And every day, Haines said, he gets e-mail from happy users who have made new connections thanks to his site.“A lot of deaf people around the country are quite lonely.There are not many people they can be friends with that are deaf,” he said, particularly if they live outside big cities.

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Deaf Match is the older of the two sites, but not by much; it launched in 2001.

Founder Paul Haines says the site has nearly 4,000 members, including about 1,000 who pay $20 a month to be “deluxe” members.

Already, he said, three couples credit Deaf Match International with their weddings.

Web site developer Christiaan Marais wasn’t considering a new career when he started “He was trying to get back into the dating scene,” Marais said.

“We were talking about online dating, and I said, ‘You should try one of these sites.’ ” His father was reluctant, Marais said, because it’s hard to find other deaf users on the larger dating sites.

“I started doing research and I realized there’s a really big need for the deaf community to have this service. Why not have there be a place where I know that every person in here is at least deaf, hard-of-hearing, or can hear but has a vested interest in the deaf community.” In the first four months of operation, some 1,000 users have signed up — including Marais’ dad, who is still single, but now actively dating.

Currently, is free, but Marais plans to start charging a small membership fee in the future to support additional features and Web hosting costs.

At first glance, it may seem like just another set of niche online dating sites. Two small but growing sites devoted to dating for the deaf, both founded by children of deaf parents, now offer non-hearing singles their own place on the Internet to find love.

But the recent explosion of online dating — about 17 million people at least peeked at a dating site last year, according to estimates — has created a cottage industry of smaller sites hoping to draft off the success of market monster