Since the Feb. 12 launch of the student dating service now called YaleStation Degrees, more than two-thirds of the Yale undergraduate community has registered for the free service. But this week, creators of Wesleyan University’s online dating service, WesMatch, accused members of the Yale College Council of plagiarizing their questionnaires and programming code.
An attorney representing WesMatch sent a formal request to Yale President Richard Levin on Tuesday asking that the Web site be shut down immediately and the material in question removed. YCC Vice President Nirupam Sinha ’05 said the questionnaires have been removed from YaleStation Degrees until the matter is settled. As of Thursday night, students were still able to access their matches.
WesMatch — which was co-founded in April 2002 by Dan Stillman and Matt Eaton, who are now seniors at Wesleyan — recently began licensing its dating engine and service to other universities through schools’ respective student governments. It already licenses the service to Williams College and will add Bowdoin College, Colby College and Oberlin College to the network, Stillman said.
YCC President Elliott Mogul ’05 had also expressed interest in the service before Yale launched a similar one of its own, Stillman said.
“I heard from Elliott Mogul on Feb. 8,” Stillman said. “He expressed interest in licensing WesMatch at Yale, so we sent him a demo log-in account, but then we never heard back from him.”
Stillman said he gradually discovered that the YaleStation Degrees site’s questions were extremely similar to his own.
“I didn’t have access to the site itself, but I found a Web log that quoted YaleStation questions that were direct copies of ours,” he said. “When I finally saw the site, I realized it was visually and functionally identical to WesMatch, and something like half the questions were exactly the same.”
Eaton, who designed the WesMatch engine that calculates a user’s compatibility with others, said the YaleStation site’s engine is almost identical, except for differences in the rating system that weights a user’s specified “wants” versus their own attributes.
Mogul said he had been advised by the University’s Office of Public Affairs not to comment on the issue, but he did say the YCC was unaware of Wesleyan’s allegations until Wednesday night. YaleStation founder Alexander Clark ’04 declined comment in an e-mail, saying Mogul had advised him to do so. YaleStation Chair Chaitanya Mehra ’06 did not return an e-mail asking for comment.
Steven Syverud ’06, chairman of the YCC’s Student Services Committee, said he initially thought the charge of copyright infringement was in jest.
“I thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” he said. “It makes me sick to think that Wesleyan kids have this to hold over us. I think it’s crystal clear that a big mistake has been made.”
Syverud is a staff reporter for the Yale Daily News.
He said he was not a first-person participant in the site’s creation, but he had been told that only the cosmetic front of YaleStation had been copied from WesMatch.
“The networking system was on [YaleStation] in 2000,” Syverud said. “The crush system was put in place in 2002, and the matchmaking was something Alex figured out while he was working on an admissions site in 2001.”
Syverud said he found the accusation of premeditated copyright infringement hard to believe, considering the people involved.
“I think this is far beyond anything Chaitanya or Elliott would do, or would have seen in advance,” Syverud said. “And Alex Clark is a brilliant programmer … he’s the last person you’d expect to do something like this.”
But YCC representative Alan Kennedy-Shaffer ’06 said YCC members had seen the WesMatch Web site being developed privately and sold, but they decided against buying it.
“Alex Clark being a genius, and Elliott being pragmatic, said, ‘We can do this,'” Kennedy-Shaffer said.
Some students said they had enjoyed using the service, but would not approve of the alleged piracy.
“It was a great procrastination technique,” Yassmin Sadeghi ’07 said. “But if the allegations are true, I don’t think it was worth it for the creators of the service to take it from Wesleyan without attributing it.”
Others said they were more overtly concerned about the charge leveled against the YCC.
Greg Ledonne ’04 sent a mass e-mail Thursday saying if Mogul or other YCC officials are found guilty of WesMatch’s accusations, they should step down or be impeached.
“This has perhaps been the most successful year for the YCC during my time at Yale,” Ledonne said in an e-mail to the News. “However, if such progress comes through actions such as the theft of intellectual property, we all must ask ourselves if we want to support such individuals who tarnish the reputation of Yale and call into question the integrity of its students.”
Kennedy-Shaffer said he would support impeachment of offending members only if there was proof of both copyright violation and profit from the site. However, he said he would not sponsor Mogul’s impeachment under any circumstances.
For now, YCC officers are waiting for more information before taking action, but are confident that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, Sinha said.
“I trust our tech people and our president,” Sinha said. “Before I make judgments, I want to know as much as I can. I think the whole matter will sort itself out in a matter of days.”