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definition - Online_dating_service

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Online dating service


Online dating (OD) 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. Online dating sites use market metaphor to properly match people up.[1] 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 (VOIP), 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. And some sites such as Badoo are free and then offer additional paid services in a freemium revenue model.[2]

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.



The United States generated $957 million in revenue in 2008 from online dating services[3] The U.S. online dating market is expected to increase spending to $932 million in 2011.[4]

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 growing 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 had soared. [5]

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.[6]

The most successful niche sites pair people by race, sexual orientation or religion.[7] The 20 most popular dating sites in 2006 as ranked by Hitwise include JDate (for Jewish singles), Christian Mingle, ChristianCafe, Manhunt (same sex introductions), Love From India, Black Christian People Meet, Amigos (for Latino singles), Asian People Meet, and Shaadi (for Indian singles).[7] 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.[8]

In addition to niche sites, there are more general sites for the online dating beginner. Time magazine notes that leading the scene are Match.com and eHarmony.com.[citation needed] Match.com bases its matchmaking on the Myers-Briggs personality test. Conversely, eHarmony pair people up using their "secret key dimensions of compatibility" which are grouped into core traits and vital attributes.[9] Match.com has a more open policy, whereas eHarmony.com only pairs up straight matches, however, offers another site for gay matches.[10]

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.[11]

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,[12][13] some sites are branching out into self service advertising.[14] 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 evolving.

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.

Online daters may have more liberal social attitudes compared to the general population in the United States.[15]

  Virtual dating

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 resort. They can explore together, play games and take relationship quizzes to get a better, deeper understanding of each other. While online dating sites allows members to search on attributes such as education and income, virtual dating allows users to explore compatibility, sense of humor and rapport. Virtual dating sites include Weopia and Omnidate.

According to Scientific American, virtual dating is "the next step in online dating" (Feb/March 2007, p. 35).[16]

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.[17]

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."[16]

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

Video dating is a form of virtual dating that allows all 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.[18]

  Online dating assistants

Not a 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 through Internet.

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.[19]

This kind of service has been considered as misrepresentation and, thus ethically questionable, by those against it.[20]

  Social networking

The role of social networking services in online dating has been explored in a book dedicated to the subject.[21] 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. More recently, the impact of social networking on online dating has been featured in the Museum of Social Media's exhibit "i luv you!"[22]


  Pay dating business model

In an editorial post titled "Why you should never pay for online dating", a founder of free dating site OkCupid criticized pay-dating as exploiting users and as "fundamentally broken", and noting that "pay sites have a unique [financial] incentive to profit from their customers' disappointment".[23] The post analyzed the business model used for pay dating and noted that it gave rise to "strange incentives [because] the only way they don't make money is to show subscribers to other subscribers." (emphasis in original)

Instead it creates an incentive to show profiles of lapsed and non-paying members (described as "ghosts" in the analysis) in the hope that site visitors will wish to contact these profiles and will subscribe to do so, or that once contacted by new or existing users some of these "ghosts" will wish to respond and will re-subscribe in order to do so. This causes a low response rate, which in turn encourages respondents to become desperate and formulaic, reducing their chances of meeting people.

  User problems

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.
  • 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. In addition, a site will often advertise the number of "registered members" while having only a fraction of that many active users.
  • 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 site.
  • 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 websites.
  • 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) 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.[24] 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. A website may have 2 women for every man, but they may be in the 35+ range, while the men are generally under 35. Unfortunately, little is known about the sex ratio controlled for age. eHarmony's membership is about 58% female and 42% male[citation needed], 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.[25] Niche sites cater to people with special interests, such as sports fans, racing and automotive fans, medical or other professionals, people with political or religious preferences (e.g. Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.), people with medical conditions (e.g. HIV+, obese), or those living in rural farm communities.
  • There is some evidence that there may be a difference on how women online rate male attractiveness as opposed to how men rate female attractiveness. The distribution of ratings given by men of female attractiveness appears to look like a standard bell curve (normal distribution), while ratings of men given by women is highly skewed with 80% of the men rated as below average.[26] This shows women are genuinely more picky than men when it comes to online dating. It could also potentially arise from women assessing other profile characteristics besides appearance, like their occupation for example.
  • Consolidation within the online dating industry has led to different newspapers and magazines now advertising the same website data base under different names. In the UK, for example, Time Out ('London Dating'), The Times ('Encounters'), The Daily Telegraph ('Kindred Spirits'), all offer differently named portals to the same service—meaning that a person who subscribes through more than one publication has unwittingly paid more than once for access to just one site.
  • In December 2010, a New York State Law called the "Internet Dating Safety Act" (S5180-A)[28] went into effect that requires online dating sites with customers in New York State to warn users not to disclose personal information to people they do not know.


Gay rights groups have complained that certain websites that restrict their dating services to heterosexual couples are discriminating against homosexuals. This has taken place mostly among Christian dating sites[citation needed] but major dating sites are generally heterosexual oriented. However, it should also be noted that some services (such as Gaydar) only cater for homosexual dating.

In addition, many sites require members to specify what sex they are looking for without having the option "both", which complicates things for bisexuals. Many sites also require members to specify themselves as "male" or "female", complicating matters for transgendered as well as intersexed individuals.

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".[29]

  Government regulation

US government regulation of dating services began with the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA)[30] 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.

Singapore's government has actively acted as a matchmaker for singles for the past few decades, and thus only 4 percent of Singaporeans have ever used an online dating service, despite the country’s high rate of internet penetration.[31] Singapore's Social Development Network is the governmental organization facilitating dating activities in the country.

