Online network created by Harvard students flourishes

A new online social network for college students is growing quickly, but has yet to expand to the Tufts campus.

TheFacebook.com has 38,327 registered users and an average of 1,000 new registration requests daily, and the growth of the online network is surprising even to its founders.

“We’ve all been blown away by the response from Harvard, and as time goes by, to all the schools that we expanded to,” said Chris Hughes, founding member and press relations manager for theFacebook.com.

“We realized pretty quickly that this could be big,” Hughes said. The site, which resembles the popular online social network Friendster.com, enables students within a university community to create personal profiles that may include their contact information, class schedules, and a variety of other personal details.

Hughes called the site a “collaborative effort” between friends who grew tired of waiting for an official facebook promised by the university.

Since its inception at Harvard University in February, theFacebook.com has expanded to 12 universities. Its network now includes Columbia University, Stanford University, Yale University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, New York University, Brown University and Princeton University.

Hughes said it was “just a matter of time” before the site expanded to more universities, depending on the capacity of the site’s servers to handle new school networks. “It’s a fun project which a lot of people seem to enjoy,” Hughes said.

The popularity of theFacebook.com sparked tongue-in-cheek social commentary at participating universities. In a March 11 editorial, Harvard’s daily undergraduate paper, The Crimson, called the site’s expansion “manifest destiny.” Meanwhile a March 5 Stanford Daily article said students were skipping classes, ignoring work and “spending hours in front of their computers in utter fascination.”

Kim Truong, a graduate student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, said that the site might have social drawbacks. “I heard from undergraduate students that they have been feeling stressed out due to theFacebook.com, because they have to add all of their activities,” she said. “I think they might feel pressured to have long lists of activities, quotes, and an overall presentable profile.”

Truong added, “I personally think it’s fun and not supposed to be taken seriously.”

Tufts students have shown some interest in the website. “This kind of online social network is positive for a university community because it helps students to reach out to their peers in a less intimidating way,” Tufts senior Joey Rhyu said. “People who are more reserved about introducing themselves to people in real life can use this manner of communication to break [social] boundaries. I would use it, especially for help with school work,” he said.

While senior Teri Wing called the online facebook sites “creepy,” because of the nature of other social networking sites, which often include racy content. “I feel like people would show off more than they normally do on such sites. If I just need to send an e-mail, I don’t necessarily want to know what the other person wants people to think,” she said. “Think of Friendster — people put up some weird stuff — and being young, much of it’s sexual, which I don’t really need to know about my classmates.”

Senior Alper Tonguc agreed. “I guess the people that I care about are the people I talk to, and I guess I’m just not interested in reading random people’s profiles.”

According to Hughes, theFacebook.com is not a dating service or a way to meet strangers, but “an extension of real-life interaction, so it’s use not as much to meet random people, but to foster friendships and relationships with these people you knew previously. It’s a way to bring tangentially connected people together.”

The site offers detailed privacy settings that could, for example, allow a student to make her class schedule available only to friends, or restrict contact information to students living in her dormitory.

Even with the privacy settings, Wing said she would probably not make use of such a site. “I don’t think that it would give me information about my friends that I wouldn’t be able to get from them otherwise,” she said.


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