A Discreet Affair Unveiled

  • by February 10, 2003
Office romances have long been at the center of water cooler gossip, but there's a new love affair gaining ground in America's cubicles: online dating. This is among the key findings of a report released last week by comScore Media Metrix, which revealed that 7.9 million at-work Internet users visited Personals websites in December 2002, accounting for 35% of all time spent at these sites. In addition, the average workplace visitor to online personals spent 51% at the category, in sharp contrast to the 37 minutes spent by visitors at home.

While online personals are a hot property at work, their popularity has also grown among the U.S. Internet population overall. Driven by romantic allure, novelty, curiosity and heavy promotion, total U.S. visitors (from Home, Work and University PCs) grew 31% versus last year to 26.6 million visitors in December 2002.

"Long available though traditional media, personal advertisements are quickly being transformed by the Internet's many unique benefits, including interactivity, targetability, vast databases, sound and video," said Stephen Kim, chief research officer of comScore Media Metrix.

The Top 10 Personals Sites, according to comScore’s data, were Match.com, Yahoo! Personals, One2OneMatch.com, Matchmaker Sites, AmericanSingles.com, Date.com, DreamMates.com, Udate Properties, SomeoneLikesYou.com, and FriendFinder.com.

More than a cultural phenomenon, online personals are one of the fastest growing online businesses. According to a December 2002 study conducted by comScore and the Online Publishers Association, the Personals category grew 387% to become the largest online paid content category among consumers in the third quarter of 2002, surpassing Business Content. The online personals industry posted $87.2 million in revenue in the third quarter 2002 - nearly a quarter of every dollar spent on consumer content online.

Nearly 53% of visitors to Personals sites bet their prospects for love exclusively on one site in December 2002; 30 percent used two or three sites; and only 17% visited four or more.

"Online Personals demonstrate the power of a network effect, whereby the value of a network grows as its membership increases," said Kim. "In addition, users' loyalty to a few well-known sites suggests that a relationship between online dating services and consumers that's built upon recognition, trust and exclusivity- not unlike many human romances."

Kim also noted, however, that consumers' preference for only one site likely reflects an aversion to paying for multiple services. While many Personals sites offer browsing or some basic services for free, most premium services charge about $25 per month for the ability to connect with other users.

According to comScore Media Metrix demographic data, looking for romance online is popular across most age groups, serving as further evidence of the increasingly broad acceptance of online dating.

Although females compose a slight majority of the Internet population, males accounted for 54% of visitors to the Personals category in December 2002. But one year earlier, males accounted for 57%, suggesting that online personals are gradually becoming more equally accepted among both genders.

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