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Some experts see a nascent trend with growth potential, especially during tough economic times. "The more mobile we get, the more isolated and lonely people are," says Anthony Centore, a therapist with Thrive Boston, a counseling center in Cambridge, Mass. Many, especially in the younger generation, use the Internet to stay connected to friends – old and new. "But we are made for in-person contact," says Mr. Centore, "and that's what people will seek out, particularly at high emotional times such as the holidays."

A desire to avoid the loneliness they felt a year ago after they moved from California and Texas to the Seattle area led Net-savvy, tech-sector workers Amanda and Stephen Richardson to use Craigslist this year. "Thanksgiving was especially bleak," she writes in an e-mail, "so much food and no one to share it with. I vowed not to have that happen again."

Over this past year she has used Craigslist to carefully widen her circle of friends. "It's panned out well," she says, adding she has found many with similar interests. But she has run into the same problem as last year as the holiday season looms. Her new friends already have local family commitments.

She posted on Craigslist and through it opened a dialogue with a family of three, new to the area. They decided not to come, but she does have at least one committed guest from the ad. "Yea!" she says.

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