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Almost everyone these days can name a couple they know that met on the Internet, though it wasn't so long ago that skimming the online personals for love was considered strange, even a bit desperate. Personal ads have a history going back at least 300 years, according to a new book on the subject entitled "Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column" (Random House Books, 2009).Internet dating is just the modern version of the first "matrimonial" agencies of the 1700s, which helped lonely bachelors search for wives through printed ads, said author H. Cocks, a history lecturer at the University of Nottingham, UK.

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The core demographic of those publicly "looking for love" has been turned on its head, with people settling down and marrying much later (if at all) in Western cultures.

Internet sites tend to favor older singles, many of whom turn to the technology after a divorce or traditional forms of courtship have failed, Cocks said."Someone from an Irish radio station asked me whether the essence of all Internet dating ads was 'Loser seeks Winner,'" he said, "but I think those opinions are really those of younger people, [such as] those under 30 who see no need for Internet dating.

Matrimonial agencies were big business there by the early 18th century, printing ads on behalf of men who paid the agency to recruit them a good wife.

Being single passed the age of 21 was considered almost shameful in that era, and the ads were often a last resort for the men who advertised and the women who read them.

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