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Free Internet Dating - How it All Started Free or Paid

The history of free internet dating is fairly recent but is being enthusiastically embraced by more and more young adults who have grown up with a mouse in their hand.
Chat rooms
One of the early ancestors of free internet dating was the chat room. Many of the original chat room sites are no longer extant, but while they were popular, there was a great deal of competition to get individuals to come to one chat room or another. Some of the groups became large enough to be unwieldy. There were often restrictions about age for those who could enter, which made it even more attractive to the younger set as well as those who found enjoyment out of being somewhere that was age restricted. Once you entered one of these chat rooms though, there may not have been much to do, since there was not usually a theme to the site.
Forums, particularly if they are associated with a specific subject are another ancestor of the free internet dating sites. Forums usually were developed around a specific subject area and people would post entries to develop a theme or to answer a question on the subject.  Some forums were large and unwieldy, others were monopolized by two or three people that sometimes didn't get along on any subject. The forums were sometimes associated with live chat rooms where people could converse on the general subject, or could go private to discuss a specific issue or just get better acquainted.
Paid sites
Paid sites were the obvious next step.  Although they are structured the same as the free internet dating sites, they required membership fees and or monthly listing fees in order to operate. The paid sites were popular as an idea and many people began to join in hopes of finding others in their own geographical region so they could form dating relationships.  As more paid sites developed, they suffered from thinning members in each one. It was often a case of members jumping from one paid site to another, hoping to find a romantic interest.
Free dating sites
Free internet dating sites were a logical next development in internet history, since as more people joined dating sites they became more profitable for advertisers to sponsor the sites.  Instead of relying upon members to pay the costs of running the web site, the owners of the site obtain advertising sponsors who promote their products and services on the popular sites. The more people that visit a site, the more anxious sponsors are to have product advertisements appearing there.
Social networks
Social network sites are different from the free internet dating sites generally in purpose. With a social network web site, people are less interest in actual dating and more in the online socializing, rather like an expanded chat room with the purpose of socializing with other people of like interests. This type of site is suitable for those who really aren't interested in developing a long term relationship with someone they find on the site, but more with just having a place to chat with others for no particular purpose. These sites are fun and lighthearted, much as would occur with a group of friends holding a party.