Forget the bars; mouse, modem now prerequisites for seeking a mate

By Riley Gay

Adventurous soul seeking same. Recently divorced cutie, ready for romance. Single guy, free to good home.

These are just a few of the entries you’re likely to find on Match.com, one of the largest and fastest growing dating sites on the Internet.

If you’re a single guy or gal, and your idea of finding your perfect mate doesn’t involve copious amounts of alcohol and dimly lit bars, then online dating might just be for you.

Wondering just how effective they really are? Online dating sites will point to their ever-growing singles databases, as well as their ever-burgeoning bottom lines, as proof of their success. In fact, these sites are among the few subscription sites on the Web that continue to consistently show a profit, so it would seem to be working for their members, too.

As a result, digital matchmakers have proliferated on the Internet, supplanting newspaper personal ads and singles clubs as the method of choice for many singles to find their mates.

Whether they’re looking for companionship or something more serious, singles can remain anonymous when using an online dating site, a real advantage over blind dates or personal ads.

In addition, unlike newspaper personals, members can change, or even withdraw, their profiles at any time. This could come in handy if the current profile seems to be attracting too many or the wrong type of respondents.

In general, people who use online dating services tend to be both well educated and well employed. Fees paid to subscribe to these sites tend to discourage some of the random crazies you might encounter elsewhere, so using an online service may be more likely to result in a positive experience.

Moreover, there are dozens of online dating sites on the Internet from which to choose. If you’re interested in finding a mate with a specific interest, hobby, religious affiliation or sexual preference, you’ll find online matchmaking sites that cater to those interests and more.

There are even sites exclusively for pet lovers (LoveMeLoveMyPets.com), as well as for their pets (www.geocities.com/cocoscastle/PetDate/PetDate.html), so Sparky and Fluffy won’t have to feel left out.

And most online dating sites let you search by geographic location, age, or physical characteristics, to help narrow your choices and increase your chances of finding the right match.

For those with a fear of commitment, many online sites will let non-subscribers browse postings to get a feel for what they’re likely to find on that site before joining.

Once they become subscribers, singles can post their personal profile or respond to other members to find that perfect match.

Yahoo! Personals (personals.yahoo.com) even lets singles post their profile for free on their site, but users must subscribe to receive or answer email from other members.

Yahoo has also recently included a feature it calls an “affinity engine” to its Personals site. Much like the recommendation feature found on such retail sites as Amazon.com, when a single selects a promising profile on Yahoo, the user also gets a link called "people who like this person also liked these people." This approach may be helpful in getting users to broaden their search criteria to include a greater number of suitable candidates.

And speaking of Amazon.com, the online bookseller offers a bevy of books on the subject of online dating. With titles such as the Online Dating Survival Guide, The Rules of Online Dating, Virtual Foreplay, Wired Not Weird  and the predictable Online Dating for Dummies, there should be plenty of information available for the uninitiated who are looking to give digital dating a try.

For singles already disillusioned by the experience of traditional dating methods, having an online yenta may just be all the help they’ll need to find the perfect match.