opens to Duke students

By Emily Rotberg

The Chronicle Online

April 14, 2004

And you thought AIM "stalking" was time-consuming

Harvard College-based social network opened to the Duke community Sunday night and immediately became Duke's hottest way to keep track of friends--and would-be friends--online.

With a few clicks, registrants enter personal, course and contact information. Add a few friend requests, and you've got a network of classmates and friends.

"This is absolutely ridiculous," freshman Tyler Green said. "I just logged on and approved a bunch of people as my friends, and apparently I'm connected to 170 people. I've spent maybe 20 minutes on this in the past 24 hours," he said.

Designed by students for students, Thefacebook opened to Harvard Feb. 4. From there, interest among other student bodies stimulated expansion to schools that have social contacts with Harvard. The latest wave includes Georgetown and the University of Virginia, as well as Duke.

Already, Duke has made its presence known. After two days of operation, the Duke website has about 1,050 members out of a total site membership near 51,910.

"[Duke's site] is growing faster than most of the schools we've gone to," said Harvard sophomore Chris Hughes, the website's public relations officer. "It's one of the fastest-growing, if not the fastest-growing network we have."

Part of the interest seems to stem from students' general preoccupation with social networking.

"It just has to do with forming a personal web of people," sophomore Matt Topel said. "There's a fascination with the whole, 'I know somebody who knows somebody who you could potentially meet.'" Hughes said the site was designed to serve two primary roles: first, as a recreational tool, and second, for more utilitarian forms of contact. "There's definitely the friend aspect," he said. "At the same time there's contact and course information, which you can use for anything from just getting the screenname of someone you know to setting up a study group."

Thefacebook has drawn wide comparisons as a campus-friendly version of Friendster. Like the older and larger network, Thefacebook shows links between indirectly connected participants. Unlike Friendster, a privacy measure only allows participants to view full profiles from other members at their college or university.

"We were very conscious from the outset that there is a lot of information on the website and that students may only want certain information available to certain users," Hughes said. "With Facebook, the only profiles that you see are people that you really might see around campus. It's grounded in a certain reality that Friendster doesn't have."

Unlike Friendster, Thefacebook offers connections through course rosters. And while Hughes said that he knows of a handful of people who have gone on "facebook dates," the site is less dating-geared.

"I don't see myself going out and meeting people just because there are four degrees of separation between my roommate and that person," Topel said. "If I'm going to meet them through social interactions, then I'll probably meet them through social interactions and not through a computer database."

Even those who don't know why they love Thefacebook can't stay away.

"It's a stupid, stupid website, but I am completely addicted," freshman Emily Bruckner said. "I just go around and look at all of my friends and see who they're friends with. It's like a contest to see who has the most friends."

Copyright 2004