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The year of dating dangerously online

Deepak Kamra of Canaan Partners, an American venture-capital firm that has backed several dating services, including Zoosk and Bharat Matrimony, estimates that the industry's revenues from membership fees and advertising now amount to $3 billion-4 billion a year.Searching for that special someone In addition to broad-based matchmaking sites such as Match and Zoosk, the online-dating world has also spawned thousands of niche ones.

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And a number of sizeable digital matchmakers, including Jiayuan and Zhenai, have risen to prominence in China.“The period between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day is our busiest six weeks of the year,” explains Sam Yagan, the boss of Ok Cupid, a big American dating site.Once seen as the last resort for a bunch of lonely geeks, online-dating services have gradually shed much of the stigma formerly associated with them.In a study presented at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in August, Michael Rosenfeld of Stanford University and Reuben Thomas of the City College of New York reviewed data from a survey of more than 3,000 Americans with romantic partners.They concluded that among heterosexual couples who met in 2009, the internet had become the third most common way of making initial contact—behind introductions from friends, but almost on a par with encounters in bars and restaurants.Although they are still popular with tech types—Julian Assange, the mercurial co-founder of Wiki Leaks, reportedly once maintained profiles on dating sites under the name “Harry Harrison”—they now attract millions of people from many walks of life.

Com Score, a research firm, says Match and Zoosk, two large dating services based in the United States, saw 4.6m and 4.8m unique visitors respectively come to their American sites in November 2010.

Last year several elderly British women sent money to American soldiers whose profiles they had come across on dating sites, only to discover subsequently that the profiles were bogus.

And there have been instances of rapists using dating sites to prey on women.

Several critics have also accused it of exaggerating its ability to match cheats with one another, chronicling its alleged failings on websites such as

Few other dating sites have provoked such a public backlash.

Yet while looking for love online is no longer seen as an act of desperation, the digital-dating industry still generates plenty of controversy.