or Internet dating
is a dating system
which allows individuals, couples and groups to meet over the Internet, usually with the objective of developing a 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, and message boards. Some sites provide free registration, but may offer services which require a monthly fee. Other sites depend on advertising for their revenue.
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.
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 Yahoo! Personals, Match.com, and eHarmony. By 2007, many prominent studies show that Baby Boomer interest in online dating had soared.
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 matches. 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 and Christian Cafe, Manhunt (for gay men), Love From India, Black Christian People Meet, Amigos (for Latino singles), Asian People Meet, and Shaadi (for Indian singles). 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 are single.
Since 2003, several free dating sites, operating on ad based-revenue rather than monthly subscriptions, have appeared and become increasingly popular. A list of such websites is available at Free dating websites.
Group dating and Social Dating are also trends.
According to Scientific American
, virtual dating
is "the next step in online dating" (Feb/March 2007, p.35) .
Virtual Dating combines online dating with online gaming. Through the use of avatars, singles 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 resort.
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.
According to NBC and TIME, OmniDate is one example of virtual dating.
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."
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 environment.
Problems with Online Dating Services
There can be a variety of problems when utilizing online dating sites.
- Some sites expect members to subscribe "blind," meaning that users have had little or no ability to search or preview the profiles they will get to see. eHarmony is one example of this kind of site.
- A majority of dating sites keep profiles 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. Many sites offer the option to sort search results by activity, however; e.g. Ammatch.net
- 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 also subscribes. There are still, however, a few established free dating sites that allow users to reply to messages, among them: DateHookup.com and MatchDoctor.com.
- Some sites require that both the sender and recipient of a message be paid-up members before any off-site communication or contact can be arranged, and will actually filter all 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 site.
- On other services, some profiles are not actually real people, but "bait" that has 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 websites.
- Even when members' profiles are "real", there is still an inherent lack of trust with other members. Many members misrepresent themselves by telling flattering 'white lies' about their height, weight, age, or by using old and misleading photos. Members can, of course, ask for an up-to-date photograph before meeting others. 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) relationships.
- Online predators find online dating sites especially attractive, because such sites give them an unending supply of new targets of opportunity for Internet fraud. A recent study, led by Dr. Paige Padgett from the University of Texas Health Science Center, found that there was a false degree of safety assumed by women looking for love on the internet, exposing them to stalking, fraud, and sexual violence. Some online dating sites conduct background checks on their members in an attempt to avoid problems of this nature.
- Most 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 companies.
- On any given dating site, the sex ratio is commonly unbalanced. For example, eHarmony's membership is about 58% female and 42% male, whereas the ratio at Match.com is about the reverse of that. When you get into the specialty niche websites where the primary demographic is male, you typically get a very unbalanced ratio of male to female or female to male. Niche sites cater to people with special interests, such as sports fans, racing and automotive fans, nerds, medical or other professionals, people with political or religious preferences (e.g. Jewish), people with medical conditions (e.g. HIV+, obese), or those living in rural farm communities.
- Disreputable sites such as Quechup may harvest users' personal information and contacts for use in e-mail spam.
groups have complained that certain websites that restrict their dating services to heterosexual couples are discriminating against homosexuals
. This is most often taking place among Christian dating sites or sites run by Christians
that do not support homosexual relationships.
eHarmony was sued in 2007 by a lesbian claiming that, "Such outright discrimination is hurtful and disappointing for a business open to the public in this day and age,"
Many sites require members specify themselves as "male" or "female", complicating matters for intersex and transgender individuals.
Many sites require members to specify what sex they are looking for without having the option "both", which complicates things for bisexuals.
There are sites that have been created due to this discrimination and to accommodate these type of individuals.
US government regulation of dating services began with the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) which took effect in March 2007 after a federal judge in Georgia upheld a challenge from the dating site European Connections. The law requires internationally oriented dating services to conduct, among other procedures, sex offender checks on US customers before communication can occur with a foreigner.
New Jersey became the first state to enact a law requiring the sites to disclose whether they perform background checks.
Online Introduction Services
As of 2008 a new variant of the online dating model has emerged in the form of introduction sites
, attracting a large number of users and significant investor interest . As opposed to the traditional online dating model where members have to search and contact other members, introduction sites introduce members to other members whom they deem compatible, thus claiming to eliminate much of the mayhem of traditional online dating. Although the two introduction services operate vastly different from each other and offer different features, both claim to be more effective than traditional online personals.
Free dating websites
The business model for most free dating websites is advertising
based revenues. Free dating sites typically use tools such as Google Adsense
, affiliate marketing
and other forms of advertising methods. Since advertising revenues are modest as compared to membership fees, free dating sites require a large number of page views
in order to be profitable.
From a marketing standpoint, free dating sites have a lower advertising budget, therefore have to rely almost entirely on word of mouth, something which is not easily attained since members of dating sites in general consider it their private matter, thus hindering free dating sites from becoming viral as compared to social networking sites.
There are other online dating services that claim to offer free registration and search, these don't fall under the free online dating service guidelines as they charge for you to be able to communicate. True free online dating services offer communication for free and generate their revenue solely from advertising.
- You've Got Mail, a 1998 film in which the two protagonists conduct a relationship entirely over email before meeting each other.
- Napoleon Dynamite, a 2003 film in a which one subplot involves a central character's online (and later in person) relationship.
- Euro Trip, a 2004 film in which the central character has a relationship wholly via email with a girl from Berlin
- Must Love Dogs, a 2005 film about two people trying to find love through online dating.
- Another Gay Movie, a 2006 film where a student finds his high school English teacher online.
- Because I Said So, a 2007 film in which a mother creates an online dating profile for her daughter.
- Jewtopia, a play which revolves around Jewish dating service, JDate.
- Keeping Up With The Kardashians Kim And Kourtney set up Kloe on an Internet Dating Service.