Pet-Loving Atheist Seeks Green Geek

Forget tall, dark and handsome. Try geeky, wealthy and Wiccan.

As the online dating marketplace continues to flourish, up sprout more and more sites that cater to nearly every belief system, hobby and lifestyle.

According to a February 2008 study conducted by JupiterResearch, a media research firm, the online dating and personals market will increase from $900 million in 2007 to $1.9 billion in 2012.

"Two to three new online dating services open every day," said Joe Tracy, publisher of the Online Dating Magazine. "It's so hard to compete. The last seven, eight years, the same people have been at the top of the bubble and no one has been able to break into that."

Recognizing that it's difficult to go head to head with the heavy hitters in the industry, such as Yahoo Personals, Match and eHarmony, Tracy said companies increasingly seek success by launching niche online dating services.

Are you a hardcore sci-fi fan? Trek Passions might be for you. Interested in meeting other atheists? Try Free Thinker Match. Hung up on horse lovers? Maybe you'll find Mr. or Ms. Right at Equestrian Cupid.

According to Internet traffic monitor Hitwise, the top-five dating sites enjoy about 46 percent of the market share. But literally hundreds of niche sites populate the rest of the online dating world, including services for vegetarians, farmers, plus size singles, geeks, golfers, Wiccans, bikers, the goth community, the incarcerated and the very wealthy.

Founded more than four years ago, the Passions Network has built its business model around supporting niche communities. The network includes 110 networks and nearly 800,000 members.

"The whole concept of the network is that it should be easier to break the ice," founder Michael Carter said.

With a couple hundred thousand members, the Large Passions site is the most active and popular, but other quirky sites also seem to be doing well.

Just this summer, Carter launched sites for lovers of pirates, horror flicks, guns and even mullets.

Jim Houran, a clinical psychologist and expert on the psychology of compatibility and online testing, said that niche sites are so popular because they allow people to immediately filter for the qualities and beliefs that are most important to them.

"Niche sites really do speak to deal makers or deal breakers," he said. "They're such strong things that people start by screening those out."

In addition to allowing people to immediately identify others who share baseline beliefs or interests, niche sites make it easier for people to talk about the qualities that define them, he said.

Jennifer Lahotski, a 26-year-old who works for a Los Angeles-based comedy Web site, joined Millionaire Match two years ago after a friend recommended it. She said that she isn't looking for a husband but chose the site because she wanted to find others who share her interests and level of achievement.

"I want someone more together -- without credit card debt and student loans .... people who have the same interests as I do," she said, adding that she enjoys fine dining and travel.

She isn't a highly active member; she doesn't pay the monthly fee that allows users to e-mail other members, and she has had only about five dates through the site. But she said that it has been a good way to meet people similar to her in the Los Angeles area.

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