When did online dating begin

Believe it or not the concept of online dating has been around longer than you think.

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.

In between, the social acceptance of personals has waxed and waned with the times.

"Advertising for a husband or wife has always attracted criticism and the people who did it were always thought of as failures in some way.

However advertising like this has a long and unbroken history, and was used by many people with some success," Cocks said.

From shameful to bohemian and cool It only took a few decades after the invention of the modern newspaper in 1690 for the new medium to become a way for people to meet in Britain.

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.

If a match resulted, it is unlikely that you boasted the fact to your friends, Cocks said.

"You probably wouldn't talk about it if you were very respectable," he said.

The personals sections of those 18th century newspapers were also useful for gay men and women to meet lovers, back when homosexuality was still illegal (it remained so in the UK until 1967).