Flirting, bit by bit

Nov. 5, 2010, 3:02 a.m.

“At McClatchy Hall: Male, Brunette. I’m sitting right across from you. 6’3″, a biscuit away from theater bills and one hot piece of MASS lovin! By the look of his bulging biceps and defined calves, I’d guess football? Oh, Romeo, who art thou?”

Posts like the one above can be seen on, the newest website to become popularized by Stanford students’ Facebook newsfeeds. The site was developed by Stanford M.B.A. graduate Evan Reas ’09 and two other coders, Prasanna Sankaranarayanan and Shubham Mittal. The three have been working together at Internet start-ups since January.

Flirting, bit by bit
(CAROLINE MARKS/The Stanford Daily) is an anonymous way for students to flirt with each other or spark connections through the Internet. All the user has to do is fill in the gender, hair color and location of his or her object of admiration, write a message and press the button labeled “Boom!” Then their “flirt” is posted in real time.

Reas, Sankaranarayanan and Mittal were able to further decrease barriers to online social interaction by allowing users to remain anonymous. Even if a student comments on a particular post, his or her only identifier is a nickname the website assigns, usually a type of fruit.

The idea came from a website Reas had seen while studying abroad in Oxford.

“Oxford University is even more isolated than universities in the United States because it’s tutorial based,” Reas said. “The only social interactions were at parties and at libraries. And when you’re talking to a stranger and really putting yourself out there, there is that fear of rejection where a lot of negative factors could come into play.”

Reas described a particular site he came across in England that relied on what he called “location-based flirting.”

“So for example, you could flirt in the library,” he said. “The dynamics were the same as the site we came up with. We wanted to improve upon that website, use different technology, in order to facilitate people interacting with others that they would not otherwise interact with.”

Once the initial idea was fleshed out, Sankaranarayanan was able to build the entire website in 12 hours. The founders have been adding features ever since.

The site was launched on Oct. 25 with a provisional two-day trial run.

“We knew a bunch of people on campus who we asked to be the initial power users to get the content going,” Reas said. “For the first two days, the content really was only from the power users. But after those initial 48 hours, the site just took off. There was a large-scale diversity of users, mostly due to Facebook.”

Reas, Sankaranarayanan and Mittal do monitor the comments users make. Because of a concerned e-mail, they have also added an abuse button, which users can use to tell the moderators why they think a particular post should be deleted. And if the user has a Stanford e-mail address, he or she has the power to delete any post that seems offensive.

Letting the University community moderate the content seems to be working.

“In general, we’ve had about 50 positive comments and one concerned comment made before we made the security changes.”

Buzz about the site has traveled fast. More than 50 schools have expressed interest in having their own campus version of, but the creators are hesitant to allow those schools unsupervised access.

“We don’t want to be totally open,” Reas said. Keeping the site “high-quality and complimentary is really important to us. We don’t want it to turn into a creepy place where non-university students leave negative comments.”

The site has become an almost overnight sensation, with some days seeing hundreds of “flirts” posted. But even with the amount of success and new users the site has garnered, Reas, Sankaranarayanan and Mittal stand firm on their goal for the site.

“We don’t want it to become a FML and a MLIA where people use it as the place they get entertained everyday,” Reas said, referring to similarly viral sites. “We hope people make meaningful connections through this site. We want it to facilitate communication and just get people to talk to each other.”

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