As recent as 2002, online dating was still a bit of a socially closeted activity, but thanks to a tremendous advertising efforts, it did a full 180 and became "the thing to do." Shortly after, success stories of friends who said they had friends who met online and had gotten married began percolating through our social circles. This buzz helped create a dramatic turnaround in the public acceptance of online dating, but the change was largely an engineered one instead of one that happened through a steady change in societal attitudes.
An article in the Dec. 12th, 2004 edition of the New York Times reports that the growth of online dating as an industry has hit a plateau. With some 800 legitimate online dating services out there and a growing number of disillusioned ex-members, some of whom have published books about their bad dating experiences, one of the lone exceptions to the "dot-com" bust is not looking like the golden child it once was.
Oh, online dating is not going bust by any means, but its flaws are becoming as inherently obvious as the lies and half truths liberally scattered throughout their member profiles. These are serious problems in the data-driven methodology of most online dating services that are not going to be fixed anytime soon. Anyone who works with data knows that databases don't handle nuances well. The integrity of your data is out the window until you can establish a standardized definition of "single, married, etc."
The problem isn't that people lie. The problem is that depending on your perspective, just about everyone is lying whether willingly or unwittingly and not all lies are equal. Some lies may have more truth to them in practical reality than the unforgiving stereotypes that the lies are trying to avoid.
Background checks and rigorous interviewing by trained professionals would be one way of fixing these flaws, but would also create a whole host of new problems. Besides, if the recent hard fortunes of the expertly moderated dating service, True.com is any indication, introducing a rigorous initiation process isn't going to restart the hypergrowth of online dating.
Speaking of businesses like True.com, aren't we starting to see online dating services that bear more and more resemblance to traditional matchmaking and video dating services? Then there's the trend of "speed dating", which is basically like online dating manifested in face to face reality. I'm sure the market for it is steady and growing, but don't expect an explosive trend. It was around before online dating. You'd think that it'd have taken off by now if it was such a great answer to singlehood.
Now before I come off as a sneering someone who's too good for online dating, let me say that I met my girlfriend and almost certain future wife through Match.com after over four years on and off of online dating through various services. The first day I tried Match.com was in 1998 and I was able to sift through their entire database of the San Jose area in one sitting. There were about 100 men and 3 women.
An artificially engineered change in societal attitudes helped online dating take off. The online dating industry is hitting a saturation point and is beginning to plateau. Advertising budgets will certainly shrink. What will this mean to the online dating industry and all the similar services that were spawned in its wake?