Drake Martinet and Stacy Green were half asleep in bed this Valentine's Day when their phones exploded with a mass of e-mails, texts and tweets congratulating them on their impending nuptials. Friends had heard the news through some unlikely sources that morning: Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and other websites.
Most couples' marriages don't make a HuffPo headline: The San Francisco pair gained momentary Internet fame because Mr. Martinet, 27, had engaged in some inventive proposing. At 6:20 a.m., he'd arranged to have a gloriously nerdy infographic posted on AllThingsD.com, a technology website where he is an associate editor, and on Mashable, where Ms. Green is head of marketing and communications.
The long, scrolling infographic calculated that the two were, mathematically speaking, soulmates, and ended with a kicker: "Stacy, will you marry me?"
Moments after the proposal was posted, the couple's phones were buzzing with wishes, including one from Mr. Martinet's high school English teacher. Only Ms. Green hadn't seen the infographic, so her husband-to-be pulled out his iPad and showed her his handiwork.
"Was the easiest engagement announcement ever," Mr. Martinet tweeted later that day. "No licking stamps."
Every week brings new avenues for men looking to propose creatively, from flash mobs and choreographed numbers posted to YouTube, to elaborate ruses planned with the help of wily proposal coaches. The Internet proposal is substantially geekier, and yet fitting for those already steeped in social media. Men are now using apps, memes and even banner ads to pop the question, although many still get down on one knee to deliver the ring. Women are digging it: "I loved it. It was extremely romantic and I was touched by Drake's thoughtfulness and creativity," said Ms. Green, 29.
"My sister said she saw it on a bunch of friends' Facebook updates. My younger brother was fascinated by the number of shares on the Mashable post and asked if I knew the 10,000 people who shared it."
While many argue that popping the question online is surely more thoughtful than burying the ring in dessert, others wonder about the increasingly broadcasted nature of the act.
"They're going more and more public. I wonder, what's next?" said Alison McGill, editor-in-chief of Toronto-based WeddingBells. (A reader viewing Mr. Martinet's proposal on Mashable offered up a clue: "Hope she gives her answer in the comments.")"While it's fun and it's clever, this is another example of how we're becoming depersonalized," Ms. McGill said. "There's a time in life when face-to-face and between two people is an important thing."
Others grumble that online proposals are showy, putting pressure on women to say yes, or face the wrath of the Internet trolls. "Some things should be held sacred, or nominally so, and if not sacred, maybe they simply shouldn't be used to pimp out page views," Jen Doll wrote in a critical piece on The Atlantic Wire.
Internet proposers vehemently disagree with that stance. "People who think that it was some cabal for page views, they just are missing the point," said Mr. Martinet, who noted that his online proposal did attract plenty of wedding planners, shilling their services. "You know what we got out of it? A lot of wonderful congratulations from all of our friends and from people we hadn't heard from in years."
He "never really worried about the public reaction, positive or negative," partly because he'd actually proposed in person the night before at a restaurant. "And then I said, 'Hey, by the way, as long as you don't have an objection, I've got this small, public thing planned for tomorrow.' At the time it was still a small thing."
Mr. Martinet also suggested his fiancée call her family before it all went viral the next day: "I had a feeling they would all like to know that she'd gotten engaged prior to the Internet knowing."
Len Kendall was equally successful in his digital proclamation. The Chicago digital director proposed to his girlfriend Katie Holland on Buzzfeed last week, posing with a ring box over a Lolcats meme that read "Katie, I love you so much. Will you marry me?" Readers were asked to leave their own memes in the comments section, "persuading her to say yes and making Len the happiest man in the whole internets."
Ms. Holland, a tech-savvy social media supervisor, discovered the game within five minutes of its posting, while at work. Mr. Kendall let the memes pile up for an hour, and then invited her to meet at Graue Mill, a local heritage site, where he pulled out the ring. "Basically the Buzzfeed thing was a way to get attention so that I could ultimately ask her in person."
Ms. Holland insists she would have said yes "even if he asked me in McDonald's over a Big Mac." She's making a photo album of all the memes, which came from friends and strangers alike and played on themes as diverse as the Occupy Movement and Angelina Jolie's infamous Oscar leg – Mr. Kendall floating in all of them, ring box in hand.
"The whole purpose of inviting people to your wedding is to share that moment with them. Len just shared it with the Internet," said Ms. Holland, 26.
Her parents, while in on the plot, were confused.
"Explaining my method was challenging because they had never heard of the term 'meme' before," said Mr. Kendall. "I tried my best to guide them on how to contribute to the fun, but ultimately they stuck to just simple sharing via their own Facebook pages."
Was he worried that trolls would tear his magic moment to shreds? "I was submitting myself to the will of the Internet and I assumed I would see a lot of negativity. To my surprise, people were overwhelmingly supportive," he said.
"The few people who did criticize were quickly pounced on by my supporters," said Mr. Kendall, who admits he encouraged more than 180 friends to build "loving and friendly memes" a week in advance.
As for the future of Internet proposals, "The world continues to change and people will leverage their creativity and remix things in new and sometimes strange ways to express themselves," he said. "The sacred part of marriage is staying together faithfully for years and years. The proposal is irrelevant in the long run."