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Over the last two months, fully half of the new users of have been under 30.

Nerve.com's personals service, which caters to 20-somethings, has 175,000 subscribers and is growing by 15 percent a month, its owners say.

Out of curiosity, he said, he signed up with an online personals service and posted his photograph -- an artsy profile shot in which he resembled a brooding Johnny Depp -- and described himself as ''passionate and sexy (and in great shape),'' someone who was ''working on not being an intimidating know-it-all.'' Mr. In just a day, he got e-mail responses from a dozen women.'' It was a great ego boost,'' he said.

Tjong, a 26-year-old associate at a major New York law firm, was coming off a breakup and wanted to play the field.

'' If I look for a Pottery Barn quilt, by the time I get to Page 11, they all blend together.'' According to Mr.

Some ambitious -- or just manic -- men and women play the services as if they were video games or e Bays-for-daters, where the goal is not so much acquiring the goods as simply playing to win. '' It could be just getting someone to write back to you, to meet or to fall in love with you, or it could be getting someone to go home with you on a particular night,'' Mr. Where older Americans are likely to see perusing the personals as a solo -- or downright lonely -- experience, people in their 20's are likely to make it a social event, like going to the mall.'' We call it 'man shopping,' '' said Shelly Parnes, a 28-year-old publicist from Queens, who recently placed her first ad.

I more or less just threw my profile out there to see if anyone would respond.'' Mr.

Farah quickly learned the first rule of the online personals game: '' Without a picture, nothing happens,'' he said.

In about a third of the cases, he said, the woman went home with him. Tjong's venture into hyperdating is indicative of the peculiar effect online personals have had on the social lives of many people in their early to mid-20's -- the first generation to pass through adolescence in a world with e-mail and instant messaging.

With few of the scruples older Americans have about putting their photographs and personal descriptions on the Web, this younger wave has found itself free to take advantage of what the Internet does best: matching supply and demand at lightning speed.

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