One in five will look for love online; Popularity of internet dating

One in five will look for love online; Popularity of internet datingForget blind dates, speed dating and those embarrassing dinner parties organised by matchmaking friends ... within a few years the most common way of finding a partner will be through an internet agency.

Dating is the only online service which has had a consistent stream of new subscription sites since 1999. Since January, visits to dating websites have increased by 17%. Experts predict that within five years, one in five single Scots will use online matchmaking services.

Now, major international players such as Conde Naste, Times Online and Yahoo Personals are all due to launch subscription dating services this summer. A sure sign that internet dating is a growth area, is the involvement of Friends Reunited, which will attempt to mix the success of finding old school chums, and their genealogy tracker Genes Connected, with a new dating service to launch this autumn.

"The money is there to be made, and lots of people are trying online dating for the first time, liking it, and coming back to pay for another three months or whatever," said Philip Smith of net magazine Revolution. "For young people this will become the 'normal' way for them to date."

Web monitoring company Hitwise claims that the internet is on the verge of replacing traditional ways of finding partners. With 10 million single people in the UK - old and young - service providers are jumping on the bandwagon to help people pair up. Currently, about 100,000 British people subscribe to an online service.

The average spend in joining a site is (pounds) 8-9, with most people subscribing three or four times. Companies are rushing to join the online market estimated to be worth (pounds) 20-30m in the UK alone.

Thea Newcomb, founder of soyouvebeendumped.com said: "We are are working longer hours and all constantly looking for an easy fix. The internet provides a unique way of getting to know people that you won't normally come across while you sitting there with no make-up on and wearing PJs.

"But personally, I found that when it came to meeting up face to face there was seldom any chemistry."

Newcomb is right to believe that it is not all as simple as clicking on a mouse to find Mr or Ms Right. Marriage guidance service Relate also claims that one in ten people visiting it blames the net for their rocky relationship, citing online affairs as a cause of marital strife.

Just 8% of people using online dating will find a long-term partner, while a staggering 79% said they were afraid of the dangers associated with internet dating.

Like embellishing a CV, being honest about yourself when filling out profiles on web dating sites is becoming a key currency of web romance.

Soulmatchmaker.com, a new site that launched on Thursday, will post warnings or even dump paying members who aren't honest in their profiles or on dates.

Director Annette Davies said the white, and sometimes blatant, lies that start out as a joke in profiles impede people from actually going on dates and finding relationships.

She said: "White lies for both men and women become real problems if they decide they want to meet up with someone - a lot of people back out of dates. We want people to really find partners ... if you are a few pounds overweight or have a bald patch you should say so."

Newcomb agrees: "I don't really think it's a case of more people lying online than offline - generally, if people are liars, they're liars regardless of their location or method.

"People are desperate to fill a romantic void in their lives."

Can net interest pay off?

Love at first site Rebecca, 33, lives in the Borders with Gordon, 37. They met on a dating site - and are getting married next month.

She said: "I'm a single mum, and moved back to the Borders a few years ago. I used the internet because it seemed like an easy way to meet people.

"Gordon came up to see me from Manchester after we'd been in contact for a few weeks by phone and e-mail and we just clicked. He hadn't been looking for something serious but we gelled, so it must be fate. Before that I met up with a guy I'd e-mailed for months and he was completely different to what he'd sounded like, which was a bit of a bad experience.

"I'd recommend internet dating. Only one of my friends has made a comment about being 'desperate' to use the net and I don't think it's that different to meeting someone you don't know in a pub."

web wipeout Maggie is a 27-year-old health care manager who used the Dating Direct website for three months.

She said: "I met four guys but I probably corresponded with about 15. It was all a bit disastrous - the worst was a guy called Tony. He was so different from his photo I didn't think it was him. I'm 5'4" and he was shorter than me and balding. He'd told me he hadn't been in a serious relationship for a long time, but he had a picture of a little boy on his key chain, who turned out to be his son, and he said he wasn't divorced yet. I basically suspected that he was still with his wife.

"I'd studied the profiles of the other three guys pretty intensely before meeting them, so I thought I knew them, but there was no chemistry at all. My current boyfriend would wet his pants laughing if he found out I'd ever used a dating site."

TOP TEN UK DATING SITES Market share www.udate.com 29.3% www.gaydar.co.uk 26.2% www.datingdirect.com 8.8% love.lycos.co.uk 7.7% www.meetic.co.uk 4.2% uk.match.com 2.8% www.datingagency.com 1.9% www.msn.co.uk/love 1.9% www.makefriendsonline.com 1.26% personals.friendsreunited.co.uk 1.1%

THE NEW MATCHMAKERS ON THE BLOCK www.soulmatchmaker.comPromises honesty in its members Yahoo PersonalsAims to mirror success of its US partner which claims 16.3 million users Conde Nast Publishing giant moves into dating game with swoon.com Times OnlineOnline version of its Encounters classified ads www.soulmatchmaker.com www.soyouvebeendumped .com www.revolutionmagazine.com


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