By Elizabeth Limbach
While many students can’t pass by a computer without checking their Facebook accounts, the online dating market has yet to single out the group. Online dating may have the reputation of being for middle-aged hopefuls, but with the increasing reliance on the Internet as a means of communication and socializing, more people are turning to the net for love. Recent UC Santa Cruz graduate Charles Whyte wondered if students rely so heavily on the Internet for socializing, why not for dating as well?After months of preparation, Whyte launched Cruzdate.com, an online dating network exclusively for members of the UCSC community. The site was born nearly three months ago and has over 370 members to date. "I created a hybrid by taking the cool features of Myspace, Facebook and Friendster and blending them with a dating network, like eHarmony or Match.com," Whyte said. It all started last year when Whyte saw a flyer for a UCSC dating service at a bus stop on campus. Upon learning that the service was blind-date style and not up on the web, Whyte was inspired to make something better and put his extensive computer training to work. "I couldn’t believe there was nothing out there doing this already," Whyte said.UCSC alumna Lorie Dievendorf, Whyte’s ex-housemate and a member of Cruzdate, witnessed first hand the birth and execution of the idea. "Once he had the idea, he just did it," Dievendorf said. "It was pretty amazing."So, is Whyte suggesting that UCSC students need help in the love department? He says no, that he is merely taking the popularity of online networking to another level. While he recognizes that Cruzdate will not magically solve dating problems or replace meeting people in real life, it serves as another option."Not everyone lives that typical college lifestyle of going out to parties and bars," Whyte said. "This is just another avenue for people to meet someone." According to Dievendorf, another group that could benefit from Cruzdate are new students. "It’s a great idea for people that are just coming to the school," she said. "Maybe they don’t know a lot of people and are already comfortable with online networking." Whyte has received some criticism for the similarities between his network and preexisting ones, with people accusing him for trying to replace Facebook. Whyte, however, maintains that there are key differences between the two networks, with Cruzdate’s specific mission as a dating service. On Facebook, users can specify relationship status, but the site is not generally used for dating. "I don’t know anyone that uses Facebook to find dates," Whyte said. "This makes it infinitely easier; they are all students, all there for the same reason."Inspired by the controversy MySpace once faced for limiting gender options to male and female, Cruzdate allows users to select "male," "female," or "other" under sexual preference.Cruzdate member Erik Noecker, 23, praises the site’s small community as an improvement from other online networks. "It’s people that actually went to [UC] Santa Cruz, so you feel like you have more in common," Noecker said. "On MySpace someone could be from Cambodia."Whyte hopes to drop the joining fee once his project is paid off, which he is working towards by expanding the site through what he calls "guerilla advertising." On a typical day Cruzdate gets one new membership, but 24 people joined on a Saturday after 300 Cruzdate pens were handed out at the Ski & Snowboard Initiation the night before. "The possibilities for this are endless," he said. "This isn’t the extent of what I’ll come up with." While Whyte recognizes the potential for explosive success or total collapse of Cruzdate, he is too busy spreading the word about what he proclaims to be the nation’s first campus-specific online dating service to worry about selling out or the possibility of failure."I’m not charging to make money and I’m not trying to replace Facebook," Whyte said. "I just want it to be something people can benefit from." Although Whyte has yet to make any money back, and has no idea what the future of Cruzdate.com will be, it was all worth it the first time he heard a success story from a member. "It hit home," he said, "I knew I have helped someone out."