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Online dating (OD) or Internet dating is a personal introductory system whereby individuals can find and contact each other over the Internet to arrange a date, 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. Users of an online dating service would usually provide personal information, to enable them to search the service provider's database for other individuals. Members use criteria other members set, such as age range, gender and location.
Online dating sites use market metaphors to match people. Match Metaphors are conceptual frameworks that allow individuals to make sense of new concepts by drawing upon familiar experiences and frame-works. This metaphor of the marketplace – a place where people go to “shop” for potential romantic partners and to “sell” themselves in hopes of creating a successful romantic relationship – is highlighted by the layout and functionality of online dating websites. The marketplace metaphor may also resonate with participants’ conceptual orientation towards the process of ﬁnding a romantic partner. Most sites allow members to upload photos or videos of themselves and browse the photos and videos 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. Some sites such as OKCupid, Plenty of Fish and Badoo are free and offer additional paid services in a freemium revenue model.
Some 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. A 2005 study of data collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that individuals are more likely to use an online dating service if they use the internet for a greater amount of tasks and less likely to use such a service if they are trusting of others.
The United States generated $957 million in revenue in 2008 from online dating services
At the end of November 2004, there were 844 lifestyle and dating sites, a 38% 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 have soared.
Recently, it has become common for online dating websites to provide webcam chats between members. As online dating's population becomes larger, sites with specific demographics are becoming more popular as a way to narrow the pool of potential matches.
Successful niche sites pair people by race, sexual orientation or religion. 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). 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.
Besides niche sites, there are general sites for the online dating beginner. Time magazine notes that leading the scene are Match.com and eHarmony.com. 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. Match.com has a more open policy, whereas eHarmony.com only pairs up straight matches but offers another site for gay matches.
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. 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 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 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.
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.
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 all users to use live dating services with actual reality that simulates a real dating experience. Sites offering video dating allow 3–5 minute webcam interviews with online matches.
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.
In 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 via the 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 women using this service as well.
Some of the larger online dating assistance companies include Virtual Dating Assistants and Canadian company, A Million Matches.
This kind of service has been considered as misrepresentation and, thus ethically questionable, by those against it. However, some companies inform the online match that messages are being sent “on behalf of” a client.
Research about social networking reveals that the online dating services driven by subscriptions offer the least amount of social networking opportunities. 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!"
Self Branding and its Effects
Following the introduction of online dating sites such as okCupid and eHarmony a growing trend of self-branding has sparked to compensate for the rise in digital connectivity. This developed from the new networked age of dominant technological behaviors as defined by Howard Benkler's theory on the networked information economy. Based on Benkler's theory the new networked information economy “has created new opportunities for how we make and exchange information, knowledge and culture” (Benkler 2). It is from this new ability to be internationally connected by new forms of communication technology that this specific niche of the [online dating service] community came about and flourished. okCupid is a prime example of the effect of this international hyper-connectivity in which we all must brand ourselves in a specific way to get whatever we are looking for in this case, a relationship. It requires users to brand themselves as products that other users would potentially want to buy or more accurately get to know better based on how they market themselves differently than every other individual looking for companionship on the site. Adam Arvidsson perfectly outlines the almost ironic methodology in which we must all separate ourselves from one another but still be undeniably homogenized in behavior, “You need to stand out and be different while remaining compatible with everybody else” (Arvidsson 120). Marwick argues about the effects of self-branding on the individual to cope with this need to market ourselves: "Self- branding, the strategic creation of an identity to be promoted and sold to others" (Marwick 166). Branding is typically though of as referring to selling of a product  when in this case of online dating it refers to the commoditization of an individual for gaining the attention of another for a possible new relationship. This poses ethical questions of how one can accurately portray one's entire personality and life experience into a set word limit. Even The Huffington Post suggests the importance of self branding in the modern day "Everyone, whether you recognize it or not, already has a 'personal brand.' Remember, if you don't brand yourself, others will do it for you." Self-branding defines who we are and who we want others to think we are. Linkedin even recognizes the social rules of self-branding and it's importance on online dating in which you must appear professional yet fun.
Online dating sites illustrate how the modern world centers around a money economy, as individuals are in essence able to buy love. Although some sites offer free trials and/or profiles, most memberships can cost upwards of $60 per month, and many individuals buy into the promise that these websites advertise; that they will find you love that cannot be attained out in the real world. Thus, the main premise of online dating sites is to find your "perfect match"—the person whom you will inevitably fall in love with and thus, spend the rest of your life with. In order to find this person, they use various questions, scales and polls to find someone who they deem to be compatible with you. For many individuals, this precise calculation of determining suitable matches offers an implied higher degree of success and eliminates the need to look for new relationships outside the home, consequently saving time and energy. Online dating sites have taken advantage of the modern individual’s desire to save time in their hectic life in order to successfully commercialize their product in our capital-based society.
