Oct 23, 2020 | LIFE | By Joshua Kalenga | Photo by Sidney Derzon & Photo courtesy of Joshua Kalenga

Imagine being able to tell your crush how you feel without the fear of being rejected. In a sense, that is the mission of Link — a website founded at Stanford by sophomore Ishan Gandhi that could soon expand to colleges around the U.S.

The platform allows users to anonymously enter the name of a peer they’re interested in and notifies them if that person also enters their name.        

In a casual conversation over the phone, Gandhi told me that his inspiration for creating Link was born out of conversations in his first-year dorm in which friends talked about how social pressures or anxieties would get in the way of expressing feelings for their peers.

“[Link aims] to break down the social barriers that prevent romantic initiation,” Gandhi said.        

Some college students would be excited at the prospect of making their romantic feelings known without any negative social consequences, as evidenced by the 2,400 Stanford students who have already signed up for Link.

However, others wonder if there is a beauty in the vulnerability that comes with risking romantic rejection that might be eroded by such a platform.

Gandhi told me that the latter sentiment has been expressed to him twice, “once by my dad, another by my girlfriend’s dad.” Perhaps it’s “a generational thing,” he noted. “If people think I’m wrong, they’re more than welcome to stay away from the platform and do things the old-fashioned way.”

Link enthusiasts may also argue that the missed connections that occur due to overthinking are a more pertinent issue than the suggestion that the platform degrades some subjective notion of beauty.

According to Gandhi, the most satisfying successes of the platform so far are “the personal stories!” Recounting one such story, he said, “There was a couple who lived next to each other the whole year in their first-year dorm and always had feelings but never expressed them.”

Would this couple have connected without the help of Link? One route to salvaging a potential connection on college campuses is through ‘Missed Connections’ social media pages.

These pages, which exist at both Stanford and Colorado College, allow students to anonymously post confessions about classmates they’re interested in. Gandhi cited them as a motivating factor in creating Link.

“What if people want to actually do something about that?” he asked, referring to the anonymous posts that are published on the pages. “We are extending ‘Missed Connections’ pages to something tangible.”

Gandhi noted that the platform also differs from traditional dating apps, such as Tinder, in a crucial way.

“Traditional dating apps all seem to connect you with strangers,” said Gandhi. “What’s beautiful about Link is that it functions on pre-existing relationships.”

Apart from the philosophical debate over whether Link enhances or undermines the process of romantic initiation, the platform faces a major challenge in terms of data privacy.

According to The Stanford Daily, a similar Stanford project, Cardinal Crush, was plagued by privacy concerns. The Daily also reported that, in August 2020, there was a vulnerability in Link that may have exposed sensitive user data.

However, the Link founder stressed to me that the platform is now “pretty much on the industry standard in terms of where we’re storing user data and always improving.”   

Like many other companies, Link has also faced unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

” It’s not great in terms of the natural virality and buzz you can create on a college campus […] it’s hard to do that remotely. When people get that message saying someone has put them down as a crush, they don’t have their three friends sitting around them at the library to mention it to,” Gandhi said.

However, despite the challenges, he is hopeful that Link will be able to expand to colleges across the U.S. over the next year.

“I’m excited to potentially see Link across the country,” he said.

If Link makes its way to CC soon, students will have an all new decision to make with regard to their latest block crush.

Should you type up the name of that special person from the comfort of your room or should you walk up to them, shaking, and opt to do things the ‘old-fashioned’ way?

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