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'There is massive money to be made in this industry, because people are looking for love on these sites, not just a date,' said David Docherty, chief executive of Yoo Media, pointing to sites such as Gorgeous Lifestyle Plus, which charge £1,000 a year for membership.
'People might talk about membership to these sites laughingly, but they are actually taking it very seriously,' he added.
It is this repeated - almost compulsive - pattern of use, however, that is causing a fear among some experts that the industry is creating its own demons, in the form of serial daters, who compulsively go on first dates or attend speed-dating evenings.
'I know so many people who have met their partners through some off-shoot of the dating services industry that it seems almost as conventional as being introduced by a friend.' The rise in popularity of the dating game has been as fast as it has been steep: a few years ago many thought that only the sad and desperate would even consider turning to an unknown third party to help them find love.Now, one in five single adults in Britain happily admits to using some sort of dating service, enabling agencies to boast of memberships larger than the population of some small countries: Dating Direct.com, for example, has a membership of more than 1.5 million.'This was an industry that you would have been embarrassed to be part of five years ago, but now everyone and their grandmother is taking part,' said Judith Meskill, senior editor of Weblogs Inc who has carried out research into the evolving status of dating services across the world.Mr Docherty said: "This deal gives us significant scale and Sky don't seem to want to be anywhere but their own platform.Sunday July 4, 2004 in the early days of Original Dating when we ran events at The Park Lane Hilton.