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Single students are losing faith in virtual romance. Enter TigerCrush.

<h6>Courtesy of TigerCrush</h6>
Courtesy of TigerCrush

On Feb. 14, 2007, Princeton’s campus received a new, digital-age twist to traditional Valentine’s Day celebrations. Josh Weinstein ’09 launched CrushFinder, a site where students could anonymously send crushes to one another.

Today, over a decade later, developers Alan Ding ’22, Oleg Golev ’22, and Gerald Huang ’22 have brought anonymous crushing back to Princeton with TigerCrush.

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In a time when human connection spans opposite sides of a computer screen, students have reported isolation and loneliness. TigerCrush seeks to bridge the gap between missed connections and budding relationships, offering students a virtual outlet to confess their feelings, even when unrequited.

The fear of jeopardizing an existing platonic relationship or creating an awkward situation often prevents people from confessing their feelings. TigerCrush, however, seeks to eliminate the risk of direct rejection. The app allows users to input a baseline of up to five crushes. If the app identifies a mutual crush, that person becomes visible as a ‘match.’ The app also displays the number of crushes that someone has not reciprocated as ‘secret admirers.’  

“X people that you don’t have a crush on have a crush on you!” the website reads.

For each secret admirer, users are able to send an additional crush beyond the original five, encouraging students to engage with the app more frequently.

TigerCrush currently boasts a user base of over 1,000 Princeton students, with 923 crushes and 150 matches logged at the time The Daily Princetonian spoke with the developers. 

The app has garnered buzz on the anonymous student Facebook page TigerConfessions#. Students have expressed their excitement for the app during the virtual semester and poked fun at their own relationship status as they see it reflected in the app:

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TC #23364: It’s always ‘new canvas notification’ and never ‘new match on tiger crush’ 😤😪

TC #24003: I need everyone to use tiger crush so my crush can see they have a secret admirer thanks

TC #23775: I have 2 secret admirers on TigerCrush. I am a god among men. For personal reasons I will now check that number too often because I base my value on other people’s perception of me.

The developers are pleased with how the virtual semester has given students time to engage with the site. In an email to the ‘Prince,’ the developers wrote, “Many have needed to find new sources of entertainment or ways to obsess over things during quarantine. TigerCrush has likely been one such source. The stakes for sending crushes are lower … you’re free to contact (or to not contact!) any matches. You won’t see anyone you match with in the foreseeable future.” 

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The original idea for a risk-free matching site on Princeton’s campus originated right outside the building that housed Department of Music back in 2007. 

“[I was] thinking ‘I wish there were a way for me to let a girl know I liked her, but she would only know if she liked me back,’” recalled Weinstein, creator of CrushFinder, in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.

With a simple premise and only five hours of coding, CrushFinder was born. The app garnered massive usership, with over 30 percent of Princeton’s campus signing up within the first twenty four hours of its Valentine’s Day release.

Encouraged by the site’s early success, Joe Perla ’12, then-president of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, urged Weinstein to pursue CrushFinder on a larger scale. After graduating from Princeton, Weinstein co-founded GoodCrush with Shahed Serajuddin, launching a site that would gain popularity on college campuses across the country. In a single week, more than 4,000 students joined the site. At least one marriage resulted from the matching platform. 

But without a central event to keep users engaged, the site began to stagnate. Serajuddin discussed with the ‘Prince’ the difficulties of maintaining a user base in an age before widespread smartphone use. 

“The idea of doing anything computer related on your phone was something that wasn’t really around yet,” he said. “Everyone now has a computer in their pocket, and that makes it so much easier for everyone to participate.”

Without a mobile device to send or check crushes quickly and easily, many students did not keep up with GoodCrush after logging in once or twice. 

“If you can only read the message board at home, it really puts a limit on how much engagement you can have,” explained Serajuddin.

Not only was it more difficult to constantly check GoodCrush, but Weinstein said, “at the time, being on a dating site had a lot of stigma.” Students were unlikely to find online dating forums appealing.

Weinstein reflected that at the time it seemed that users were not legitimately interested in finding romantic matches, but engaging with the site as a form of entertainment. He said, “[There was] some anecdotal feedback that made it seem that people were using it more for fun than actual dating/romance.”

Over a decade later, many of the issues that GoodCrush faced have become relics of what Serajuddin called a “pre-mobile” era. The popularity of dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge means that many students are far more comfortable pursuing a relationship online through a platform such as TigerCrush. Meanwhile, the accessibility of smartphones — and dominance of computers in an online semester — mean that students can send crushes at any hour, boosting the platform’s usership and popularity.

Of the creators of TigerCrush, Weinstein said, “I am glad these entrepreneurs saw an opportunity.” 

Users have reflected on the benefits of the app in the current moment both in a digital age and a distant semester. 

“TigerCrush had impeccable timing,” said Justin Coon ’22. “I recently matched with my favorite person at Princeton, and I really needed that closeness and warmth in a time like this.”

But users have also voiced concerns about personal information and privacy when using the app, as the developers have the ability to view user crushes.

The site’s privacy statement acknowledges that the developers have access to user information. “With this in mind,” it reads, “we stand firm in our promise not to look at the crush information you’ve entrusted us with. By using this application, you are affirming your trust in us. Equivalently, if you don’t trust us, you reserve the right to not use this application.”

But some users remain concerned. 

TC #23430: Uh, Tigercrush is a serious privacy violation to its users (they’re just expected to trust the devs not to look at their data?!). That isn’t good enough

In an email to the ‘Prince,’ the developers clarified their intent. 

“We store the bare minimum amount of information for the app to work — users and their crushes — and have no incentive or reason to store anything additional since our app runs on a free hosting service with an extremely limited database,” they wrote.

Nonetheless, to further protect the user information in the future, the developers have decided to take additional measures to debug and improve the app’s privacy. They are shifting any testing to an offline copy of the site, in an effort to improve data security.

They are also contemplating other upgrades to increase user engagement and improve user experience, such as the ability to send a “secret admirer message,” a short anonymous statement to accompany a crush.  Another change may allow users not currently in the TigerHub system database — notably, students on gap years — to use the app. 

As the academic year progresses and isolated students grow more anxious to connect with one another, TigerCrush continues to gain more users. Weinstein commended TigerCrush for meeting what he sees as a community need.

“There is not much that is more meaningful than helping someone find their significant other,” he said.

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