, which uses
the personal homepage genre, the message board genre, the weblog and
directory genre, as well as utilizing the Circle of Friends. The second
highest scoring, Second
Life utilizes virtual worlds, message boards, chat groups and
profile pages to allow people to contact in a three-dimensional
There can be a variety of
problems when utilizing online dating sites.
- Some sites
expect members to subscribe "blind," meaning that users have little or
no ability to search or preview the available profiles before they pay
the subscription fee. eHarmony is one example of this kind of
- A majority of dating sites state profiles as
online for months or even years since the last time the person has
logged in, thereby making it seem as though there are more available
members than there actually are.
- For paying
members, it is often unclear whether a potential contact has a full
subscription and whether he or she will be able to reply. Some sites
prevent a potential contact from even reading a paying member's
messages unless the contact has also paid to subscribe. There are
still, however, a few established free dating sites that allow
non-paid-up users to reply to messages.
- Some sites
require that both the sender and recipient of messages be subscribers
before any off-site communication or contact can be arranged, and will
filter messages to remove email addresses, telephone numbers, web
addresses and surnames. Subscribers who attempt to circumvent this
restriction may lose their membership and be removed from the
- Some profiles may not represent actual
daters, but are "bait profiles" that have been placed there by the site
owners to attract new paying members. Both Yahoo Personals and
Match.com have received several complaints about this tactic. Some
users spam sites with "fake" profiles that are in reality
advertisements to other services, such as prostitution, multi-level marketing, or other personals
- Even when members' profiles are "real",
there is still an inherent lack of trust with other members. Married
people seeking affairs will often pose as singles. In addition, many
members misrepresent themselves by telling flattering 'white lies'
about their height, weight and age, or by using old and misleading
photos. Members can, of course, ask for an up-to-date photograph before
arranging a meeting, but disappointments are common. Matrimonials Sites are a variant of online
dating sites, and these are geared towards meeting people for the
purpose of getting married. Gross misrepresentation is less likely on
these sites than on 'casual dating' sites. Casual dating sites are
often geared more towards short term (potentially sexual)
members are enticed to join dating websites with free or low-priced
"trial" memberships advertised on many other websites. On sites which
require credit card information to join at all, these trial memberships
may automatically become full memberships at the end of the trial
period and charge the full monthly fee, without any additional action
from the member, regardless of whether the member has actually used the
services or not.
- Some members have expressed
complaints about the billing practices of certain dating sites. In some
cases, trial memberships that were canceled within the trial period
were automatically re-billed even after canceling. To avoid these
potential problems, some users have advised using a virtual credit card
number which is offered by several credit card