- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

Maria used to scoff at dating Web sites, until she met her future husband there.
The Lexington Park, Md., resident received 300 replies to her profile on Yahoo Personals two years ago and went on five dates before meeting her fiancee, Matthew.
"I always thought dating sites were for lonely, old people who would end up finding maniacs on the other end, but that's not what happened," said Maria, who asked that her last name not be used.
Now, the 23-year-old is recommending the service to her friends rather than bars or nightclubs, and she's far from alone.
The dating-services industry, which includes personal sites, professional matchmakers and dating-service offices, grew 13 percent to $917 million in revenue last year, with personal sites dominating the growth at $304 million, according to a study by Marketdata Enterprises Inc., a Tampa, Fla., market-research firm.
That growth is likely to continue this month as the peak season generally the day after Christmas to Valentine's Day hits for sites like Match.com, Yahoo Personals, Udate.com, Matchmaker.com and Lavalife.com.
A new study suggests that the growing popularity of these search modes will push the dating-service industry to $1.14 billion by 2004.
About 16.3 million people, made up of 6.1 million women and 10.2 million men, visited personals and dating sites in 2002, according to a December report by Jupiter Media Research.
Increased profits have allowed bigger sites like Match.com, which was bought by USA Interactive in 1999, and Yahoo Personals, owned by Yahoo Inc., to expand their advertising campaigns.
Match.com is in its third year of national broadcast advertising, with 30-second spots running during TV shows like "Joe Millionaire," said Trish McDermott, vice president of romance.
Yahoo Inc. also plans to use its brand to expand print- and broadcast-advertising campaigns solely for the personals site this year, spokeswoman Andrea Cutright said.
While online-dating subscribers are still a smaller percentage of American users, 23 percent of Internet users, or about 36 million, will click on personal profiles this year, said John LaRosa, author of the Marketdata study. That trend will allow bigger personals sites to upgrade their technology and services.
"Better technology allows these sites to outpace other ways of meeting people by the greater geographic and demographic scope available," Mr. LaRosa said.
Yahoo Personals recently rolled out technology that allows subscribers, about 650,000 paying $25 a month, to record a 30-second voice and video message on their profiles.
"You can't get away with just giving people 10 lines to describe themselves, because online dating has moved to a less-remote and isolated activity," said Mary Osako, a Yahoo Personals spokeswoman.
Yahoo recently noted that 70 percent of the company's subscription revenue came from four services, one of which was Yahoo Personals.
The rise in online dating, from ages 19 to 70, has increased the appreciation for face-to-face encounters dubbed "F2F" in chat groups.
Tim Sullivan, president of Match.com, said the company, with 653,000 subscribers paying the $25 monthly fee, plans to expand its live events into more cities, including Washington and Baltimore. The events range from karaoke nights to coffeehouse chats.
"Online dating is moving more from just isolated chatting on the Internet to a starter point for singles to set up dates with potential mates," Mr. Sullivan said.
Kim, a 41-year-old federal-relations manager for a Washington nonprofit organization, called her profile a "good filter in meeting the kind of people I know I'll match up in certain criteria, like age, education, hobbies and morals."
But not every generation dates the same way online. Kim, who asked that her last name not be used, said she responds to one of every 10 responses she gets from her profile. But people in their 20s are more likely to "power date," initiating conversations with several profiles and lining up multiple dates a month.
"It makes sense, because most of the people my age aren't looking for a commitment," said Allison Rager, a 20-year-old Towson University student who met her boyfriend, T.J., online in March.
"I was looking more for a serious relationship, but that didn't stop me from going on a date with someone who sounded cool," Miss Rager said, adding she went on 11 dates before meeting T.J.
She said she was more cautious about meeting people off-line, often talking on the phone with a potential date for a month before meeting in person at a public place.
"It's just like hooking up with someone at a club. You have to be careful, because you don't know the person's intentions," she said.
Mr. LaRosa said he found that 30 percent of the 20,000 online surveyed members from Match.com, Yahoo Personals and Lavalife.com were married.
But despite the risks, the Online Publishers Association reported that dating sites were among the top three categories for content spending in 2002, which also included entertainment and business sites.

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