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Why Facebook never happened in the UK. The case of FitFinder. (oonwoye.com)
91 points by OoTheNigerian on Dec 20, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

Slightly OTT headline. Something on a near FB scale actually did happen in the UK one Internet generation ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friends_Reunited#History

Friends Reunited was launched in 1999 and was the UK's "Facebook before Facebook" (or, more realistically, the UK's Classmates.com) but oriented around people you'd attended school with rather than all friends in general (though you could look up anyone by name). By the start of 2002, it had 2.5m users. By the end of 2005, 15m. It then sold for £120m ($208m at the time) before Bebo and MySpace (and much later, FB) ate its lunch.

All that aside, the site he mentions that lets you note "crushes" sounds a lot more pleasant than one where you rate "fitties." And one university enacting an idiotic policy does not a bad startup scene make..

Completely agree, friendsreunited was massive, and if they hadn't taken their eye off the ball, they could have been what facebook is today in the UK.

Their main mistake was to charge users for membership if you wanted to communicate with other users. I believe it was £10/year. Even when facebook came on the scene, they continued charging users.

(Yes, charging users directly, however much 37signals etc trumpet it, is sometimes a very short sighted bad thing to do, particularly when free competitors arrive as they invariably do if you have a reasonably sized market).

So facebook did happen in the UK. Plenty of startups happen in the UK.

That's also one reason classmates.com never caught on in the U.S. They charged to do anything interesting on their site (plus it was ugly).

One thing to take away from all of these examples is that just having an "idea" isn't enough. You have to execute it. If all you needed was an idea, Friendster would've been successful and not MySpace... and then Facebook.

I agree about the charging. Even though the fee may have been small it was enough to dissuade me from using that site to any significant extent.

Slightly OTT headline.

I would call it copy-writing :). On a serious note, it concerns much more than UCL. There is quite a lack of support for young startups especially in UK Universities (First hand experience). With the amount of tech talent UK has' this kind of incident shows why a lot of big things are not coming from this end. I just wish the person that made this call would be called out by a major publication.

All that aside, the site he mentions that lets you note "crushes" sounds a lot more pleasant than one where you rate "fitties."

I am sure he would have got round to sorting that out. Of course removed it from .co.uk. too.

So an Internet Generation is ten years?

From the article linked within the linked article: "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."

So do I get this correct?

1) The service is not hosted at or by the university

2) The service does not seem to violate any of the university's trademarks


3) The university fines the student for £300

4) The university forces the student to shutdown the service

Maybe the culture here at my university is somewhat different - but for me this is a rather large WTF. Based on which facts should a university have the options to fine a student or to shutdown such a service?

And even then, if I was presented these options, I would take the third path: transfer to another university to finish my degree.

As an alum, I must say:

What the fuck, UCL?

UCL has shifted a little from it's original founder's views.

the presence of students while bringing a certain youthful air to the surroundings does detract from it's professional image as a successful media and marketing organisation

Could be a mad-with-power office within the uni that decided to try and intimidate a student. Universities usually have review boards about this sort of thing before actually taking action though.

I couldn't believe it when it was shut down. It spread like crazy across Edinburgh. I read an article saying that Richard Marttel wanted to go into bank programming. Why?

The title here is a bit misleading. It should be "Why FitFinder never happened at UCL". It's a bit much to tar all of the UK with the same brush as one University.

Is it just me or are most of the titles on HN lately becoming very misleading (I suspect linkbait)? Why do people upvote these?

(for the record, I've been a HN lurker for almost two years now)

I think it's a natural consequence of the site's increasing popularity combined with pg's constraints on new submissions. In particular the new page only has 30 spots and it's very easy at peak submission times to fall off. Whereas it used to take an upvote or two to make the front page, it now takes anywhere between 4 and 7 upvotes before you hit lots of people.

Your options (as a submitter) are either improve the content or improve the submission. Sometimes the latter is easier than the former, especially when it's your own material you're submitting.

Sounds a lot like Facemash, which certainly got Zuckerberg into trouble.

Aaron Greenspan might have a few things to say about Harvard's lack of tolerance towards student startups too...

I created a similar site before likealittle was launched and have been trying to promote it in Europe with a little success. It is: http://www.icusawme.com

It cuts me deep to see likealittle get so much more traction, I am starting to think it has a lot to do with cultural differences and differences on campuses. The US has a great campus based lifestyle which is not present in most other countries. The amount of different languages is a challenge as well.

> icusawme.com

Having a five syllable domain name with inconsistent spelling may also have something to do with it.

I definitely agree this may be a problem especially after comparing syllable count. It started out at http://icusaw.me before I realized the .me stuff was not a good idea.

