This has been a busy week in the social networking website world. Last Monday, a few days before the launch of the new Facebook features, Yahoo! launched a new social networking website targeted to college students and alums: Kickstart.
Scott Gatz, Senior Director of Yahoo’s Advanced Products, manages the Kickstart’s team. Despite a busy week, Scott has taken the time to answer a few questions about this new website just for you (read the end of the interview for more information about the $25,000).
1) Your team has just launched Kickstart, a new social networking website for college students and alums. What makes Kickstart different from (better than?) Facebook, Linkedin or MySpace?
Kickstart is a professional network with a purpose: to build a community of college students, recent grads, professionals and alumni where people connect and discover the right internships, jobs, career advice and mentorship. We started by doing a lot of research with college students and found that while they are very networked on sites like Facebook, those networks are mostly of friends and primarily about fun. Kickstart offers a place to have a professional profile, so they don’t have to worry about potential employers poking around their private profile. On the other hand, services like LinkedIn are good for people with an existing professional network. Kickstart is designed to help students and recent grads, who do not have an established professional network, discover the latent connections or â€œweak-tiesâ€ they already have but may not be aware of with professionals, managers and companies â€“ these weak ties extend beyond simply being alumni from the same school and could include having been in the same fraternities/sororities, from the same home-town, etc.
2) Higher ed institutions have started to use the main social networking websites as communication channels with their students and alums. Will Kickstart offer any special opportunities to universities/colleges or alum associations?
We’re still early in the development of Kickstart and we expect to add a number of features. Each company, school and association has a page on Kickstart for all of its members. You could imagine that these pages will be terrific places for message boards, bulletins, events and other ways to connect people. For now, we’re listening to people’s feedback on the site, and we’d love to hear from you about which features you think should be first.
3) Do you have any plans to offer an API so higher ed web developers can create their own applications on the top of Kickstart?
The web is moving towards openness in everything, and it is pretty common these days for Yahoo services to have open APIs (see the Yahoo! Developer Network). With Kickstart, we are very focused on creating a community where alums and students can connect and the features we will do first are driven by that. In time, I do expect we’ll offer more and more ways for higher education to participate. I recommend that people sign up on the site and connect with others to see what the potential is and then drop us feedback so we know where to focus.
Last point: we want to encourage alumni to sign up for the site in advance of students. To “kickstart” that effort, we’re offering $25,000 to the school with the most alumni signed up by 12/31/07. I’d suggest that people take a minute to pass this onto former students and alums to take advantage.
I have a basic question: What is the benefit to alumni who join?
Meanwhile, Scott Gatz says, “You could imagine that these pages will be terrific places for message boards, bulletins, events and other ways to connect people.” Sure, if there were any reason for ‘people’ to go to these pages, but there isn’t. Yahoo is waaay behind the curve on this one and people are suffering from “profile fatigue.” Too many places to add your employment history, your degrees, your interests, your photo.
As for “message boards, bulletins, events and other ways to connect people,” there’s no way anybody’s going to surf to Kickstart to see what people are saying. They have to at least add RSS feeds.
Also, where’s the searchability? One field, to type in…what? A company name? A job title? A major? Advance search is a must as well, but it doesn’t appear on their site.
I noticed that as of this writing 41% of the people with profiles on the Microsoft alumni section of Kickstart are former Yahoo! employees. I am assuming that the percentage of Yahoo! alumni working at MSFT is lower than this. So it’s not clear yet that corporate alumni will embrace the site either.
It would be very interesting to hear from a disinterested observer what s/he feels are the pluses of the service, and whether it is filling a need.
Thanks for your comments. We made a choice to launch Kickstart early (before all of our “wishlist” was done), with the hope that we could start building up the network of people while we added the features people want (including a lot of those that you mention).
It is always a tough call: do you launch early and weather the criticism, or do you take months and months to get it perfect before launching.
As far as the MSFT people, of course we launched Kickstart internally here at Yahoo (thus the percentage skew), we are actively growing the network as we speak, but as you know, these things take time.
Keep an eye on it, and if nothing else, maybe the $25,000 donation to your school will be enough for you to sign up and “wait and see” how it develops…
Good points Scott, thank you for the reply! I am not a Yahoo! detractor – I’ve had my Yahoo! mail account for more than ten years and am a premium mail user.
Re: the $25k, my point was that with 20,000 alumni my school has no real chance of earning the money when up against, Michigan, Texas, Penn State, etc.
Also, I am curious as to whether the internal discussions on the Kickstart team have circled at all around partnerships with campuses and career or alumni offices. I see there’s a Caltech page on Kickstart, but I know the Alumni Office didn’t create it and the Career Office didn’t. Does Yahoo! care whether we buy into it organizationally, or is Yahoo! just going for the additional traffic regardless of what the institutions’ staff members think or care about? If the latter, you are essentially competing with schools’ alumni career networks, which creates further issues down the road for you.
This is quasi-rhetorical. If you want to respond privately, that would be great, but I bet you guys are busy these days.
I dropped a note to you personally to follow it up.
But for all the other readers: the #1 school right now only has a few hundred alums signed up, so the game is wide open. A smaller school that can mobilize alums can almost certainly win.