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Chana Frankle knew that it was time to leave her on-line dating Web site when she chanced upon her father's profile.
The 26-year-old New York native had been on Jdate.com for two years with little luck when she came upon her father's profile as a "Sensitive, Stately Stunner."
"It had literally become my parents' dating site," said Frankle. "So I started exploring other sites which my parents probably never heard of, let alone figure out how to use."
There are dozens of Jewish dating Web sites, but the ones that Frankle was drawn to had a young alternative hook that the others didn't - a blend of the on-line and real worlds.
As Jewish dating sites struggle to compete for slices of the $500 million online dating industry, new dating models are being created to draw young people in. These sites, such as Frumster.com, SawyouatSinai.com, and Koolanoo.com have created a new paradigm that mixes the anonymity of on-line dating with real-life supervision.
At SawyouatSinai.com, CEO Marc Goldman wanted to give users the accessibility and options of a site with the privacy and supervision of the old-world matchmakers. The result is a dating site where users enter their preferences and photos on-line, and then get linked to a matchmaker, who meets them on-line or in person to discuss what they want in a partner. The matchmaker then combs through profiles to link their client with someone that best suits their specifications.
"I created the site to be the best of both worlds. Matchmakers have the challenge of not having a wide enough pool of people to choose from. People dating on-line have to take a risk with dating people who may have lied on their profiles. Our Web site eliminates both of these problems," said Goldman. Even though the matchmakers on the site are all volunteers, there are currently more than 300 people on a waiting list to become a SawyouatSinai matchmaker.
The site has successfully married off 420 couples since it launched in December 2003, and one year ago Goldman launched JRetromatch.com for the more secular dating set.
Frumster.com boasts that it has set up more than 700 happily married couples since it launched in 2003. Like SawyouatSinai, Frumster is a site for religious Jewry.
While there are no matchmakers at Frumster, all applicants are subjected to a telephone interview to ensure that they fit the image they present on their profile. Frumster.com also offers personalized dating advice, live on-line support, and a "hands on attitude" that users said gave them a feeling of an old world matchmaker with an on-line twist.
Then there is Koolanoo.com, a site that uses the model of popular social networking sites such as friendster.com and myspace.com to help Jews form social webs that ideally lead to dating. One of the most recent additions to the on-line Jewish dating world, Koolanoo has already drawn users from around the world hoping to meet (and maybe one day marry) Jews that belong to a similar social network.
On-line dating is a $516 million industry that is expected to reach $640m. by 2008, according to a study released by Jupiter Research earlier this year. The big three dating sites, Match, eHarmony and Yahoo! personals account for more than two-thirds of the on-line dating market, estimates Jupiter Research.
As the world of on-line dating proved itself to be lucrative, niche-dating sites sprung up for every hobby and habit. For those seeking a lofty lover there is Tallpeople.com, while dwarfdate.com caters to the more petite. There is datemypet.com for the animal lovers, or more specifically, lovehorse.co.uk for those particular to equestrians. Wine connoisseurs can go to grapedates.com. Goths have gothicloveonline.com., and truckers can meet a partner for the long haul on truckerpassions.com.
Sites catering to those who want to date within their own race or religion have also gained popularity, with several new additions to the scene, such as Tribalsingles.com for Native Americans, or ldssingles.com for Mormons, gaining members at exponential rates.
The industry is being driven by the growing number of young people who consider the Internet their second home and therefore see it as a natural place to meet a partner, said Jim Trucker, publisher of Online Dating Magazine in an interview last month.
"Young people come into college nowadays and already have an on-line social network in place to meet people," said Tamar Weissman, a Los Angeles-based psychologist who helps teens adjust to college life.
"They won't even have attended their college orientation yet, but they have an on-line network of people who are going to live in their dorms, or who will have the same major. It's a different world that these kids socialize in."
And with that different world, said Weissman, comes different demands on what young people are searching for in a popular web site.
"They all like the sites that they can personalize, with funny pictures and music," said Weissman. "They like sites where they can create networks that extend into real life."
Frankle has not yet met the match of her dreams on any of the sites, but in the summer she hopes to visit Sinai with a group of Israelis she met on Koolanoo.com.