5 Ways to Flirt Online

It's Valentine's Day next week, and that means one thing: You have just a few days to get a gift for your loved one(s) or find someone to give a gift to. We can't help much with the former, but we can assist with the latter, or at least start you down the right path.

Finding a mate online doesn't have to entail filling out endless forms, dropping hefty fees at matchmaking services, or navigating the seven circles of social networking hell. It starts with flirting, which you can do cheaply, easily, and at a distance. Better yet: All the rejection happens offline, so you'll never have to suffer the embarrassment of seeing your best lines fall flat or learning that you have spinach stuck in your teeth.

Here are five of the right places to look for love--or something approximating it.

1. I'm in Like With You

If nothing else, I'm in Like With You is worth visiting just to check out one of the wildest, most innovative Web 2.0 interfaces you'll ever see. But using it to hook up with someone--or even describing how the site works--is a bit tricky. IILWY is essentially a photo-based social network built around an elaborate point system.

You earn points for logging in, posting photos, writing blog entries, and answering random yes/no questions. You spend points by playing auction-style games with other IILWY members, in which someone posts a question (such as "What's the hardest thing you've ever done?") and you bid for the chance to post a brief response. Each time you respond, it costs more points; at the end of the auction, the game's originator may contact the top bidders, assuming he or she wants to. (Hey, I said it was hard to describe.) Since the odds of connecting are slim, IILWY is really more about flirting--and showing off a truly whizzy interface--than finding true love. But it's fun to play with nonetheless.

2. Crush or Flush

This service is really meant to be used on a cell phone--even the design of the Crush or Flush Web site resembles a handset. The concept is brain-dead simple: You set up a brief profile and upload your picture, and then filter other profiles by gender, age, and location. When someone else's photo shows up on the site or on your phone, you indicate whether you have a crush on them or want to flush them. (Nobody said this was rocket science.)

If he or she turns out to have a crush on you, you can reply with a text message via the site without revealing your contact info. If he or she replies, then it's up to you to take it from there. Did I mention that this is not rocket science? Admittedly, it's hard to look your best in a postage-stamp-size picture that you probably took with a cell phone, so many of the photos look like mug shots (in fact, some of them may actually be mug shots). Be sure to crush with care.

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