Which do you think the lesser evil?

fitfinder.com :P

Seriously, though, I think that everyone feels the same way when he labours and pours his love into something only for another startup to come out, doing the same thing and get more attention.

Have to agree with this assessment. First time I tried to decipher it, the domain appeared to be a mildly self-destructive command aimed at a fellow called Icu.

icuucme.com would be better, although still a bit of a stretch. Great domain if anyone is starting a hide'n'goseek website!

This comes back to the issue that it is not about ideas, but execution.

And a big part of execution is getting distribution.

I thought everyone in the UK used Friend Face?

Why didn't Richard Marttel drop out of uni to do it anyway?

From the Guardian article Oo links to: Can he see this becoming a full-time profession?

"No, I've got a job in the city lined-up for me. This is only a joke."

I think Markus Frind has shown that you can make shedloads of money from lonely (or horny) hearts, but free dating is a narrower, more competitive niche than Facebook, and anonymous free dating is narrower still. You'd need a serious long term vision to turn early growth for that sort of service into something that will generate more lifetime value than a UCL degree...

So the reason Facebook never happened in the UK is that British hackers would rather get a finance job!

is it possible likealittle got inspiration from fitfinder?

I'm pretty sure it did. The founder, Evan, did an exchange in the UK shortly before coming back to the states and creating likealittle.

probably but if not, I imagine missed connections for a college crowd is hardly a innovative or unique idea. Another example of how important execution is.

He should have done what Zuckerberg did even without the threat. Drop out and work on it full-time.

At least, transfer to a friendlier university and take a leave of absence for as long as needed (like the Google guys).

Opportunities like this are far rarer than plentiful bachelor's (or even PhD) degrees . As an employer, I'd take him as a dropout with an impressive track record instead of any bachelor's graduate any day. In the eyes of an investor looking for great entrepreneurs, it is even clearly better to drop out in this case.

The reason it was big at UCL was that the main computer room has about 100 computers all within sight of each other.

A little note, if anyone ever posts anonymous comments about my physical appearance in public, even complementary ones, that are identifiable as referring directly to me, I will make it my mission to find out who they are and persecute them until they beg me to stop.

Just putting that out there.

the site probably never took off because 'fit finder' is inherently misogynistic and a little bit creepy?

I know Zuckerburg started facebook as a way to find girls but at least the name is more generic

Don't believe much of anything from TSN. It's based off The Accidental Billionaires, which in turn was based almost exclusively off Eduardo Severin's recounting of events. Given the role Severin has in the film, of the kind but naive kid who gets screwed by the evil genius, it's not hard to see that the portrayal of other characters might be similarly lopsided. Zuckerberg started facebook for the same reason most other people launch [successful] tech startups -- because it was interesting. He's been dating the same girl since before he launched facebook.


I just realized you might have meant that the initial idea of what facebook would represent to its users was a way to find chicks. That might be more likely, but I've never seen anything to suggest that's the case. I'd appreciate a source for that claim, if indeed there is a decent one.

>I know Zuckerburg started facebook as a way to find girls

No, that's the story from the movie. Zuckerburg started facebook because he wanted to make a startup.

I've not seen The Social Network but I swear I've read the 'he made it to find girls' thing elsewhere

He's had the same girlfriend from before Facemash to now. His stated reason for making Facebook was to make something. He made his WinAmp plugin for the same reason.

I'm glad to see it's not just me that had this reaction - sounds like a potential source of sexual harassment litigation which is probably why the university in question shut it down in case they were perceived to be complicit by allowing the service to keep running.

'fit finder' is inherently misogynistic and a little bit creepy?

Language barrier here. "Fit" doesn't sound so bad to me. Why is it that bad?

See The Streets "Fit But You Know It": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPbNMLwmxYk

"Fit" almost exactly == "hot"

I see. It understood it like you were looking for someone that fits you. It didn't occur to me it could mean you're looking for someone that is fit. But I thought "fit" could be applied to males also.

It could. However the point is that the word is definitely sexual in meaning, there is only one activity that the person is being described as "fit" for.

The issue here isn't one of gender, but that the public space is not an appropriate place for making sexual comments about strangers, just as most people don't think that wolf whistling at people in the street is appropriate. This amplifies that effect by putting it online, and therefore the "wolf whistle" is permanent and world-wide.

Thank you for the explanation.

OTOH, the comment by djhworld still confuses me. The bad outcome wouldn't be misogyny but stalking or something like that. "Misogynistic" implies it's directed against females.

I suppose my initial comment was a bit flippant, after all women would have to sign up to 'fitfinder' as well to receive attention from the men.

The relevant term here is "fitty"

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