Online dating (or Internet dating) is a system that enables people to find and introduce themselves to new personal connections over the Internet, usually with the goal of developing personal, romantic, or sexual relationships. An online dating service is a company that provides specific mechanisms (generally websites or applications) for online dating through the use of Internet-connected personal computers or mobile devices. Such companies offer a wide variety of unmoderated matchmaking services, most of which are profile-based.
Online dating services allow users to become “members” by creating a profile and uploading personal information including (but not limited to) age, gender, sexual orientation, location, and appearance. Most services also encourage members to add photos or videos to their profile. Once a profile has been created, members can view the profiles of other members of the service, using the visible profile information to decide whether or not to initiate contact. Most services offer digital messaging, while others provide additional services such as webcasts, online chat, telephone chat (VOIP), and message boards. Members can constrain their interactions to the online space, or they can arrange a date to meet in person.
A great diversity of online dating services currently exists. Some have a broad membership base of diverse users looking for many different types of relationships. Other sites target highly specific demographics based on features like shared interests, location, religion, or relationship type. Online dating services also differ widely in their revenue streams. Some sites are completely free and depend on advertising for revenue. Others utilize the freemium revenue model, offering free registration and use, with optional, paid, premium services. Still others rely solely on paid membership subscriptions.
Opinions and usage of online dating services also differ widely. 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 number of tasks, and less likely to use such a service if they are trusting of others. It is possible that the mode of online dating resonates with some participants’ conceptual orientation towards the process of finding a romantic partner. That is, online dating sites use the conceptual framework of a “marketplace metaphor” to help people find potential matches, with layouts and functionalities that make it easy to quickly browse and select profiles in a manner similar to how one might browse an online store. Under this metaphor, members of a given service can both “shop” for potential relationship partners and “sell” themselves in hopes of finding a successful match.
Sites with specific demographics have become popular as a way to narrow the pool of potential matches. Successful niche sites pair people by race, sexual orientation or religion. 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. 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.
In 2008, a variation of the online dating model emerged in the form of introduction sites, where members have to search and contact other members, who introduce them to other members whom they deem compatible. Introduction sites differ from the traditional online dating model, and attracted a large number of users and significant investor interest.
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 2008, the state of New Jersey passed a law which requires the sites to disclose whether they perform background checks.
In the People’s Republic of China, using a transnational matchmaking agency involving a monetary transaction is illegal. The Philippines prohibits the business of organizing or facilitating marriages between Filipinas and foreign men under the Republic Act 6955 (the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law) of June 13, 1990; this law is routinely circumvented by basing mail-order bride websites outside the country.
Singapore’s Social Development Network is the governmental organization facilitating dating activities in the country. 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.
You’ve Got Mail, a 1998 film in which the two protagonists conduct a relationship entirely over e-mail before meeting each other.
Jewtopia, a comedic play about Jewish stereotypes and dating, premiered in 2003.
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.
Sex Drive, a 2008 film about a young man who goes on a cross-country roadtrip with friends to meet his internet crush, and woo her with his brother’s stolen GTO.
Love Translated, a 2010 documentary film in which a group of men travel to Ukraine on a romantic tour arranged by an online dating company
Catfish: The TV Show, a reality TV-show that premiered on MTV in 2012.
“Hang the DJ”, aired in December 2017, an episode in the fourth series of Black Mirror about a futuristic dating app.