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Online dating: Comparing the top sites

Looking for love and finding your soul mate haven't become any easier in the 21st century, but technology now lends a helping hand. Online dating has an appeal that has spread internationally and given rise to many specialty websites that cater to certain types of relationships, ethnicities, religions, age groups, geographic areas and interests.

The ability to weed out people who aren't compatible and to get to know someone from a safe distance before a face-to-face encounter has encouraged millions of people to turn to online dating. Although many people have met through dating websites and later married, others report frustration and disappointment with the experience. It seems that finding a perfect match online requires the same social skills, caution, honesty and perseverance as traditional dating. 

Although some dating websites are free, most charge a fee for a subscription period of one month to a year. Most popular dating websites allow members to search for suitable matches, and some make suggestions based on profile information. Matchmaking websites take a more scientific approach by hiring notable consultants to create compatibility or personality questionnaires, and asking users to fill one of these out in its entirety before they can create a profile.

Typically, the pairing up is done for you, though some matchmaking sites also allow users to search profiles for themselves. Generally, matchmaking websites are considered the better route for singles looking for a long-term relationship, although many report success finding serious relationships using one of the many popular dating sites that don't try to be matchmakers.

We consulted user review sites and found that negative reviews of online dating sites far outweigh positive ones. Many users report problems with online dating: dishonest profiles, demanding people or scammers. Some also complain about the sites inflating subscriber numbers, making people who sign up think they'll have plenty of choices, when most of the users are actually inactive. One constant complaint is about automatic billing, and another is about suggested potential mates who are either nonpaying members or no longer visit the site.

Only a couple of consumer publications offer comparative reviews of online dating sites, and only one, at TopTenReviews.com, is current. DatingSitesReviews.com and About.com's online dating expert, Bonny Albo, review many dating websites and give some useful, though brief, input on some of the good and bad points.  

One thing to keep in mind when reading dating site reviews is the gender of the reviewer, if known. We found that the perspective of what makes a good dating site changes; women reviewers tend to stress safety and reputability of users on a dating site, while male reviewers seem more concerned with getting a large pool of potential mates and having a good selection of features. A few reviews, like those on NextAdvisor.com and PC World magazine, are based on input from both a male and a female editor, which is helpful for seeing both perspectives on some of these services.

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