Q&A: University shut down our social network

British students learned a few real-life lessons this week, as the social network they created generated five million hits before being forced offline by their university.

Creator Rich Martell was fined £300 by University College London for bringing the institution into “disrepute” and has shut down his site to ensure he’s allowed to graduate, but the furore has only helped draw investors to flirting website FitFinder.

In an interview with one of his fellow FitFinder founders, Liam Fahy explains why universities must support entrepreneurs – and why developers need to show some responsibility, too.

Q. How exactly does the site work?

The site is based on spotting an attractive boy or girl and anonymously posting the location of where you saw them and a description of what they looked like. There is also the added functionality of commenting on each post.

There is a different network feed for each university and there is also the ability to filter the posts by location to find any ‘fittys’ near you. It runs as its own social network, but we do have a Facebook fan page.

Q. When will it be up and running again? What changes can users expect once it’s back?

A.It will be back up and running when we can be sure that it will not further antagonise universities. We have the students’ support, as shown by the petition with over 6,000 signatures, but ultimately we want everyone’s support, including universities.

We are in the process of organising the creation of an iPhone app to improve the accessibility of the site and to encourage more users to use the website, with the idea to take it to several music festivals over the summer. We also hope to create a much more fulfilling user experience from FitFinder when it goes back up.

Q. Do you and the other founders find the university’s actions discouraging, or are you more encouraged by the positive feedback?

A.We can understand why the university was initially worried and felt like it needed to act, but at the same time users are frustrated that the website has been influenced by the universities’ disapproval.

This is why we are hoping to improve the site to make everybody happy. Although their actions may be seen as discouraging to entrepreneurs, it also highlights the responsibility of entrepreneurs in products or services they provide.

Q. There have been some comparisons to Facebook’s origins. Do you see yourselves continuing with FitFinder full-time, or will you be off to other jobs soon?

A. It is similar to Facebook in that they were both created whilst at university and both have been met with controversy regarding the universities’ disapproval.

Likewise, we have been extremely successful with over five million hits in the first month, but Facebook is the golden standard in social media, so we have a long way to go to ultimately be as successful.

Q. What sort of feedback have you had from potential investors?

A.We have had a lot of interest from lots of companies, ranging from venture capital firms to marketing companies and entrepreneurs. The vast majority of coverage has been very positive and shown support, not only for the ingenuity of the site but also for our right to keep the site up.

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