Online dating (or Internet dating) is a system that enables strangers 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.
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