A megabit on the side Then there is the fuss over sites such as Illicit Encounters and Ashley Madison, which have sparked an outcry by matching people seeking partners for extramarital affairs.
Outraged critics claim such services deliberately promote infidelity to further their commercial ambitions.
One of these is that people now move around more often for work, distancing themselves from friends and family members who could play matchmakers.
Another is that they are living longer, and hence more likely to look for new love later in life.
They acknowledge that some clients, who typically spend anything from a few months to a year before finding a soulmate or throwing in the towel, have frustrating experiences on their sites.
But they point out that the web still offers important advantages over more traditional routes of finding a mate.
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.
For online-dating agencies, it is a golden opportunity, as people who have spent the holidays ruminating over unsatisfactory or non-existent love lives log on in their thousands, hoping to find romance—ideally before February 14th.
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 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.
Vampire lovers can sink their teeth into the profiles on offer at Vampire Passions, while those obsessed with i Pads and i Phones can hunt for their i Beloveds at Cupidtino, a dating site for fans of Apple's products.
The rise of these and other dating sites has been driven by several trends in society.