A social network for college and university students went live yesterday with a pitch reminiscent of Facebook's launch, before it became the half-billion-user behemoth that it is today. In fact, it's backed by early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, who obviously knows a thing or two about social networks.
CollegeOnly is still in beta while it tries to sign up users at Ivy League colleges and universities with the pitch: “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.”
As the image above hints, it's more than a little freewheeling — but then, that's the whole point.
It's a restricted club, open to students with verifiable college e-mail addresses. Founder Josh Weinstein, a Princeton alum, says that college students are less likely to friend Facebook now that it's open to all: “Facebook is different from what it used to be, which was pictures, interacting with people and seeing what’s going on.”
“We were thinking about a series of sites and connecting them like I Can Has Cheezburger. But then we realized one central social site for college students was the way to go. And then we realized we were building something to the effect of Facebook for college students,” says Weinstein.
With groups such as this on Facebook missing the site's good old collegiate days, CollegeOnly says it was created in “response to the recurring chorus of ‘I wish Facebook were-college only.’” Even so, according to 2009 statistics, 96% percent of students use Facebook on a typical day, so CollegeOnly faces an uphill battle luring them away.
Its users can set up profiles, post photos – and somewhat troubling, post anonymously so photo albums can be shared anonymously, but shielded from Google and outside eyes. Weinstein is excited about that photo-sharing feature: “I think people will like it because they don’t want to post their photos now for their employers, parents and high school siblings to see.”
Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently warned kids that the amount of personal data people post online will require future name changes to escape cyber-pasts: "I don't believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time. I mean we really have to think about these things as a society."
Weinstein's not worried, apparently. Additional CollegeOnly categories include: “Missed Connections,” shared gossip about classmates; “After Party” social chatter and more.
There will ‘light moderation’ to weed out mean-spirited comments – referencing the likes of the now defunct Juicy Campus message board. Weinstein has two start-ups under his belt – also geared towards students: GoodCrush, a matchmaking service; and RandomDorm, for random video conversations.
CollegeOnly boasts impressive VC backing: besides $1.15 million from Thiel, its backers include SoftBank Capital, FirstMark Capital and angel investors, including Clickable founder David Kidder.
Weinstein sees CollegeOnly as complementary to Facebook and “an opportunity to connect college students in ways that isn’t being offered.” His odds of recreating Facebook's success are slim, but exclusivity is what he's aiming for, not mass appeal.