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That is, online dating sites use the conceptual framework of a "marketplace metaphor" to help people find potential matches, with layouts and functionalities that make it easy to quickly browse and select profiles in a manner similar to how one might browse an online store.
Under this metaphor, members of a given service can both "shop" for potential relationship partners and "sell" themselves in hopes of finding a successful match.
Most services also encourage members to add photos or videos to their profile.
Once a profile has been created, members can view the profiles of other members of the service, using the visible profile information to decide whether or not to initiate contact.
Technology and competition for this lucrative market has made a mockery of it.
To the average person, thanks to bad press and other contributing factors, online dating has become somewhat of an un-trusted source for meeting people.
Another bone of contention hindering the online dating reputation is the fraud and scam element that exists today, which is fuelled by desperate gangs of online crooks who strategically and calculatingly disguise themselves as worthy adversaries.
Opinions and usage of online dating services also differ widely.
At the end of November 2004, there were 844 lifestyle and dating sites, a 38% increase since the start of the year, according to Hitwise Inc.