Online dating services are getting as competitive as a singles bar on a Saturday night.
Singles Online is the latest Web site promising to match up the lovelorn. Yahoo lists nearly three hundred such sites and still more singles services exist in the form of online classified sections of newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Village Voice.
Match.com claims to have registered more than 150,000 singles since its launch in April 1995.
In such a crowded arena, business has been less than brisk at Singles Online in the two weeks since the dating service celebrated its official launch. Only a dozen people have opted for a paid membership so far. But the company officials remain upbeat about the company's prospects, pointing to the three hundred users who have logged on to take a look at the service so far.
Singles Online President and CEO Tom Chapman acknowledges that the challenge facing his site is to distinguish itself from what he calls "the herd" of other singles sites.
The service is trying to take advantage of the multimedia capabilities of the Internet by providing profiles that include photos, audio, and text. Users can also browse profiles of other singles using a database that categorizes interests and other personal characteristics including religion, geographic location, and, of course, physical appearance.
All of the online dating services are trying so hard in a competitive arena because the market for online singles is so large and, they believe, lucrative.
"Most people don't realize that roughly half the adult population in the United States is single," said Chapman. "Most of these singles are baby boomers, who are the largest market in this country for anything."
Match.com boasts revenues of over $100,000 per month, 90 percent of which come from memberships and the rest from advertising sales.
And then there's the personal satisfaction aspect.
"We've had 70 marriages since we started that we know of," said Match.com general manager Fran Meyer.
Like Singles OnLine, Meyer said the company plans to introduce audio and video to its site in mid-1997.
Match.com is also considering another change, according to Meyer: splitting the site into separate sections for heterosexual and homosexual lonely hearts.
Singles OnLine, by contrast, explicitly excludes gays and lesbians. "Every Web site chooses its own identity," explained Chapman. "We choose to be a heterosexual site. That's what our value system is."
Chapman, who is single, has already found a date through his own service. "We're having dinner on Monday night," he said. "She's a lovely lady."
Chapman says he can't think of any drawbacks to finding dates online, but other customers of online dating services can.
David Kornblum, a Los Angeles property manager, reported mixed success with his online dating service. "I scheduled a tennis date with one woman," he recalled. "She was a good tennis player, but she wasn't very social. Some people can be really open online, but then they freeze up in person."
"I guess that's why they spend so much time online," he added.