By 1700 newspapers were widespread throughout Europe, and with the dissemination of print media came the spread of personal ads. In the 18th century it was considered taboo to be 21 years old and unmarried (which thankfully has changed pretty significantly since 1700), so unmarried men in their early twenties would post personal ads in the classified sections of their local newspapers (Whipps). Women would then read the ads and respond if they felt the ad met their standards and generally the two would be married. However, the convenience of “newspaper dating” came with a nasty stigma. According to author and lecturer H.G. Cocks, “Advertising for a husband or wife has always attracted criticism and the people who did it were always thought of as failures in some way. However advertising like this has a long and unbroken history, and was used by many people with some success”. Those who turned to finding mates through newspapers were looked at as social lepers because courtship was such a celebrated facet of that society because around 1700 women were granted more rights than ever before in history. According to professor David Christian, the “empowerment of the individual” took hold of the greater part of the civilized world, this led to the unfettering of women from harsh social restraints (even though many still existed) and this led to the the equality of individuals. Men and women became more equal politically, financially, and socially in many nations (Wilson). These changes had profound impacts on the relationships between men and women because they finally had the autonomy to choose who, why and when they would marry (Wilson). Hence, dating and the act of courting someone was a new and exciting part of society, thus, courting through the newspaper was degrading because it meant that one was incapable of beneficial and progressive social interaction.
Despite the social stigma, matrimonial agencies were big business but those you were patrons of such agencies typically never spoke of it because it was so widely looked upon negatively. The ads were also used as a means for gay men and lesbians to find lovers when homosexuality was still outlawed in Europe, so once these proscribed lovers took over the classifieds the ads lost their allure because people found it detestable. Thus, the personal ads fell out of vogue for a handful of decades until the 1960s when the age of love and openness took hold.
Personal ads were still relatively accepted in the mid to late 90s but fell to the wayside when the Internet took hold. The Internet was a dating tool almost from day one, because people could have instant conversations and flirt with people who they did not have to be in the same room. However, while the Internet was still nascent there were newsgroups and forums that posted personal ads, which similar to what was going on in newspapers at the time, locals were meeting in city-oriented rooms and people with similar interests were meeting and becoming attached in forums of similar interest (Brainz.org). The manifestation of online dating is logical because the Internet is a place for self-promotion; it’s a media, information, and connection network that covers the globe. Thus, self-promotion, too covers the globe because people use it as a tool to talk about themselves and connect with others who can relate to similar life experiences. Internet service providers perpetuated this digital dating phenomenon almost from the beginning with their advertised chat rooms and message boards for singles.
The first dating site that was formed was match.com in 1995; however, even though the name is the same as the current dating site, the site was more involved with international dating and mail order brides rather than dating someone. However, match.com sparked an internet dating explosion, by 1996 there were 16 dating Web sites listed in Yahoo! (Brainz.org). In 2007, Americans spent over $500 million on online dating, making it the second highest industry for “paid content” (Whipps) on the Web, behind pornography.
Currently the market has been segmented out to an ever larger number of sites focused on an ever-smaller niche audiences. Currently, there are sites for virtually every city, every sexual orientation, every desired relationship, every religion, every race and almost every hobby. The end result is that, according to Online Dating Magazine, nearly 20 million people visit at least one online dating site every month and 120,000 marriages every year take place, at least in part, due to online dating.
In 2002, Wired Magazine predicted that, “Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love won’t look for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalog to instead wander the stacks because ‘the right books are found only by accident” (Griscom).