All we hear these days (in the United States at least) is "Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn." But over the last couple of years a number of almost unknown sites have tried connecting alumni across school lines. Like the original version of Facebook, theses sites have used alumni identity as the basis for personal profiles. Unlike Facebook, they have either failed, or at least failed to gain much traction.
According to the "About Us" page on each site, people would think your profile, your photos and your blog were so interesting that they would be compelled to "connect" with you. I wish I had kept a comprehensive list of these sites, because now that I am finally writing about them, most of them are gone.
So to end the year, instead of going on ad nauseam about the sites we're tired of hearing about (and writing and talking about), here's a quick glance at some of the social networks you probably haven't heard of. A couple of them you'll never hear about again after reading this. So enjoy.
This site won't die. It's amazing. It started as a social network for Ivy League graduates (later spreading to "top colleges") and it quickly expanded in the pre-Facebook world. The other day I easily retrieved my password after not having visited the site for three or four years. The web design leaves a bit to be desired. Here are the schools whose students and alumni are invited to join, as listed on the home page. Click to view actual size:
After logging in I noticed a couple of odd things. My profile listed the wrong college graduation year, but a search for "classmates" did return a list of people who really were in my graduating class. The real sign that something was amiss came when I clicked the job postings for my home city. There are 3,800,000 people in Los Angeles; TheSquare has four job listings for the city. And all four are from 2007. Enough said.
Yahoo! Kickstart never had a chance. During its brief lifetime (about eight months) it was plagued with downtime and error messages at every turn. Even if it had worked, Kickstart was a solution in search of a problem, a recruiting site masquerading as a social network.
To attract members, Yahoo! offered a prize of $25,000 for the alumni association that could recruit the most Kickstart members. I recall hearing that Stanford signed up a paltry 300 soon-to-be-disappointed recruits and (reportedly) won the cash. From anything other than a marketing standpoint, it was a silly competition (except maybe for Stanford), since it rewarded absolute numbers of new members instead of proportional participation. No matter, Yahoo! killed the site a couple of months later, just as it killed Yahoo!Live, Yahoo!360 and Yahoo!Vibe. Kickstart's demise was so unimportant that today it's hard to find any mention of its closing. Meanwhile, maybe Yahoo! has finally figured it out by starting to integrate with Facebook.
Bigsight bills itself as "the web's central people directory," which it is not. According to Quantcast, the site saw significantly decreasing traffic over the last two months, averaging 7,800 monthly uniques for the year (about 4.5 times the traffic of Alumni Futures). This doesn't qualify it as "the web's central people directory" – Facebook has about 130 million uniques per month. When I tried to use Bigsight last week, every click produced the following error message. I probably won't be going back. (Click image to view larger):
Despite a laudatory press release quoting a mysterious administrator of the site (known only as "Todd"), this site lasted about as long as a Yahoo! social network. The site's developer described it on her blog as "a social networking site with about 8,000 colleges, fraternities and sororities." It was pre-populated with rudimentary information about each school or organization, but lacked a unique role and had no buy-in from those institutions – in fact, they didn't even know they were members. Today, clicking the link for OnlyAlumni sends you to a site that sells bicycles. It's not a total loss, however; I am seriously thinking about getting the ABICI Granturismo Uomo Grigio.
I graduated from Brown University, so this would have been my site. This service quickly devolved from a social network to an email forwarding system "with flair." The flair part, they explain, is that the name of your school (or its mascot) becomes part of the domain name.
So, why use my alumni.brown.edu email address when I can use browngrad.com?
I haven't mentioned some of the more well-known sites (Friendster, MySpace, Friends Reunited, Classmates), or some of the slightly different ones. There are aggregators such as Regroup.com, or the grad-student focused inDegree. And then there's Academia.edu, a truly higher ed-focused network for graduate students, researchers and faculty members at colleges and universities worldwide. Plus there are the many, many sites built on the Ning engine, each focusing on a specialized group or interest.
How many of the remaining social networks will still be here at the end of 2010? What new ones will take their place? Maybe we'll check back in a year to find out.
Note: Alumni Futures will be on break until mid-January, 2010. Happy New Year to all, and thank you for your support and interest during 2009.