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That is, online dating sites use the conceptual framework of a "marketplace metaphor" to help people find potential matches, with layouts and functionalities that make it easy to quickly browse and select profiles in a manner similar to how one might browse an online store.

Under this metaphor, members of a given service can both "shop" for potential relationship partners and "sell" themselves in hopes of finding a successful match.

Other sites target highly specific demographics based on features like shared interests, location, religion, sexual orientation or relationship type.

Online dating services also differ widely in their revenue streams.

Over 50% of research participants in a 2011 study did not view online dating as a dangerous activity, whereas 43% thought that online dating involved risk.

Because online dating takes place in virtual space, it is possible for profile information to be misrepresented or falsified.

While some sites conduct background checks on members, many do not, resulting in some uncertainty around members' identities.

For instance, some profiles may not represent real humans but rather they may be fake "bait profiles" placed online by site owners to attract new paying members, or "spam profiles" created by advertisers to market services and products.

However, Sam Yagan describes dating sites as ideal advertising platforms because of the wealth of demographic data made available by users.

There are mixed opinions regarding the safety of online dating.

Some sites are completely free and depend on advertising for revenue.

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