The first weeks of the new year are some of the busiest for online dating services, as singles resolve to find love before the holidays roll around again. But the increased traffic may not be enough to keep dating sites ahead in the relationship race.
Today's singles increasingly turn to an old-fashioned method to meet a mate: face-to-face interaction.
Dating sites like Match.com, eHarmony, and ChristianCafe.com say they see the biggest jump in traffic and new users during the holiday season and the beginning of the new year. Besides creating good business for the sites, it also provides a bigger pool of prospective dates for singles to choose from.
On Jan 2, 2012, Match.com saw a 55 percent jump in registrations, right after people made their New Year's resolutions. Data for this year wasn't immediately available. Sam Moorcroft, president of Christian dating site ChristianCafe.com, said the time between Christmas and Valentine's Day is the busiest of the year for his site. He blames the holidays. Single people who gather with their families for Thanksgiving and Christmas get bombarded with questions about their relationship status.
"For New Year's resolutions, people who are overweight will join a gym, while single people will say it's time for me to be matched," Moorcroft said. And for single people in the modern era, that means looking at dating sites, he said.
A survey by Match.com found that one-out-of-five relationships start online with the help of compatibility tests, thumbnail photos, and autobiographical descriptions. (Read Whitney Williams' account of how she met her husband online.) And with monthly fees between $10 and $60, the dating industry is now worth $2 billion.
But this growth could soon slow. Recent data from analytic firm comSource shows traffic to the 10 most popular dating sites did not increase during the past year. The nature of dating sites produce a high turnover as those who find love and those who give up on love delete their accounts. But dating sites now also have competition from mobile dating apps that use GPS to locate nearby singles and other dating services that focus on face-to-face meetings.
A recent study by Northwestern University found that meeting face-to-face is still vitally important to finding a mate, while online profiles and algorithms are largely ineffective. According to the study, mobile apps like MeetMoi, which match singles based on location and interests, may be more effective in creating long-lasting relationships because it brings people together fast.
"You have a little bit of basic information," said Eli Finkel, the study's lead author. "Is this person below threshold or above threshold for a five-minute meet-up-five minutes from now? There's no better way to figure out whether you're compatible with somebody than talking to them over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer."
In response to the new trend, some dating sites are creating events for their members to meet in real life. Match.com started Stir events in May, and has since held more than 1,600 meetings in 80 cities. The gatherings include happy hours, cooking lessons, bowling nights, dance lessons, and volunteer events. A Facebook app called Grouper sends six people (three men and three women) on a casual group date at a local restaurant.
But other dating services, including eHarmony, continue to promote their sites as the place to find a match before moving toward an offline relationship. ChristianCafe.com's Moorcroft believes that at the heart of online dating is the need for people to live in relationship with one another.
"People don't change," Moorcroft said. "Technology may change, but the method by which we connect doesn't change."