20 years ago, the idea of online dating came to fruition when Match.com launched its first website. Fast forward to the present day and online dating is one of the most popular ways of meeting new people, with millions of people using dating apps and websites every day.
In fact, half of all single people now use dating apps and sites, and one in five relationships begin online. It's no surprise, then, that there are now hundreds of dating sites to choose from, and that's not even considering the wealth of apps that have appeared since Tinder rose to popularity.
To help you pick one that's best for you, read on for some of the best dating sites and apps to get you started.
Bumble is a lot like Tinder in that it's a free app-only dating service that's based first and foremost on looks, and even the UI is very similar - all of which makes sense once you know that it was created by a former Tinder executive.
Unlike Tinder though, Bumble lets the women make the first move. It has the same swipe-to-like system but only female users can initiate conversations. If that doesn't happen within 24 hours of a match, the chat option will disappear - and similarly the recipient only has 24 hours to reply to that first message. For same-sex couples, there's no restriction on who messages first.
You can link your Instagram and Spotify accounts up to show off your taste, though you can only add photos to your profile from Facebook or direct from your phone.
Bumble is free to use, but there is a paid tier which lets you see who's already liked you, re-match with expired matches, or get unlimited extends so matches don't time out. There's also a separate in-app currency that you can use for 'SuperSwipes' - but we've happily used the app without ever feeling the need to pay for either.
In addition to dating, there's also Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz, which use the same UI to help you find friends or business connections respectively.
Hinge has changed a bit over the years. It started out with a focus on helping people to find connections through people they already know: recommending friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends, based on your Facebook connections.
Its focus has shifted though, and it's now a more full-featured Tinder/Bumble competitor that stands apart from those two thanks to offering slightly more detailed profiles - a welcome mid-ground between barebones Tinder profiles and in-depth dating sites.
You add photos to your profile from Facebook, Instagram, or your phone, but also have to offer answers to a few pre-written questions. There are loads to choose from, ranging from 'My last meal would be...' to explaining the story behind one of your photos, and they all offer hooks for the start of a conversation with a match.
When you sign up you also have the option to fill in a few extra details, like your politics, religious beliefs, family plans, attitudes to drugs and alcohol, and more. Not all of these have to appear on your profile, but they feed into the algorithm, which seems to offer much better matches than rival apps.
Each day Hinge will also suggest one particularly good match for you, and even lets you know who's liked you - you can even get a notification every time you get a Like.
There is a paid tier, but we can't quite see why you'd opt for it - it mostly makes it easier to see who's liked you, gives you more advanced preference options around religion and attitudes to kids, but the free app does a good job of this already. It does let you talk to dating experts in the app for advice though, in case that appeals to you.
We've already mentioned Match.com – it was the first and is now the most popular online dating site in the world. It comes with a free-to-download app for iOS or Android in addition to the browser-based website, but to actually match with people you'll need to pay.
It's not cheap either - you can pay as much as £29.99/$29.99 for a single month, though the monthly cost drops dramatically if you're willing to commit to multiple months in advance.
You'll just need to create a profile, though compared to most apps this is much more detailed, and the more you fill in the more likely you are to find the right match. You can browse through the site using various search criteria to filter profiles out, and find matches that are nearby using the Around Me feature, which lets you know whether there are any fellow Match.com members in your current location.
There are also singles events by Match.com that mean you can meet other users face-to-face in a safe and secure environment.
Security is a big focus on the site, which alone might make it worth paying for. You can browse 'incognito' so that people can only see your profile if you already like them, or automatically block messages from profiles that don't match your criteria. There's also a 'Super Match Badge', awarded by women to men they've matched with to help recognise users who are friendly, honest, and basically not creepy.
Tinder is responsible for the boom in dating apps, and while it was originally best know for hook-ups, these days just as many people use it to find lasting relationships.
Tinder matches couples primarily based on their physical attraction to one another, so all you really have to fill in on your profile is a short (optional) bio and a few photos. You can also link up Instagram and Spotify if you want to share a bit more.
You'll see other Tinder users who fall within a specified age range and gender, and are within a certain distance of your location. If you like the look of someone, you simply swipe right. If they swiped right too, you're a match! You can then chat via the messaging system. If there's a big downside compared to other apps, it's that the algorithm doesn't seem to do much to pair you with the best matches, so you'll probably spend at least as much time swiping left as you do swiping right.
Tinder is free to download and use, though there are two different paid tiers you might want to consider. Tinder Plus lets you change your location (useful for swiping abroad ahead of a holiday), hide ads, rewind mis-swipes, and gives you a few free Super Likes and Boosts (which promote your profile for 30 minutes). It also gives you unlimited Likes each day - the base app caps you every 12 hours (though that cap is high enough for most anyway).
Then there's Tinder Gold, which gives you all of the above plus lets you see who's already liked you and gives you unlimited swipes on the algorithmically chosen 'Top Picks' for you each day. Check out our full guide to Tinder if you want to know more about the various paid features.
Tinder is available to download for free on iOS or Android, but there's also now a web browser version if you want to get away from your phone for a bit.
Another popular online dating service is eHarmony, which also has a free-to-download app though charges a subscription to actually use it. You can browse matches and send 'Icebreakers' for free, but if you want to exchange messages you'll have to cough up.
You'll start by taking a relationship questionnaire that helps the matching system get to know you (and is supposedly designed to help you get to know yourself, too, which should help you create a better profile).
Once you've answered enough questions and filled out your profile, the system will provide you with matches that it recommends based on your preferences and personality traits - hopefully finding you people you're more likely to form a long-term connection with.
According to eHarmony, there are more than 600,000 married couples that met through the site, which means an average of 438 people get married every day as a result of an eHarmony match.
Costs start from £12.95/$26.95 per month (but go much higher if you only pay for one month at a time).
If you like the sound of comprehensive online dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony but don't want to spend a lot on monthly fees, you might like to take a look at OkCupid.
Just like those other sites you'll have to fill in a detailed profile and answer questions to help determine your personality, politics, religion, and more, but you don't have to pay a penny. You can use it online through the website, or through the app, which also features a simplified version of the system built for Tinder-esque swiping.
OkCupid is totally free to use in its entirety but there are also more advanced paid options if you want a bit more control. There are multiple paid tiers, which let you do things like remove ads, see who's liked you, get read-receipts on your messages, or browse the site incognito.
Happn is a free dating app that offers something a little different to Tinder, Bumble, and their ilk.
At first it might seem similar, and the stripped back profiles are much the same as what you'll find on rival apps. What's different is how you find matches: instead of simply swiping through a stack of people, you're shown a list of other Happn users that you've crossed paths with, whether it's on the way to work on in your favourite café.
It might sound a little creepy at first - we get it - but no-one else actually gets to access precise location data for you, just a rough indication of the area where you both walked past one another. You can also see how many crossed paths, to help you get an idea if someone was just passing through, or if you might live or work near one another.
As with most free dating apps, there's also a premium tier. This gives you super likes (here called 'Hellos'), along with the option to see who's liked you or browse invisibly.
These days most dating sites and apps offer same-sex options, but understandably plenty of LGBT people still prefer apps designed directly with them in mind.
Of those, Grindr is still by a long way the biggest - and most infamous. Designed for guys who want to meet other guys, it's an app for iOS and Android that helps match you with other guys nearby.
It's free to use, though there's a paid option with a few extra features like read receipts, a discreet app icon in case you're not out, and unlimited Blocks and Favourites - along with removing ads.
The focus with Grindr tends to be firmly on hook-ups, but finding something more serious isn't out of the question.