Here is the history of internet dating or at least as I remember things. I have been working in the online dating industry for several major brands including Kiss.com, uDate.com, Match.com, Perfectmatch.com, ePersonals.com and our very own Lovesites.com. I have seen sites come and go, even large ones. I have been involved in two major acquisitions and have worked briefly for the publically traded IACi.
I started working for Kiss.com back in April of 1996 when my current business partner, Norman Clarke got me a job as a customer service / office assistant helping with emails, calls and order fullfillment. You have to go back to 96′ for a minute to understand how websites ran. Our online ordering system was done via emails that we printed out and entered into Filemaker Pro. We ran daily transaction batches using MacAuthorize over a 14.4 modem at the end of the day then emails people addresses they ordered. I think there was about 16 dating websites listed in Yahoo! (back when they were a directory) and the top dating sites were Webpersonals.com, Friendfinder.com and OneandOnly.com. Our boss, Lee Zehrer, a pioneer in internet dating purchased the domain Kiss.com back in December of 1994 and Match.com was registered in January of 1995. Back then internet dating was very much international dating and mail order bride focused.
There were large international dating services like Loveme.com, APrettyWoman.com and CherryBlossoms.com that featured womens’ profiles from Russia, Ukraine and the Philippines. You actually purchased member addresses and had to send them letters instead of emails. Most of the international profiles didn’t have email addresses and Hotmail wasn’t even a big site yet.
OneandOnly.com had launched one of the first affiliate programs and maybe even before Amazon.com and all of the dating directories like Cupidnet.com (purchased by Matchnet, LLC), Aarens.com, Singlessites.com, ASinglesPlace.com and Lovesites.com ruled the search engines. You need to go back to 96′ again when the main search engines were Altavista.com, Excite, Webcrawler, Lycos and Hotbot. Yahoo was powered by Inktomi. Google was still a project in a garage in Palo Alto, CA.
Everyone was racing to be #1 in a category that still didn’t have a good public image or acceptance. You didn’t go telling your friends that you were using the internet to find a date back then. A couple of quiet acquisitions happened in the early days but no major consolidation until OneandOnly.com, based in Dallas, TX and Match.com, then based in SF, CA, were both acquired by Ticketmaster Online-Citysearch. Then Cupid’s Network Inc., owned and operated by Daniel Bender, which included the property Cupidnet.com and AS.org (AmericanSingles.com) was purchased by Matchnet, PLC in May, 1999 for $3.6 million.
This brought a ton of visibility and validity to the online dating industry and tons of new projects got started and funded. There were sites like xSeeksy.com, Spring Street Networks, Socialnet, DatingFaces.com, DatingClub.com (run by Targetmatch out of Isreal) that were trying to take the industry by storm. Portals were signing partnership & advertising deals with these companies left and right. Spring Street Networks went after the low-tech newspaper market with a white label application. Socialnet tried to be a free dating service about 2 years too early. They even offered out their female-CEO as a potential date on the site. DatingFaces went down the ‘butler’ path to try to give you a more friendly experience and couldn’t get to critical mass fast enough. The DatingFaces database eventually got purchased by AOL to launch out their AIM personals service which never took off. People were still dating for free on Excite’s Classifieds2000 and Yahoo! Personals as they were still free services at the time.
Yahoo! Personals then decided to move to a subscription model after a short relationship with Match.com where they saw the revenue opportunity in the online dating space.
Webpersonals has had an interesting history as one of the first dating sites online which is still alive but has been rebranded. Interactive Media Group in Canada bought the URL webpersonals.com from Andrew Conru of Friendfinder.com back in 1997 where it started a free online dating service. In July 2001, Lavalife.com was rebranded and the webpersonals.com brand was combined into the new service. Lavalife was purchased in April, 2004 by MemberWorks Incorporated, a provider of consumer and membership services through affinity marketing and online channels for approximately $152.5 million CAD in cash.
Date.com is a privately owned company based in New York with offices in Miami Beach, Florida. The site was launched on Valentines Day in 1997 and became a subscription-based service with its re-launch in 2000. Avalanche LLC, owners and operators of Date.com acquired the Matchmaker.com service in Feb. 2006 and moved the users over to the Date.com platform but kept them separate from the Date.com user base.
Matchmaker.com was originally acquired by Lycos.com back in June, 2000. Matchmaker was broken into dozens of city and religious communities and had one of the first personality tests used to match potential members.
uDate.com was first launched commercially in February 1999 and was able to acquire customers quickly by offering consumers a feature rich experience. uDate.com, Inc. became the challenger for overall global market leadership of the online dating sector when it acquired the brand Kiss.com in 2001. uDate.com, Inc. became a public company trading under the ticker symbol UDAT on the OTCBB exchange. The Company was headquartered in Derby, United Kingdom. In Dec, 2002 USA Interactive entered into an agreement to acquire uDate.com, Inc for approximately $150 million in USA common stock.
Here we are today and the term ‘online dating’ has become a household term that everyone talks about with their friends and peers over lunch or drinks. I can now hardly run into anybody that doesn’t have an online dating story to tell about their own experience or a friends expeditions in dating on the internet.
Social network sites like Friendster and Myspace have revolutionized the technology and many sites have evolved their feature sets to include many of the social networking functionality. You can hardly watch cable TV anymore without seeing an eHarmony or Match.com ad or product placement in movies like Perfectmatch.com did with “Must Love Dogs”. The industry got past its akward and fast growth period, has done a little bit of consolidation and now faces the challenges of reinventing itself to keep up with technology advances in software development and the entire social media craze. Free dating services like OKCupid, PlentyofFish and Meeta.com are new challengers to the media giants for share of voice.
We’ll see where the next century of dating takes us but for now go out and meet someone online. It’s now officially “Kosher” to do so.
note: if you find an inaccurate fact within this article please post a comment or email us directly so we can fix it. I hate passing on bad info.