By Sam Catania
Since Monday, over 1700 Stanford students have signed up for Link, a new website that allows users to anonymously enter the names of classmates they’re interested in and sends them an email if their crushes listed their name.. Students can enter up to three names per month, and the first batch of match emails will be sent this Saturday at 11:00 a.m. PST.
At least 120 student pairs have already been matched, according to the website creator Ishan Gandhi ’23.
“People will essentially fear the potential for rejection more than they value the potential for starting a relationship,” Gandhi said. “We’re essentially aiming to wipe out the need for expressing your unrequited love for someone with no chance of ever getting reciprocated.”
The mechanics of the site are relatively simple. A user enters their name, email, and the full names of up to three romantic interests. Once a month, they’ll receive one of three emails: that they’ve matched with someone (and that person’s name), that another (unnamed) student put their name down as someone they have an interest in or that they, unfortunately, had no matches or students interested in them.
Questions of privacy
Gandhi told The Daily that Link is entirely private and secure.
“No human ever … looks at any of the responses or even who’s participated,” Gandhi said.
A post on Link’s Instagram claims they utilize “database encryption” and that the matching process is “entirely automated.” In a statement to The Daily, the Link team states it plans to “[contract] an external data protection officer to regularly validate [their] practices” in the near future.
Despite the new features, for many Stanford students, the site bears all too much resemblance to a previous site “Cardinal Crush,” which was plagued by privacy concerns.
“It could create a big hot mess,” Phillip Tran ’23 said. “I think Stanford Link should be more transparent about … how they’re running their algorithm, how they’re trapping, and how they’re storing information.”
Some students worry about the lack of email authentication, which would allow anyone to input another student’s email and write whatever three names they wanted.
“How does [Link] prevent a random person from impersonating someone?” Alix Cui ’23 said.
Cui decided not to use Link but ran an experiment with it.
“I had a friend … [submit] a false email with false names … we wanted to see if it went through or not. And it did go through.”
Cui says “some sort of authentication” will be needed in the future, and others agreed.
“I don’t think someone would take advantage of that,” said Hok.
Link wrote in a statement to The Daily that while the site does not yet verify each user’s email and identity, this feature has already been developed. It was excluded from the initial launch to remove “additional friction” from the signup process.
An alternative to ‘Stanford Missed Connections’ and Tinder
Gandhi told The Daily he is optimistic about Link’s future. In the past month, the company received pre-seed funding from an angel investor for an amount Gandhi was “asked not to share.”
Gandhi manages all operations of the company, while his significant other Emma Williamson ’23 helps with marketing. They are looking to expand the team as Gandhi plans to take time away from Stanford this year to pursue the project full time and as Link transitions into a mobile app.
“The plan is to expand to 100+ colleges this year,” Gandhi said. “Link is a lot more ambitious [than Cardinal Crush was] … we’re expanding across a lot of schools and a lot of pre-existing communities.”
Gandhi confessed that the site is “somewhat” of a game, but emphasized that Link is in part based on research by University of Chicago Professor Richard Thaler on loss aversion. He told The Daily that the site helps users “wipe out [the possibility] of losses completely” so that they can “make the optimal decision” in regards to who they’d like to express love for.
Gandhi says the site takes a different approach than the popular Instagram account Stanford Missed Connections, which provides a platform to students to post anonymous confessions or statements about classmates that they’re interested in.
Rather than just putting anonymous statements out there, Gandhi says Link can result in actual relationships forming while preserving the aspect of anonymity.
Gandhi also says Link approaches dating differently from other matching platforms like Tinder.
“Every dating app serves to connect you with strangers … what’s interesting about Link is that it functions in pre-existing communities, so you’re putting in the names of the people that you vaguely know, maybe you know really well,” Gandhi said.
The site also has a unique strategy to gain new users. If you enter the name of a student you’re interested in, Link gives you the option to enter their email address as well. If you do, the site will send that person an anonymous email telling them that “someone” is interested in them and provides them with the link so that they can possibly, well, Link.
Students agreed the emails were engaging.
“I think it’s a great way to catch someone’s attention,” said Hok.
Further, Gandhi told The Daily that Link is designed to linger.
“There’s this repeated element where you’re coming back every month. … Your matches accumulate, and the names you put in accumulate over time,” Gandhi said.
Users will also have the option of removing a name after some time before the next “round” progresses in a month.
Hoping to be the next Zuckerberg?
Gandhi, who also acts as a liaison between The Daily and the radio station KZSU, told The Daily he’s always been into entrepreneurship and business.
When asked about his inspiration for the site, Gandhi credits his freshman dorm, Soto, where he kept “hearing from friends about all the people that they developed crushes on, none of which were ever acted upon. And just think about what could have been.”
Tran thinks the majority of students are “just joking around” on the website; however, other users felt it could lead to some real relationships.
“There’s a better chance of getting a meaningful relationship out of [Link] than getting matched with a random stranger” said Hok.
Gandhi indicated to The Daily that he believes the Zuckerberg path –– taking some time off from school to work on a business –– is “well-traveled” and expressed little concern about the year-long rollout plan ahead. While it remains to be seen if Link will become the next Facebook, Ishan Gandhi is certainly on a quest to become Stanford’s next cupid.