04 Gen BU biz school creates its own private Facebook-like site
Mass High Tech, MA, By Brendan Lynch, January 2, 2009
The Boston University School of Management has launched its own private version of Facebook to encourage student networking while reducing potentially embarrassing situations. BU business students had requested a site where they could keep business networking separate from personal content. Creating a BU-hosted online social network was key to promoting professionalism — especially in light of a recent study saying one-fifth of teenagers surveyed had posted racy photos of themselves online, according to Greg DeFronzo, director of IT services for the school of management. The site went live at the end of October and is being used by about 100 graduate students, with plans to extend the application to the business school’s undergraduates, DeFronzo said. On the site, students can post a photo, resume, industry of choice and a downloadable business card. The students can also query one another to gather intelligence on interviews or business ventures. The system was developed by one programmer over nine weeks using Adobe Inc.’s ColdFusion and Oracle Corp.’s Oracle Database, DeFronzo said. “It’s actually pretty slick for nine weeks,” DeFronzo said. The network cost the school nothing more than nine weeks of the programmer’s salary — BU already had the ColdFusion and Oracle licenses. The system provides navigational links to Facebook, sports a portal to integrate information from LinkedIn profiles, and supports Google Inc.’s Gadgets. DeFronzo also plans to integrate the social network with student meal accounts, administration accounts, automated course evaluations, grades and schedules. There are no plans to offer the site to the school’s broader population, but DeFronzo said he wouldn’t have a problem with it if another department decided it wanted to host the application. Mac Slocum, managing editor at O’Reilly Media Inc. and a former instructional designer at Emerson College, said that the decision to use an external site or build your own depends on an institution’s goal, and higher education tends to demand a high threshold for privacy that eliminates using Facebook, LinkedIn or free, private-label social networks like those from Ning Inc. That’s unfortunate, according to Slocum, since the trio of companies handle privacy matters well, in his opinion, and offer efficient, low-cost networking tools. “Personally, I’m a fan of going where the people already are, which is generally Facebook and, for business purposes, LinkedIn,” Slocum said. But redundancy isn’t an issue. Since academic sites usually offer top-down information, administrative tools, and peer networking, and external networks offer more freedom of content, the two don’t — and shouldn’t — duplicate one another, Slocum said. “If that interest and engagement works across multiple social networks, both within a dot-edu address and via external sites, then all the better,” he said.