When internet dating first began, it was mainly seen as an outlet for people that could not otherwise get a date…. But, since the early 2000′s, online dating is much more common and socially acceptable. While eHarmony and Match.com are generally considered to be the market leaders in the industry, “free dating sites” are rapidly gaining in popularity. The free site “Plenty of Fish” has grown dramatically and in February of 2011, drew in over 5.3 million visitors from all over the world.
This new “free” model for online dating, has put a major dent in the business model of subscription sites. But, many in the industry believe that there is still a place for both. There are advantages and disadvatages to free sites, including the ability of any user to access pictures and sensitive information. Some would also say a lower quality of service is found on these free sites.
An “ugly” design has not stopped PlentyofFish in the least. It is continuing to grow at a pace, many other dating sites would envy. The revenues for the site are estimated at over 10 million dollars per year. POF is run with minimal employees, and extremely low overhead. This allows it to directly complete with the industry powerhouses.
Sites that focus on small interest groups ranging from “pet lovers” to “prisoner penpals”, have also become very popular. Better communication through the internet, allows very segmented groups of people to connect and form bonds. Some tiny, niche dating sites could be characterized as fetish sites, but others do honorable jobs like helping the disabled connect and communicate.
Disabled Online Dating Sites
In recent years, these “micro communities”, centered around the disabled have dramatically grown in populartity. Sites like dating4disabled.com, allow people with disorders like spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, or blindness to connect with local single people. Other sites are designed specifically for people in wheelchairs, who are partially or fully blind, or have psychiatric illnesses.
Other disabled dating communities, include:
Some sites cater specifically to people with sexually transmitted diseases. They have been around in one form or another since 2000. The site Positivesingles.com allows users with HIV, HPV, and Hepatitis to meet other people living with these illnesses. These communities are large and help people who might not otherwise be able to find a good romantic match.
In addition to matching singles, communities centered around an illness can partly serve as a support group. This can be very helpful for people that feel they don’t fit into larger online dating communities.
Large Niche Communities
Larger niche sites like JDate or Christian Mingle allow users of a particular faith to connect. JDate focuses on providing an online dating service to the Jewish community. Currently JDate is said to have over 450,000 active members. Currently, there are over 15 major dating sites that specialize specifically in connecting jewish singles. Faith based dating communities are continuing to grow at a quick pace. Christian, Muslim, and Jewish centered sites are the largest active groups.
Small Niche = Small Community
When users sign up for a membership to a small community, they need to be wary that a real community actually exists behind the pay-wall. Many small sites are not likely to have members of a small niche group, within a user’s local area. Some sites just connect users to a larger database of users which may or may not share the trait they are searching for.