By Steve Outing
A social network for college students. … No, not Facebook or MySpace. A new one, operated by a local newspaper, just for students in its coverage area.
Does it have a snowball’s chance in hell going up against FB and MySpace, when accounts on those giant social networks are ubiquitous among the college crowd? I’m not sure, but I’m glad someone’s trying it.
According to this report, the Roanoke Times in Virginia has built a website for college students in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area, called BigLickU.com. It may be the first attempt by a metro newspaper to reach into the college market with a social networking site.
The assumption behind the initiative is that “local matters,” and that it can pull in students despite the wild success and huge numbers of students who have Facebook and MySpace accounts. (I have a sense that it would be difficult to find a student these days who doesn’t have a Facebook account.)
Let’s watch and see. I think it’s got a chance. It reminds me of efforts like the Bakersfield Californian’s Bakotopia, which is a social network and free classifieds service that basically took on Craigslist for its local market — and seems to be doing well.
Is a successful national service that does a great job of localizing social networking (Facebook) vulnerable because it’s gotten “too big”? I don’t have the answer to that, but a lot of people are hoping that the answer is yes.
One bit of advice I’d give news folks thinking of creating social networks for their local college market: Don’t create an island, but figure out how to utilize Facebook, which makes it easy to create applications for use on its platform. Facebook is the classic “frienemy” in that while it’s certainly the big competitor, it also offers ways to leverage it to serve your own website(s).
(If you’re a local news organization and are interested in developing a social network a la BigLickU.com [or some variation], do contact me. My company, the Enthusiast Group, is now in the business of developing social networking and grassroots media sites for publishers and other companies.)