The social media gods have a taste for irony, and like to amuse themselves by keeping Mark Zuckerberg on his toes. Or so it would seem from a procession of new social networks inviting college students to join campus-centric online communities, thereby competing with Facebook on its old stomping grounds.
First up is CollegeOnly, which requires that you have a school email address to sign up; once you log in, you find yourself automatically connected to everyone else at your school who has also signed up. CollegeOnly is refreshingly frank about its mission: "Our site is the only one that is free from parents, potential employers, and other folks that shouldn't see what you are up to on a Saturday night or at any given point during the day." This is obviously aimed at Facebook; one snarky photo vignette in the brochure shows a college couple separated by a middle-aged woman who appears to be jabbing the guy in the neck, with the tag line: "I like your mom. But why is she poking me?"
They're serious about keeping nosy non-college-students out; in fact, outsiders can't even sneak a peek at member profiles, let alone sign up themselves -- so I have no idea what it actually looks like. However, I have gleaned from various reports that it allows users to post updates in categories with names like "Events," "After Party" and "Missed Connections," suggesting an adjunct to the day-to-day social lives of college students. CollegeOnly launched earlier this year at Princeton, Yale and Cornell, and is adding more schools as quickly as possible; the site advises students at other institutions to sign up for its email newsletter to begin the process of getting their school on board. A mobile platform is planned for the near future.
Next up is Scoop, developed by college students Nick Simmons and Michael Akilian, with support from investors including Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The service is designed to allow college students to list and promote campus events large and small, and also suggests campus activities to users with a recommendation engine drawing on data including member ratings and affinities. According to Venture Beat Scoop may end up favoring mobile distribution, depending on user behaviors and preferences as the nascent network scales up. For an added ironic twist, the Scoopers say they will recruit new users for the site from Facebook's college student membership.
Last but not least (I actually wrote about it in May) is Diaspora, a "more secure, personalized" network which -- like CollegeOnly -- aims to give users more control in what information they share about themselves, and with whom. On its Web site Diaspora is billed as a "privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network." Diaspora makes a point of leaving its code open for programmers to introduce their own features, innovations, and variants. Users can also "set up their own personal servers" and "create their own hubs."
Given the ferment of new social network activity on college campuses, it's not surprising that Facebook is working to shore up its collegiate presence, according to MediaPost's Mark Walsh. The push includes a new promotional page, "Universities on Facebook," offering back-to-school discounts to college students from 10 retailers including Eddie Bauer, Newegg.com, and Utrecht Art. A "deals" tab on the Universities page created by social media marketing company Context Optional highlights special offers and provides links to offers on the sites of participating retailers. The new page also provides pointers on how students and campus organizations can use Facebook's features to publicize events, distribute content and build community.