Internet users looking for love this holiday season will have another option when it comes to online dating as AOL rolls out a new personals site that leverages its Instant Messenger service.

AOL's new site will allow internet users to create a personal profile, search for a mate and email them or send them an instant message over the company's IM software. A preview of the site, which was up today, said that AOL would be offering a free trial of the service but it was not clear how much it will cost after the trial period expires.

AOL's further foray into the online dating world — which it already participates in through a partnership with, offering a dating service for AOL members — gives it a way to derive money from its free IM service. Online dating is a crowded field, however, with players like Yahoo, Match and others jostling for online lovers.

The incentive seems clear: online dating has become one of the most popular paid activities on the web, with over 16.3 million people visiting online dating sites in 2002 according to Jupiter Research. What's more, online dating service providers raked in an estimated $313m (£180m approx) in revenue in 2002, according to the researcher, and are expected to net $642m (£350m) by 2007.

While AOL has been looking to bump up its revenue with the expansion of paid membership services, will also give it an opportunity to reap revenue from non-AOL members.

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