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". 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)
Through the abundance of information on online dating profiles, as well as elsewhere on the Internet, people may already possess a lot of superficial information about their potential partner's interests before talking to them, which may lead to a false sense of security when meeting up with a new person.
Impression management is a large component of online dating profiles. In a 2008 study, many participants stated that they often found themselves scrutinizing over what to write in their description and private messages, often first composing the piece on a word processing document to ensure proper spelling. Participants reported explicitly considering how they would be perceived by others, deeply analyzing themselves in order to appeal to others. This type of careful manipulation and scrutiny is made possible through modern technology—it is much easier to carefully plan out what you type rather than what you say.
A problematic component of online dating is the ease of lying it allows for, due to the anonymity of the internet. Many stories have involved someone meeting up with a new online partner, only to find they look nothing like their profile photo. Often, online daters find it difficult to balance “accuracy and desirability in self-presentation”. One of the main processes behind social interactions include the packaging and portrayal of one’s self to make favourable impressions upon others; online dating is no exception to this impression management. Individuals are concerned about how to present their own identity to attract partners, since they know their profile will be deeply scrutinized by others; thus, they often try to display the best photos of themselves and describe themselves in favourable ways to portray themselves in the best possible light to attract the most number of people. In one study, it was found that nine out of ten participants had lied on at least one attribute; weight was the most lied about attribute, and age was the least lied about. Often the lies are slight, but these still illustrate the difference that new media has created in relationships.
The increased use of online dating websites and services, thanks to a greater sense of acceptance by the mainstream, reinforces the “hyper-casual approach” to dating through the large amount of potential dates that arise. This can cause people to have a sense of “FOMO” (fear of missing out), thus choosing to enlist a speed-dating approach in order to cycle through potential mates quickly. Often, this leads to much more casual dates than would have occurred previously, mirroring “online job applications [allowing] you [to] target many people simultaneously—it’s like darts on a dart board, eventually one will stick”.
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There can be a variety of problems when using online dating sites.
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Gay rights groups have complained that certain websites that restrict their dating services to heterosexual couples are discriminating against homosexuals. Homosexual customers of the popular eHarmony dating website have made many attempts to litigate discriminatory practices. 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". In light of discrimination by sexual orientation by dating websites, some services such as Gaydar and Chemistry.com cater more to 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.
Less than half of our internet daters are open to dating people of all races. Consistent with social exchange and group position theories, Asians, Latinos and blacks are more open to dating whites than whites are to dating them. Of those who state a racial preference, 97 percent of white men exclude black women, 48 percent exclude Latinas, and 53 percent exclude Asian women. In contrast, white men are excluded by 76 percent of black women, 33 percent Latinas, and only 11 percent Asian women. Similarly, 92 percent of white women exclude black men, 77 percent exclude Latinos, and 93 percent exclude Asian men. 71 percent of black men, 31 percent of Latinos, and 36 percent of Asian men excluded white women.
According to a study commissioned by eHarmony and conducted by a paid scientific adviser to the company, more than a third of marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online, and these marriages tend to be happier and longer than marriages of offline couples. The study did not determine why this was the case. The study was conducted by social neuroscience expert John Cacioppo. Cacioppo examined the results of a 19,131 person survey about their marriages and satisfaction. Respondents of the survey who met online tended to be somewhat older (30-39), employed, and with a relatively higher income. The results were published in the paper "Marital Satisfaction and Breakups Differ Across Online and Offline Meeting Venues”, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The results of the study suggest that the Internet and social networks may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriage.
The emergence of dating sites who promote adultery, such as Ashley Madison, stirred some controversy. Marriage breakups happened in about 6% of online couples, compared to 7.6% of offline ones. Mean marital satisfaction scores were 5.64 and 5.48 for the online and offline couples, respectively.
U.S. 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 dating services meeting specific criteria—including having as their primary business to connect U.S. citizens/residents with foreign nationals—to conduct, among other procedures, sex offender checks on U.S. customers before contact details can be provided to the non-U.S. citizen.
In the People's Republic of China, transnational matchmaking is illegal.
Singapore's government has actively acted as a matchmaker for singles for the past few decades, and thus only 4% of Singaporeans have ever used an online dating service, despite the country’s high rate of internet penetration. Singapore's Social Development Network is the governmental organization facilitating dating activities in the country. There are, however, private, faith-based online dating services developed by Singaporeans.
New Jersey became the first state to enact a law requiring the sites to disclose whether they perform background checks.
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.
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. 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.
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. However, Sam Yagan (founder of OkCupid and current CEO of Match.com) describes dating sites as ideal advertising platforms because of the wealth of demographic data made available by users. "You give us data, we give you dates", says Yagan.
Other partially free online dating services offer only limited privileges for free members, or only a brief free period; generally, advanced features such as virtual gifts are available to paying users only.