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September 26, 2006 / conceptbin

Wanted: Your social life, to sell you crap

The next time anyone asks me that classic Enlightenment-question “what is a university?” I will confidently answer: It’s a convenient concentration of consumers.

(Yes, forget about Kant’s Conflict of the Faculties, and that whole business about the cultivation of independent thought. You want enlightenment? Hand me the remote).

Online social networking services are getting into higher education in a big way. In the UK the latest challenger to Facebook, the inventor of the closed-off campus networking site (not to mention MySpace and Bebo) is Univillage – a social networking site for university students. It works on the same model as Facebook, restricting membership to students in higher education by only accepting participants with a “.ac.uk” address (for Facebook it’s “.edu” in the USA).

Univillage is not particularly shy about its marketing strategy, already having secured an uninspiring lineup of sponsorships from Sky, Apple and Red Bull – which is great for uni students desperate to see an image of themselves as telly-watching, iPod-toting drinkers of caffeinated sugarwater (see Mark Sweney’s MediaGuardian article). In short, Univillage does not seem overly concerned about using the same strategy that already has given MySpace bad press – ubiquitous, scattershot advertising. As Wired’s Michael Calore says, MySpace is just begging for someone to come along and build something better. It will be interesting to see if Univillage takes off, and whether their strategy to embrace sponsors first and participants second will pay off.

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