Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Instant message could lead to an instant mate

By Matthew Fordahl
The Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Delivering instant gratification to Internet pairing, America Online is launching a dating service that will make finding a mate as easy as flashing a message. is accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, Web browser and free AOL Instant Messenger account.

NEW YORK - America Online is laying off 450 people, or 2 percent of its work force, as the struggling Internet service provider consolidates its software development operations in California.

AOL spokesman Jim Whitney said Tuesday that the company would also close its software development offices in San Francisco and San Diego as it consolidates its development efforts in Irvine for southern California and Mountain View for northern California.

Whitney, confirming a Wall Street Journal story, said the job reductions would leave AOL with a work force of 19,000. Whitney said 100 of the people being laid off would be offered the opportunity to relocate.

The Associated Press

Independent of AOL's regular online service, launches today as a free preview, with a yet-to-be-determined subscription fee starting Feb. 14.

"Online personals powered by instant messaging are a natural next step in the evolution of online dating services," said Steven McArthur, executive vice president of AOL Messaging.

As on any online personals site, users will be able to post profiles of themselves in hopes of attracting a match. They can also search for specific mate traits and locations.

But instead of firing off an e-mail and waiting for a response, users can communicate via instant messaging, provided the profiled person is online.

Other personals sites offer real-time messaging services, but those seeking romance must be running the software in order to be identified as available.

With 50 million active users, AOL Instant Messenger is the largest such service.

And its members spend on average four hours online each day, making it more likely someone will be available, McArthur said.

Usernames can be linked to pseudonyms, so that the identities are not revealed to strangers until all participants feel comfortable with doing so, McArthur said.

Initial notifications will be done discreetly, he added.

"You want to be cognizant of the fact that the user may be in a situation where they don't want everyone around them to know either," he said.

"There's a very fine line to be tread there. I think we've done a good job."

AOL is jumping into a growing and lucrative market.

Consumers spend more money on personals and online dating than any other content on the Internet, according to the Online Publishers Association. U.S. consumers spent $214.3 million on personals in the first half of 2003, up 76 percent over the same period in 2002.

The regular AOL online service will continue to offer a separate personals service through its partnerships with, another online personals site.

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