Saturday, March 18, 2006

It's Directory Year!

Strange but true: every THIRD year, the MIT Club of DC publishes a PAPER directory of local alums and sends copies via snail mail to members. Does your college/MBA program/law school do that too? The answer is yes in too many cases - and how much sense does that make??

People who've gone to the same school generally feel some degree of affinity towards one another - yes? And we're willing to share contact info because we think there might be some benefit in networking with fellow alums. In which case, what we need instead of school-specific paper directories is a cross between Facebook and Linkedin.

While 85% of college students are on Facebook, it has limited off-campus reach. I was the 9th person from MIT's class of 1994 to sign up for a profile. But what's cool about the site is, users are welcomed into a built-in community upon signup (all students/alums within the same school automatically have access to each other). I think that's been key to the site's mass adoption.

In contrast, Linkedin focuses on the grown-up, out on the job market, demographic. Life is tougher in the real world. No ready-made community awaits. Instead, you build your contact list through one-on-one invites. For me, at least, that's been a significant usage barrier.

I'm envisioniong a middle ground on which...

(a) Every user automatically belongs to one or more open communities, depending on where he/she attended college/grad school

(b) Users might also have the option of joining geographic and special interest sub-communities. Biotech researchers in Boston? Snowboarders in New York?

(c) Meetup/eVite-type features could be incorporated to help users/sponsors organize and promote online/in-person social/professional events. Chicago happy hour for MIT graduates of the last decade? Microsoft recruitment dinner for Minneapolis-based users with computer science degrees? Roche webcast for any user who's indicated an interest in cancer research?

The primary incentive for users to sign up is immediate and automatic access to a social and professional network, consisting of people with whom they have a shared educational background. And the greatest selling point for advertisers is a highly educated - and therefore reasonably affluent and technology savvy - audience. The online/offline combination, in particular, could make for some very compelling sponsorship programs. Think this could work?

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