Brian Park, an SFU software engineering student, spent his summer designing and programming SkaleFree, a free social networking website made specifically for SFU students.
The site, www.skalefree.net, is designed to give students the ability to meet with other students with common interests for purposes ranging from forming study groups, to selling textbooks, to simple friendship.
“A big part of university really is about social networking and the social experience,” said Park. “We just felt, even though there were a lot of different ways you can meet people at SFU . . . the way you can meet people is still the traditional way that you would in the past.”
He continued, “We wanted to take the luck out of it . . . to give people control over who they meet and their own life goals within the university context.”
On SkaleFree, users create a free profile with just an email address and user name, and can create and respond to posts seeking study groups or friends. The user profiles, as well as the posts, include as much or as little information as the user wants, like their personal interests or the classes they are taking.
SkaleFree separates itself from other social networking sites by not promoting the creation of an online image, such as on Facebook or Twitter. According to Park, this image reduces other sites’ ability to effectively encourage social networking.
“Trying to make your image look good,” according to Park, reduces its “use as a social networking tool . . . people are starting to feel like it’s just for entertainment.” SkaleFree does not allow photos, and encourages you to give only “the information you need to share in order to effectively find the right person.”
SkaleFree separates itself from other social networking site by not promoting the creation of an online image.
In response to the potential problems of anonymous meetings through the site, it employs a reputation system, in which users can be voted up or down by others, such as on the large international social networking site, Reddit.
Each profile can only vote on another’s reputation once, requiring users to build substantial relationships with other individual users, says Park. In this way, people who might “use the site in dishonest ways,” or “trolls,” are prevented, and users can gain “social power,” which they could use to become chosen before others for selling textbooks, for instance.
This solution is itself an experiment, according to Park, who describes himself as being flexible on the site’s design, “Until people actually use it and give us feedback . . . then we’ll see what the problems are and make adjustments.”
Park, who completed a Bachelor’s degree in marketing at UBC before coming to SFU, insists that monetization through the website “is not necessary. I’m not looking for money.” It includes no advertising, and he says that the only advertising he would allow in the near future is that which is school-related, such as on-campus services.
Park can see the site expanding to other universities and communities. He asked, “If its helping people’s lives in the university context, then why not in other universities, or in Vancouver in general?”
At SFU, Park sees the often-commented upon “commuter-school problem” that he wants to change with SkaleFree. “You should want to come to SFU not just for class, but to meet people,” he stated.