New Jersey became the first state to enact a law requiring the sites to disclose whether they perform background checks.[32]

There are several sites that already offer the option for users to request background checks including True.com. Match.com is now offering screenings for sex offenders to their users.[33]

  Online introduction services

In 2008 a variation of the online dating model emerged in the form of introduction sites, attracting a large number of users and significant investor interest.[34] Introduction sites differ from the traditional online dating model, where members have to search and contact other members, by introducing 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 differently and offer different features, both claim to be more effective than traditional online personals.[citation needed]

  Free dating

Most free dating websites depend on advertising revenue, using tools such as Google Adsense, affiliate marketing. Since advertising revenues are modest compared to membership fees, free dating sites require a large number of page views to achieve profitability.

Some "free" online dating services offer free registrations and search but are not truly free, since they charge users to communicate. Some websites offer a free trial period, yet require a fee for continued use. Truly free online dating services offer free communication and obtain their revenue from advertising or other sources. Other dating sites operate upon a mixed or "freemium" model, where basic features are free of charge, but advanced features such as virtual gifts are available to paying users only.

  In popular culture

  • 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 2004 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.
  • 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.
  • Love Translated, a 2010 documentary film in which a group of men travel to Ukraine on a romance tour arranged by an online dating service.

  See also


  1. ^ Heino, R.; N. Ellison, J. Gibbs (2010). "Relationshopping: Investigating the market metaphor in online dating.". Journal of Social and Personal Relationships: 427-447. 
  2. ^ http://mashable.com/2011/12/13/badoo-unveils-features-to-help-shy-users-flirt/
  3. ^ Online dating: It's bigger than porn - Computerworld Blogs
  4. ^ "U.S. Online Dating Market to Reach $932 Million in 2011". Tekrati. http://industry.tekrati.com/research/8487/. Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  5. ^ SouthCoastToday.com: No need to whisper. Meeting online is OK
  6. ^ "Finding love online, despite health problems - CNN.com". CNN. 2010-04-14. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/04/14/finding.love.online/. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  7. ^ a b Sullivan, J. Courtney. "Let’s Say You Want to Date a Hog Farmer". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/fashion/27niche.html?_r=1&ref=fashion&oref=slogin. Retrieved 2006-04-28. 
  8. ^ "Niche Dating Sites Grow Steadily As Mainstream Ones Flail". Tech Crunch. http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/04/24/niche-dating-sites-grow-steadily-as-mainstream-ones-flail/. Retrieved 2006-04-24. 
  9. ^ "eHarmony Compatibility Explained". eHarmony.com.au. http://www.eharmony.com.au/why/dimensions. Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  10. ^ http://mashable.com/2010/01/28/eharmony-lawsuit/
  11. ^ "The hottest trends in online dating". Network World. http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/020708-valentines-online-dating.html. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  12. ^ Traffic to all dating sites declines sharply. « Plenty of fish blog
  13. ^ Recession hits paid sites hard…. « Plenty of fish blog
  14. ^ Plentyoffish Self Service Advertising Platform. « Plenty of fish blog
  15. ^ Mary Madden, Research Specialist, Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist (September 2005). "Online Dating: Americans who are seeking romance use the internet to help them in their search, but there is still widespread public concern about the safety of online dating". Pew Internet & American Life Project. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2006/Online-Dating/05-Who-Is-Dating-Online/04-Online-daters-tend-to-identify-with-more-liberal-social-attitudes.aspx?r=1. Retrieved 2010-12-08. "Online daters tend to identify with more liberal social attitudes, compared with all Americans or all internet users." 
  16. ^ a b The Truth about Online Dating: Scientific American
  17. ^ "Internet Dating 2.0". Time. 2007-01-19. http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1580609,00.html. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  18. ^ "Video Dating Information". http://www.consumer-rankings.com/Dating/articlevideodating.aspx. Retrieved 4 January 2010. [dead link]
  19. ^ "Outsource love life to virtual assistant?". CNN. 2010-01-21. http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/personal/01/21/tf.outsource.your.lovelife/index.html. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  20. ^ McCarthy, Ellen (2010-06-01). "Online dating assistants help the lonely and busy". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/31/AR2010053103127.html. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  21. ^ Bishop, J. (2008b). Understanding and facilitating the development of social networks in online dating communities: A case study and model. In C. Romm-Livermore, & K. Setzekorn (Eds.), Social networking communities and EDating services: Concepts and implications. New York: IGI Global, Jonathanbishop.com
  22. ^ i luv you!
  23. ^ Rudder, Christian (2010-04-07). "Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating « OkTrends". waybackmachine.org. http://replay.waybackmachine.org/20101006104124/http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/why-you-should-never-pay-for-online-dating/. Retrieved 10 April 2011. 
  24. ^ SFSU.edu Look Who’s Googling: New acquaintances and secret admirers may already know all about you
  25. ^ Brandchannel.com. Retrieved 21 November 2007.
  26. ^ Your Looks and Your Inbox « OkTrends
  27. ^ Social network launches worldwide spam campaign E-consultancy.com. Retrieved 10 September 2007.
  28. ^ S5180-A
  29. ^ Usatoday.com, Woman sues eHarmony for discrimination
  30. ^ http://www.uscis.gov/files/pressrelease/IMBRA072106.pdf
  31. ^ Desperately looking for love online
  32. ^ Background checks split online dating industry - Technology & science - Security - msnbc.com
  33. ^ "Woman describes alleged incident that led to suit against Match.com". CNN. 2011-04-19. http://articles.cnn.com/2011-04-18/tech/match.rape.lawsuit_1_match-com-woman-claims-background-checks?_s=PM:TECH. 
  34. ^ Speed-dating site WooMe raises $12.5M more, enjoys $41M valuation » VentureBeat

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