Dating sites boom as love moves online

A new survey reveals the dramatic growth of internet dating. Why are so many people turning to the web in search of relationships – could this be the end of romance?

For couples everywhere, it is a common question: ‘where did you meet?’ For some, the answer is a romantic tale of love at first sight, for others, a hapless saga of embarrassment and heartache. But today, an increasing number of happy partnerships have the same story: ‘we met online’.

In the UK, more than nine million people have sought romance on websites like Match.com, OkCupid and eHarmony, fuelling an industry worth £170 million every year. According to a new survey, that makes Britain the online dating capital of Europe.

What is happening? A decade ago, the internet was not prime hunting ground for singles. Just 100,000 used dating sites in 2000; a perception that they lacked the romance of real-world encounters meant early trailblazers like Match had a stigma attached to them.

But as the years passed, the internet began to encroach on all areas of life. For busy people looking for a relationship, it made more sense to browse for a match online – and as membership of sites increased, so did their acceptability.

Now, around one third of new relationships spring from the internet, and the market is growing – by around 6% every year. Dating is big business, and at Match’s offices, where romantic movies play on a loop, experts are perfecting the formula for a match made in heaven.

The secret is very far from the swept-off-your-feet spontaneity associated with falling in love. In fact, it’s all down to algorithms – processes that draw conclusions from someone’s online profile and behaviour. Just as Netflix recommends movies based on what fans have previously liked, Match’s system uses members’ reactions to previous dates to suggest others that might get their hearts racing.

Curiously, the maths seems to know more about people’s deepest desires than they do. Online daters can be attracted to people very different to their ‘ideal date’, and by pairing up users who might not ever approach each other in real life, the site has started some beautiful romances.

Bad Romance

Some think this is thrilling. Rather than hoping to bump into ‘the One’, singles can now browse through millions of possibilities; or leave matchmaking to technology that does the job of choosing better than any human. Most people want a happy relationship but are stymied by where they live or by natural shyness: why not use all the available resources?

But others find the rise of online dating deeply depressing. Love, they say, should not be based on a mathematical formula and purchased from an online business. The most important relationship in someone’s life should not a chore to be outsourced, or a commodity to pluck from the glittering shelves of some online supermarket.

You Decide

  1. Do you think online dating is stigmatised or acceptable? Why?
  2. Can too much choice have a negative impact on someone’s life?

Activities

  1. Write your own online dating profile.
  2. UpdateRomeo and Julietfor the internet age, making it about people from different backgrounds who meet online.

Some People Say...

“Romance is dead.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Not for me, thanks.
Good – all these sites are for over 18-year-olds. But the way attraction and dating works online can be revealing in offline dating, too.
What do you mean?
Well, online dating involves presenting a profile with an attractive version of yourself, and trawling through different possibilities for matches. Arguably, dressing up, going out and looking for someone you find attractive is fundamentally the same thing!
Fine – but at least that means actually talking to someone!
That’s one very legitimate criticism. It also exposes an important safety issue: if you meet someone online, there’s no way of knowing if they are who they claim to be. This has caused serious problems: one Match.com user was sexually assaulted by a man she met online, and the site now screens its members.

Word Watch

Match.com, OkCupid and eHarmony
There are currently 1,500 different dating websites, and each cater to different people’s needs and interests. Match.com is the market leader, OkCupid is free, and eHarmony has appealed to an older market. On top of that, there is a wide range of sites catering to niche interests, like Uniform Dating or sites for Jewish, Muslim or Indian singles.
New survey
This week’s news comes from a company called Metaflake – a company that provides intelligence and information about dating websites around Europe.
Algorithm
In computer science, an algorithm is a set of instructions that determine a set of responses to certain inputs. The word comes from an inaccurate Latin transliteration of Al Khwarizmi, an Arabic mathematician who introduced sophisticated mathematics to the West.
Netflix
Netflix is a popular online service that gives users access to film and TV shows for a monthly fee. Users rate the movies they watch, and the site generates recommendations by comparing these preferences to those of other users.

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