For as long as romantic relationships have existed, people have sought assistance in meeting potential partners using whatever options were at their disposal.
Matchmaking and arranged marriages have existed for centuries, and printed personal ads are nearly as old as the newspaper industry itself.
More recently, technological developments from the VCR to the (pre-internet era) personal computer have been enlisted, with varying degrees of success, in an effort to connect people with romantic partners.
As these sites have evolved in the ensuing years, they have typically assumed one of two forms.
Some offer a “personal ads” format, in which users create their own profile and browse the profiles of others on their own (Match.com, Ok Cupid, and Plentyof Fish are common examples of this type of service).
Others take on a more active matchmaking role, in which computer algorithms select pre-screened matches for users based on various criteria (e Harmony is the most well-known of these “algorithmic” matching services).
More recently, a third model has emerged in the form of cell phone dating apps.
The rise of tech-enabled dating help has been one of the most striking developments of the digital era, and these alternative ways of meeting and mating have arisen at a time of fundamental change in the structure of marriage and divorce in America.
The number of Americans getting married has been steadily declining, and today a record-low 51% of the public is currently married (in 1960, 72% of all adults 18 and older were married).
Americans are also waiting until later in life to get married, and other living arrangements—such as cohabitation, single person households, and single parenthood—have grown more common in recent decades.
At the same time, marriage still holds wide appeal for those who have not tied the knot.
Some 61% of men and women who have never married say they would like to get married eventually, while just 12% say they definitely do not want to marry.
Research into whether online dating actually produces more successful relationships or romantic outcomes than conventional (offline) dating is generally inconclusive, although these sites clearly offer a qualitatively different experience compared with traditional dating.
Some of these differences include: the ability to search from a deep pool of potential partners outside of one’s existing social networks; the ability to communicate online or via email prior to arranging for a face-to-face interaction; and matching algorithms that allow users to filter potential partners based on pre-existing criteria.