As their growth slows, dating websites offer plenty of new options – from background checks to more detailed questionnaires.


Kristin, a 20-something property manager from Tempe, Ariz., isn’t sold on online dating just yet. Recently, she posted an ad on Match.com, a leading personal-ad website. “I was just looking for an alternative to the regular singles scene,” Kristin says. “In my first 24 hours, I received 150 e-mails and ‘winks.’ That’s a little intimidating.”
She’s annoyed that some of the responders live outside the US, and worried about encountering the bane of online daters – the “weirdo.” But her ad is still up, boasting in the headline that she’s “exceptional – looking for same.”



As they face cutthroat competition and the threat of stagnantion, online dating sites are working furiously to convince millions of singles such as Kristin to stick around despite their misgivings. Within the past few months, several top sites have overhauled the online dating experience, and up-and-coming companies are wooing people like the marriage-minded, the security- conscious, and the religious.



All in all, the changes may be turning online dating into a more friendly world. Video and audio links, which have yet to become wildly popular, offer singles the opportunity to see and hear one another before the traditional coffee date. It’s easier to reject someone who contacts you through an e-mail or the quick hello known as a wink – sites now helpfully provide canned responses for unimpressed members to send. And complex compatibility surveys aim to match people who have similar outlooks on life and love, not just a shared fascination with Woody Allen or “Desperate Housewives.”



At stake is a share of the huge online dating business, whose growth is leveling out. From the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2003, customer spending on the sites rocketed from $8 million to $117 million, according to the Online Publishers Association and comScore Networks. But in the second quarter of 2004, the spending was stagnant at $114 million.



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