Didn't need to be pay
BG (Before Gore) and public internet access.
I used to run a Bulletin Board System (BBS) thus the /. handle.
AmigA 2000/3000. Cnet software, with 6 phone lines coming in.
It was a Chat board, and the most popular thing around to those
who knew of modems. blatant yet innocent flirting was rampant
and the most fun.
It cost me thousands of bucks (a lot), I not only provided it free to all,
I condemned the pay sites and would provide what they did (downloads)
just to bug them.
In my experience people frequented the BBS's and chats sites because they were
looking to meet others, and/or something to do. I provided that for both myself as well
as the others (users).
We (my site and other BBS's) would have coffies (sic), "ice cream socials" and
spontaneous gatherings. Everybody wanted to know who was behind the handle,
and posts. Costing 10 cents a minute for long distance, BBS's were mostly local
(a very few PC Pursuit'ers)
My board saw three weddings, one groom being a phone phreaker from England
who met a girl on my board (west coast, USA). I have a son I often claim cost me
$280 the cost of my first 2400 baud modem and many other romances as
others were able to meet.
BBS's were dating sites, just not called that. It's said that "there's someone for
everyone", I've seen some very odd partnerships and can say yes it's true.
-Not known for my writing, which in this case sad. Those BBS days are still some of the best days of my life.