Exclusivity makes you feel special – if you belong to the “in” group. It also promotes group identification, as you are much more likely to associate and identify with those in your group than those outside. It is this concept that Facebook was initially built upon: creating a social network just for college students. However, as we all know, Facebook is now the social network with over 400 million monthly active users across all ages, demographics, and education levels. But does this leave a wide open space for more exclusive, niche social networks to fill the void?
The creators of the latest students-only social network, uSurvive, think so. Their social network only allows students with .edu email addresses to become members to keep “creepy uncles, moms, dads or future employers” from checking up on the sometimes x-rated lives of college students.
If you remember, this is how Facebook initially started. Beginning on Harvard’s campus, Zuckerberg created a “hot or not” type application whose pictures and profiles soon encompassed the majority of the student population. Within a few months, Facebook opened up access to most college and university students across Canada and the US. By 2006, Facebook had opened up registration to anyone with a valid email address – potentially leaving a hole in the market for a college students-only social network.
uSurvive is one of the latest networks to take the initial idea behind Facebook and make it its own. It offers not only a closed network guaranteed to bar mom and dad from seeing pics of your house party last weekend, but also uPoints that can be accumulated through engaging in social interactions on the site. These can be traded in for prizes, such as uSurvive t-shirts and shot glasses.
However, competing social networks are not a new phenomenon. Perhaps the most notorious Facebook competitor and students-only network was ConnectU, founded by the Winkelvoss brothers around the same time Zuckerberg was messing with Harvard’s website code to create Thefacebook. They are still making public claims that they were double-crossed by the Facebook founder, and that their idea for a social network just for students was stolen by Zuckerberg.
So is there a need for a more exclusive social network like uSurvive and the now-defunct Connectu?
Yes and no. It is natural to want to connect to people who have similar interests, backgrounds, beliefs, or experiences as yourself. That’s why it’s usually easier to have a conversation with your peers than a group of people 20 or 30 years older (or younger) than you. However, if you are part of three, four, or more social networks, you might begin to feel fatigued and disengage from the less important ones.
For instance, there are educational, professional, and plenty of niche social networks out there that you could join. You could have a profile as a student a uSurvive, as a musician on MySpace, as an employee on LinkedIn and as a traveler on CouchSurfing. And if that’s what you want, the services are there. But Facebook is setting itself up as the consolidation point for all of these, and more. If you had the option of logging in to five different sites with five different user names and passwords every time you needed to make an update to your profile or a single site that could update all of your networks across the board, it’s hard to think of a reason to prefer the multiple-site choice.
Niche social networks will probably always exist, and ones for college students appear to be especially popular. But it is unclear whether they will eventually become subsumed under the umbrella of Facebook’s Open Graph or remain autonomous entities in the future.