More than a decade after the Internet became a dating mecca, a new study finds those who have looked for relationships online have more faith in cyberspace than those who never have.
An estimated 16 million Americans have used a dating site or other site to meet people, the Pew Research Center reports; 45 percent of these have never been married. Pew found 79 percent say online dating is a "good way to meet people," and 52 percent say the experience was mostly positive. But 29 percent say it was mostly negative.
Among all Internet users -- about 145 million single people, married people or those in relationships -- opinions appear evenly split: 44 percent agree Internet dating is a "good way to meet people," and 44 percent disagree.
Findings are based on a telephone survey of more than 3,200 adults ages 18 and older, projected to the U.S. Census Bureau's estimate of 202 million adults with household phones in the continental United States.
Amy Simmons, 31, of Loma Linda, Calif., "definitely recommends" online dating, even when she has nothing in common with some of the guys the sites suggest are good matches.
"I see it as all positive, because even when there has been a negative experience, you're always getting experience in dating," says Simmons, a university purchasing agent who has dated online for about three years and has tried four sites.
Mike Manderfeld, 54, of Minneapolis also has tried at least four sites during the four years he has been Web dating since his divorce.
"I'm 100 percent behind it," says Manderfeld, an accountant who was married for 18 years.
Still, he says, he was interested in pursuing relationships with only about 10 percent of the women he met online.
Online dating sites overall are still growing, but some segments, such as personals sites, are down from last year.
JupiterResearch says growth of dating sites slowed from 75 percent in 2003 to 17 percent in 2004; the 2005 figure is projected in the single digits, senior analyst David Card says.
Meanwhile, 24.6 million people visited personals sites in January; down 9 percent from 27 million last year, comScore Media Metrix says.
Such trends have sparked more target marketing to singles who prefer a more scientific approach. Both eHarmony.com and Perfectmatch.com offer compatibility-based pairings, which entail elaborate tests. And Match.com this year launched two spinoffs: MindFindBind.com, which offers Internet-only video segments with advice from Dr. Phil, and Chemistry.com, which couples compatibility with the chemistry involved in face-to-face meetings.
"These sites have been able to respond to more specialized interests, and you'll see a lot more of that specialization and innovation happening," says Mary Madden, co-author of the Pew study.
Pew's survey was done last fall by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The margin of error is plus or minus two percentage points overall but eight percentage points for the smaller pool of online daters.
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