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Several years ago, the thought of online dating left you LOL. Today, it is the second most popular way for couples to meet.

“People like online dating because there are so many choices and opportunities to customize your search” for the perfect mate, said Elizabeth Hendrickson, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media. Hendrickson’s research interests include issues relating to social media.

“In the beginning, there was certainly a stigma attached to utilizing the sites, but that happens anytime new technology emerges within our society,” she said. “In this case, the more people who successfully and unabashedly use dating sites, the more it will lose the stigma.”

Online dating got its start in the early 1990s when thirty something single Chicago native Gary Kermen was looking for a new way to meet eligible women. Tired of placing multiple personal ads in his local newspaper, took the concept to the Internet and launched

Within seven years of its 1995 start, the site had more than 26.5 million registered users.

“The success of no doubt encouraged other Internet entrepreneurs to carve out more specialized niches in the online dating market,” Hendrickson said. “Now, we have a diverse and robust global network of matchmaking sites.”

The newest trend: Dating apps.

Online dating companies are targeting young people through social-media incorporated free smartphone apps like Tinder, which makes finding someone as simple as a swipe of your finger. Users browse through a stream of local singles’ profiles; a swipe to the left means you’re interested, the right means you pass. When two parties show interest in each other, a private chat starts.

With ease of use comes ease of abuse, so Hendrickson said it’s important to be well informed about a site before you give away your personal information.

“Always do your research. Read up on whatever site you’re interesting in using—not only the site’s information, but what others have written about it,” she said. “If you’re interested in using an online dating site, you should be equally interested in doing your due diligence about its benefits and pitfalls.”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,