The online dating industry is already booming. With over 700 000 new signups for some of the most popular matchmaking websites (i.e. Yahoo Personnals and eHarmoney) and an annual turnover to compete with that of big business, the investment to create the future of online dating is all but guaranteed.
But who decides what form that future will take? What roads, particularly with regards to consumer preference, will be taken?
The major difficulties, or obstacles, that online dating is yet to fully overcome are those to do with physicality. Fabricating a 'real' experience from something essentially intangible has so far been accomplished through media interactivity such as photo albums, the ability to upload short video clips and record and send sound such as voicemail.
However the industry is now reaching out in other ways, most recently with the extension of VoIP (voice over IP) software which allows users to communicate in real time across their internet connection. They can share voice, live streaming video and files such as images and photos without having to wait for a reaction via email or private message.
The mobile phone industry is also giving the nod to a more mass-media form of interactivity. The new generation of cellular phones are capable of receiving and sending most forms of data. Being 'constantly online' is an attractive prospect to most individuals who use online dating services - as this enables them to get instant access to desired information and communications even when they are on the road or at work. An interdependence and synchronisation of such information, regardless of the medium used to access it, is close to being 'household' familiar.
Ironically, the trend for online dating is now toward offline dating. More specifically, studies have recently shown that the more interactivity an individual user enjoys, the more likely he or she is to turn off the computer and head outside to meet their new date in the outside, offline world. However, it has also been documented that such individuals reach this stage by becoming heavily reliant on their multimedia communications and rarely forego them, but rather gain confidence from such interactions that benefits their offline life as it does their online experiences.
The initial euphoria surrounding the online dating personels experience (i.e. eHarmoney and Free Yahoo Personnals) is often grounded in a certain mysticism surrounding contacts. The unknown quantity to the person on the other end of messages is subtly attractive. Once this unknown is exposed via interactive means such as VoIP and multimedia such as video, the result can sometimes be anticlimactic, leading some psychologists to suggest that the significant benefits gained from online dating can be lost more quickly than they might in more traditional relationships.
Perhaps accidentally, cyber cultures and sub-genres to the general online dating networks have sprung up catering to specific tastes. Such tastes are often more sexually centred and often break social 'norms'. It is possible that the future of online dating is hidden in these groups - for once online dating becomes synonymous with offline dating, thanks to interactive services and the constant connection to information via cell phones and wireless internet, the value of anonymity will remain only truly quantifiable for those who are in pursuance of activities they might not wish to advertise being involved in.
Speculation aside, there are some certainties regarding the future of online dating Yahoo Personels, True.com, Date.com, Match .com, eHarmony, etc. Privacy laws will be further updated to accommodate the heavy human interest in online dating and any remaining social misconceptions regarding the processes involved will eventually vanish. Users are realising the enhanced level of romance that online dating can afford a relationship, thanks in part to the need for patience and mutual respect.