In 1993, Matchmaker.com became the first online dating website, ushering in the new age of Internet dating. Since then, online dating has exploded becoming a $1 billion industry in America alone. Each year more than 1,000 new services open promising to match people in new and ever more convoluted ways. The founders of DateMySchool.com are hoping they have found the perfect recipe.
DateMySchool is an online dating service that allows college students to connect with one another based on their universities, colleges & departments. They have tasked themselves with the goal of connecting lonely, love-deprived students who would not normally meet due to their heavy course load or departmental separation.
“It is really difficult to meet people outside of your social and academic circle,” Eastern Michigan University student Kevin Knowles said. “You’re just too busy between school and work.”
Knowles’ concerns are quite common. Because of this, there has been a trend of online services catering to college students popping up in the last decade — most of which have failed to catch on. But, if DateMySchool’s sudden surge of popularity is any indication, they might have stumbled on that ever-elusive mix of buzz, usability and desire that will lead to long-term success.
DateMySchool.com went live in November 2010 exclusively for students of New York’s Columbia University. Within a week of their debut, the number of registered users surpassed 1,300, which is roughly 5 percent of Columbia University’s student population. In December 2010, DateMySchool.com expanded to include students from New York University. By February 2011, the Fashion Institute of Technology of State University in New York joined the fray and helped DateMySchool rocket up to 7,000 registered users.
Much of the buzz that lit the fuse on the DateMySchool.com bomb came from its exclusivity to prestigious New York based universities.
In a February 2011 New York Times article, N.Y.U. student Teresa Finney said, “The site is elitist, and all the better for it, DateMySchool is doing exactly what Facebook did in its early years.”
That same sense of exclusivity has been carefully built into the fabric of the DateMySchool.com interface. Users of the site are given the ability, and are encouraged, to choose not only whom they can see, but also who can see them, based on a number of criteria.
This type of explicit user privacy comes as a refreshing gust of wind in a world where technology behemoths like Google and Facebook encourage users to share as much as possible and in some cases actively restrict user controls.
DateMySchool.com is also one of the few online dating services that does not index its website for search engine optimization, which means your dating profile will not show up in Google search results. SEO is a common tool used by many websites around the world, such as the popular dating website OkCupid, to drive traffic to their sites. So, by avoiding using SEO, students on DateMySchool have the ability connect with their peers while maintaining almost complete anonymity.
DateMySchool.com’s granular user controls extend to the user’s ability to search for potential mates based on age, nationality, ethnicity and faith in addition to the aforementioned academic criteria.
All of this restriction and privacy might seem counterproductive to the task of finding a partner. But it actually benefits those who prefer to date based upon accomplishment, while allowing those with more romantic ideals to search for potential mates their preferred way.
It also benefits those who are searching for someone who will not be intimidated by their heavy course load, which is a common complaint from students in demanding academic programs.
“Sometimes guys can’t handle you not being able to spend time with them,” Sarah Varrichio, a recent EMU graduate, said. “It’s a juggling act and you need a guy who understands that school has to come first.”
DateMySchool.com might have begun with the premise of exclusivity and elitism, but much like Harvard Connection, which eventually became Facebook.com, the velvet rope has begun to sag.
“As time has gone on and DateMySchool has grown in popularity, exclusivity has become much less important,” Anna Ehrllich, the location manager for DateMySchool.com, said.
You shouldn’t worry that DateMySchool will be opening the floodgates; they still take pride in hand picking each school they give access to. Currently, DateMySchool.com is only available to 140 colleges and universities along the east and west coasts including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and Boston University.
While exclusivity might have taken a backseat, all users are still required to have an .edu email address to sign up, a stipulation that still allows alumni and faculty from the selected schools to sign up.
Many are applauding co-founders Jean Meyer and Balazs Alexa for their ingenious creation, but there are worries that by losing that exclusive edge, the 28-year-old Columbia University M.B.A. candidates might have alienated many of their early adopters.
Most recently, DateMySchool.com has opened up to eager students at EMU, Michigan State University, University of Michigan (as well as the Dearborn and Flint campuses), Western Michigan University, Central Michigan University and Washington State University. This expansion has helped the website surpass 20,000 registered users in just 8 months – which makes it seem as though the worries of alienation might be unfounded. It appears that Meyer and Alexa have found their way into the ever-progressive college demographic, which had not been successfully tapped since the earliest days of Facebook.
DateMySchool.com’s rapid growth and feverish popularity has recently allowed them to secure $500,000 in venture capital funding from a trio of private investors; namely CEO of Faively Transport and Faively Winery, Erwan Faively, Daniel Losantos of Losantos Real Estate and a third who wishes to remain anonymous.
Whether or not DateMySchool.com will be the savior of college romance that students have been clamoring for, has yet to be seen, but it is clear that at least for the moment, they have found something special.