It’s no overstatement to say that the advent of the internet changed literally everything. From commerce to communication and gaming, the internet revolutionised pretty much every industry, transforming the way we interact with world around us and with each other for good. There are very few places in which the effect of constantly being online can be felt more than in the world of romance, however.
If you’ve been single in the last fifteen to twenty years, then you’ll know how different things feel now compared with “the before times”. Thanks to the advent of sites like Match.com and eHarmony, as well as apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Badoo, dating is now pretty much entirely online, although there’s a growing counterculture decrying dating apps and advocating a return to in-person matchmaking. Even still, it seems like dating apps are here to stay. After all, Tinder is one of the most-downloaded apps around the world. It’s regularly in the top 100 downloaded apps in every major continent, as this cool Betway infographic shows.
So, what exactly is the history of online dating? How did we get from sitting in a room and rapidly switching between dating partners to swiping left or right depending on whether we liked someone? Here’s a potted history of online dating, from the early days of Netscape Navigator to today’s ultra-speedy smartphones and easily-accessible apps. Enjoy!
Believe it or not, online dating existed prior to the internet…well, after a fashion, anyway. Back in 1959, Phil Fialer and Jim Harvey began a class project known as Happy Families Planning Services, which utilised a computer and a questionnaire to match participants. This is the earliest known example of online dating that we have, and although it’s primitive, it’s an interesting beginning.
Between 1959 and the mid-1990s, in which the first dating sites began to appear, there were several attempts at creating computerised dating protocols. These usually consisted of questionnaires and computers to process the subsequent data, but after a while, BBS (bulletin board system) entries began to appear dedicated entirely to dating. Eventually, these would lose out to online dating, but they are a primitive form of what we now know as sites like Match and eHarmony (more on which in a moment).
The first dating site
Many consider Match.com (which is still operational today!) as the first dating site, but this is actually inaccurate. The very first dating website to appear on the internet was actually kiss.com (which is also still operational, but is significantly less well-designed than Match, in our opinion). This site allowed you to view pictures of singles and match yourself with them, a service it still offers today.
In 1995, Match.com became the first widespread, mainstream dating website. Co-founder Gary Kremen, who began the company with Peng Tsin Ong, said that the idea for the site came to him in the shower, when he realised the internet could be used for relationships. Kremen and Peng Tsin Ong completely changed the course of history with their invention.
Following the founding of Match.com, dating sites rapidly expanded in number and scope. Popular platforms eHarmony, PlentyOfFish, and OKCupid all launched in the early 2000s, all of which are geared more towards long-lasting relationships than casual hookups. The late 90s & early 2000s also saw the founding of a number of sites specifically aimed at gay men, like Gaydar and PlanetRomeo.
Despite the fact that Tinder is currently the best-known dating app around the world, it’s actually preceded by Badoo by quite a long time. Badoo was founded in Russia as a dating-focused social network back in 2006, and has continued to operate, undergoing a major rebrand a few years back. It’s also been beset by controversy, having been the subject of a Forbes investigation alleging improper workplace practices.
The app generation
Dating sites ruled supreme for a number of years, but when the iPhone arrived in 2007, it was clear things were set to change. Tinder wasn’t the first dating app available on smartphones, but, as is often the case, it was the one to capture public imagination thanks to a unique gimmick not seen anywhere else. Swiping left and right on profiles based on whether you’re interested has now entered into the cultural lexicon, and we have Tinder to thank for that.
The gay dating scene also changed completely in the early 2010s with the introduction of Grindr. Though many people would say Grindr isn’t exactly a dating app in the traditional sense, it is one of the main way in which gay men looking for love (or hookups) find each other, and it’s been incredibly important for the dating scene as a whole. Some have said that Tinder is a similar app, being used chiefly for hookups and casual encounters rather than relationships.
Controversies, and the future
Of course, the online dating scene has never been without its controversies. The website AshleyMadison was founded in the early 2000s, and was intended to allow married folks to have extramarital affairs. It was the subject of major data breach in 2015, which saw millions of users’ data leaked to the world at large, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the site; it’s since signed 30 million new users, suggesting that there’s still a place for this highly controversial site.
Some have also said that dating apps have their downsides. Many users lie on their profiles, and many women have reported being assaulted after meeting people on dating apps. There are also suggestions that dating apps are less than satisfactory when it comes to security and the handling of data, so there’s a long way to go for developers if they want to prove that their software is a hundred percent secure. One thing’s for sure – dating apps are here to stay, and they’re only going to get more ubiquitous with time.