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Student forced to shut down FitFinder site

FitFinder logo

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 1 Jun 2010 at 14:54

An enterprising computer science student creates a social network for his friends, and it takes off, spreading across dozens of universities.

That might sound like the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, but it’s actually the tale of University College London student Rich Martell – who has been forced by his university to shut down his creation FitFinder.

Promising to let you "witness the fitness," the FitFinder system let students from UCL and more than 50 other universities post a quick status update when they happened to notice someone attractive on campus. That message is shared to other members, with some people discovering a mutual crush and eventually meeting up.

I’ve been approached by a lot of investors, as you can imagine, wanting to take this forward

Martell started the site while studying for his finals, as he and his friends used to send each other text messages when they spotted someone they admired. “It’s essentially the same as passing notes around a classroom, but on a more modern scale,” he told the BBC.

The site attracted five million hits in the month since its launch, but despite its success UCL asked Martell to shut it down. After he refused, the university fined him £300 for “bringing the college into disrepute”. If he doesn’t pay up, he risks not being allowed to graduate.

"UCL does not approve of or condone this site," a spokeswoman said, although she admitted FitFinder didn't run on UCL's servers and therefore the university had "no jurisdiction over the site".

“The fine UCL has given me is kind of harsh,” he told the BBC, saying he thought the UCL should instead be encouraging entrepreneurship.

Asked by the BBC if FitFinder was down for good, he said: “No, definitely not. As soon as I can get assurances that my degree is safe.”

More than 6,400 people have signed a petition to bring the site back. “I’ve also been approached by a lot of investors, as you can imagine, wanting to take this forward,” said Martell, adding that FitFinder will be improved to better protect privacy first.

While some have suggested that the situation shows a success like Facebook couldn't happen here in the UK, it's worth noting that Zuckerberg was forced to shut down his first site, Facemash, by Harvard while a student there, but restarted it with huge success - and arguably a better name.

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User comments

Pathetic

Ok somebody not attending the joint needs to start the site up again and tell the broken down old farts where to get off.

By omnisvalidus on 1 Jun 2010

Agreed

If this site takes off anything like FB, does Martell need a degree?

Or maybe let the site run, make loads of cash - then sue the Uni, he should have enough cash to get them to hand over his certificate.

It's not their site, it's not their servers & he's passed all his finals - what right have they to stop him setting up a site in his own time, hosted off of the uni network?

By greemble on 1 Jun 2010

tell them to p*ss off

By baileytech on 1 Jun 2010

That fine must be illegal. It's not on college servers. It's a personal website isn't it?

By TimoGunt on 1 Jun 2010

Ftw? How!!!?

UCL will now be in most students bad books if they don't allow this student his certificate.

Mind you - he's now got more publicity to get real investors behind his project!!

By nicomo on 1 Jun 2010

It just doesn't seem like any of UCL's business. I don't see where they're getting their jurisdiction to fine him from.

If it's really that indecent the police can actually deal with it.

By steviesteveo on 1 Jun 2010

What can I say...

Nothing like a University that encourages free thinking, entrepreneurship, creativity and a good sense of humour...

So that would be Kings College or Imperial College then...

By all4nothing on 2 Jun 2010

“bringing the college into disrepute” - Could be he was using uni logos or branding. Still at £300 even the uni doesn't value its reputation much.

The site is a touch puerile, with a little 'organised stalking' thrown in for good measure, but hey, dumber sites have made millions.

By davidsoap on 2 Jun 2010

divorce rate goes up

Wow, what a great idea for a web site. All that then needs to be applied is locality for the wider world i.e. home town & work place then the UK divorce rate would sky rocket!

By DaChimp on 2 Jun 2010

Epic

This whole thing is epic, the site sounds great and clearly Martell has his head screwed on. Investors aswell? Maybe this isn't the last we hear about FitFinder.

By Jah_Cure on 2 Jun 2010

It's a real shame that thefitfinder is down but I've found a pretty cool alternative called http://www.spotacutie.co.uk which even allows pictures.

By rupeebux on 4 Jan 2011

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