Not too long ago (last April) a new social media website for UK college students was created by a University College London (UCL) computer sciences student named Rich Martell, initially as a bit of a joke. But it’s no joke – FitFinder.com became an instant hit and students at universities all over England were soon clamouring to join.
Here’s the premise. You’re a college student spending a lot of time at the university library studying, trying to get your grades back up after an appalling first year of partying and debauchery. It’s a little difficult to concentrate though, because: a) you’re still spending too much time at the pub and you’re a bit hung over, and, b) there are so many hot (aka “fit”) blokes and birds around secretly checking each other out (no pun intended), but are too shy or whatever to do anything about it.
Never fear, FitFinder is here. A sort of Twitter meets Missed Connections Personal Ads forum. FitFinder allows students to express, and even contact, their library crushes online, in real time. If you “find a fitty” in the library you can anonymously post up a short description of them on your university’s FitFinder. You can describe yourself, and even provide a telephone number if you want to. Others in the library, including the targeted fitty, are able to comment on your post.
The sites became instantly popular. Rich’s inspiration came from his friends on his rugby team. “When we’re revising (that means “studying”) in the library we all text each other when we see an attractive girl. That planted the idea in my head for a website.” He set up sites for several other London universities – LSE, Imperial and King’s – as well as Oxford and Cambridge, with more planned to follow. Revenue was generated from the sites through running targeted advertising for local businesses, restaurants, nightclubs, etc., near the universities geared toward the students.
So this college student found the time to create and produce (while managing a full final year course load) an innovative new, highly popular website, that was successful and making money — something he was being groomed at great expense to do. You’d think the university would be supportive of this endeavour.
Nope. UCL was furious. It fined our boy Rich £300 for bringing the university into disrepute and informed him that non-payment of the fine could result in his degree being withheld. (I doubt that sort of thing happened to Mark Zuckerberg, who co-founded Facebook while at Harvard, and is now one of the world’s youngest billionaires. But then again, this ain’t England.)
Since its launch on April 24, FitFinder received over five million hits in four week’s time from students at over 50 different universities and attracted investors and advertisers interested in advertising to students in a highly targeted and efficient manner.
At the beginning of May, one week after launch, the Joint Academic NETwork (JANET), the UK’s education and research network, blocked FitFinder from UK university networks over issues with the perceived level of distraction offered by the site. (However, the ban was lifted within 24 hours following floods of complaints from students across the country.) Martell disagrees that FitFinder provides an unwelcome distraction for students. “It’s flattering to think that FitFinder is perceived as a threat to study time. But are students spending any more time on FitFinder that they would on, say, Facebook or Twitter? Not a chance.”
Sadly, FitFinder has since been temporarily taken down due to pressure from universities. If you go to its home page today (http://www.thefitfinder.co.uk/witnessthefitness) you’ll find the following message from its founder (“Dicky M”) saying, “Whilst we continue to develop the site to bring exciting new features to our users, we have been placed under increasing pressure to take the website offline by Universities. Subsequently we have decided to remove FitFinder BUT we hope this is only temporary.” This is followed by links to a petition to bring FitFinder back online “so we can be a nation of fitties once again” and also a BRING BACK FITFINDER Facebook Group.
Something tells we haven’t heard the last of this guy.