Although online dating did not take off until the 1990s, earlier forms of this match-making service started as far back as the early 18th century. Only a few decades after the modern newspaper was invented in 1690, matrimonial agencies in Britain began using this social media platform to promote their services. Matrimonial services were a growing commodity at that time because there was a deep stigma surrounding people who were over the age of 21 and still single. Using these match-making services, however, was not commonplace yet either.
The evolution in technology during the 19th century brought with it an enormous rise in dating services. Newspapers began providing personal ads, which often relied on the telephone to send and receive messages. Personal ads became integrated in American pop culture in the early 20th century. The adoption of personal ads came as a result of their shift from advertising strictly for matrimonial purposes to advertising for more informal relationships, such as friends or casually intimate partners. Personal ads also gained much popularity and recognition after World War I as returning single servicemen, called “lonely soldiers,” began using personal ads to find women. Friend-searching and lonely soldiers ignited the change that transformed match-making services into something history lecturer H.G. Cocks referred to as “fashionable and contemporary, something done by those who were bohemian and unconventional.”
Personal ads experienced a drastic decline during the Great Depression and World War II, but were revived in the 1960s. Cocks explains that the resurrection of personals came as a result of the “growing counterculture in the UK, along with drug experimentation and the Beatles.” Personals received much criticism during the mid-20th century, which led the youth generations, pioneers of the 1960s counterculture movement, to begin using personals as an act of defiance.
Match-making services made its biggest leap in the mid-1990s with the evolution of the Internet. Online dating started in chat rooms and forums that were offered by Internet service providers of that time such as Prodigy and America Online. The first major Internet dating website to launch is considered to be kiss.com, which made its online debut in 1994. The website experienced such immediate success that its creator, Gary Kremen, produced his second major dating website, match.com. The creation of kiss.com and match.com caused an eruption of online dating websites that followed. By 1996, Yahoo! had control of 16 different dating websites. They competed at the top level with other big name web directories such as friendfinder.com and oneandonly.com.
The culture and ideas surrounding online dating were transformed in 2002 with the creation of social media networks such as Myspace. Myspace was intended for any and all persons to connect, even if just to form a plutonic relationship. This new process, known as “social networking,” allowed people to continue to find an intimate partner online without having to burden themselves with the stigmas that still surrounded online dating. The rise in social media platforms such as Myspace and Facebook not only allowed online dating to survive the technological revolution, it helped online dating thrive. According to online news website, WRAL TechWire , Americans spent over $500 million on online dating in 2007, marking it the second highest industry for “paid content” on the Web. The influence that online dating has on American pop culture continues to grow, even to this day. 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.