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.
And with Covid-induced lockdowns, dating apps are more popular than ever. Last March, Tinder made 3 billion swipes worldwide. Dating apps have also adapted to new lockdown measures by introducing video chat features.
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. Of course since that's less of an option now under Covid-19 restrictions, you can also use Match's own video-chatting features to speak with your date before you meet them in person.
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 'Match Badge', awarded by women to men they've matched with to help recognise users who are friendly, honest, and basically not creepy.
Plus a 'Zen Mode' option only lets people who match your criteria contact you.
Another popular online dating service is eHarmony, which also has a free-to-download app though charges a subscription to actually use it. And like Match.com, eHarmony now also has a Video Date for premium members.
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, it has helped create over 2 million successful relationships over the past 21 years in over 125 countries.
You can browse matches and send 'Smiles, Icebreakers, & Greetings' and respond to the first message for free as a part of the Basic plan.
But for stronger search features and unlimited messages you'll need to pay. The Premium membership is available in 6, 12, or 24-month terms. The longer you commit the less you pay per month.
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 different subscription tiers if you opt for a paid membership. These tiers include: Tinder+ (from £4.32/month), Tinder Gold (from £6.48/month), and the new Tinder Platinum (from £8.10 per month), which launched towards the end of 2020. 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 a web browser version if you want to get away from your phone for a bit.
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 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. OkCupid Premium lets you do things like remove ads, see who's liked you, get read-receipts on your messages, or browse the site incognito. See all paid features here.
Her is a dating app created specifically with LGBTQ+ women in mind with over a million downloads on the Google Play Store.
Unlike other dating apps, Her aims to build a community by sharing LGBTQ+ news and promoting events that would allow you to meet others in person more organically.
The app is free if you want to view profiles, match, message, view events and join communities, but like other dating apps you can also opt for a Premium membership, with prices starting at £9.49/$14.99 per month.
Her Premium, available in Gold and Platinum tieres, offers an enhanced experience where you can remove ads, see who's liked you, browse privately, gain unlimited swipes and more.
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 the option to see who's liked you, hide personal information, start video calls 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.