The next Mark Zuckerberg may be walking Penn’s campus. Wharton freshman Wesley Zhao and College freshman Dan Shipper, along with New York University freshman Ajay Mehta, partnered to create WhereMyFriends.be — a website that maps the locations of a user’s Facebook friends.
Since the website’s launch on Feb. 21, it has attracted 30,000 users and has mapped over 3 million friends. In February, the site was featured on CNN and Mashable, a news website that covers social media and technology.
“A few hours after the site was featured on the front page of Mashable, it crashed from having too many viewers,” Zhao said. Zhao and Shipper spent the next 72 hours working on the site to keep it up.
The pair met during an unlikely encounter. Zhao began his website gig in January, when he created a website modeled after Zuckerberg’s original website, Facemash. His version — PennMatch — allowed users to match male-female couples through Facebook pictures. Shipper, who noticed Zhao looking at PennMatch in his Computer Science class, hacked the website and then messaged Zhao. They have been working together to build sites ever since.
Although, as Engineering freshman Charles Laurent, a user of WhereMyFriends.be, pointed out, “there are already websites with people being pinpointed around the world,” Shipper said it does not bother him that this type of website may exist already.
There is a “difference between doing something first and doing something right,” he said.
What makes their site different from others is that the map “loads dynamically, five friends at a time,” Zhao explained. “We made the site in a way that looks nicer.”
“The big thing is that people feel good when they see they have a friend halfway across the world,” Zhao said. “It is love for thyself.”
“It shows you something about yourself that you didn’t know,” Shipper added.
So far, Shipper and Zhao have not made any money off their site.
“Ads are not sexy,” Zhao said. “We are actually sinking money right now by keeping the servers up, but it is a long-term investment.”
Shipper is confident that “money will come later”.
“Right now, we are just trying to gain credibility,” he said.
Zhao, who came to Penn to study finance, became interested in social networking sites when he began reading technology blogs.
“I’m really passionate about [building sites], and I’m hoping I can make a career out of it,” Zhao said. Shipper would also like to pursue a career in this field.
Both agree that they will be partnering for future projects. Following in Zuckerberg’s footsteps, they will be spending this summer in Silicon Valley to network and get advice from people in the field.
So are they the next Zuckerbergs?
“You can’t think of yourself that way,” Shipper said. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t say it.”
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