Going Back to School: Picking Up Where Facebook Left Off

Back when Facebook was a social network only for college students, one of the most popular features was the ability to see not only who was in your class, but who else was taking the same courses as you. (It must have been great for coming up with insightful pick-up lines). Facebook did away with that feature as it broadened beyond the college market. But now another startup is looking to fill the void that Facebook left behind. It is called Inigral and it is backed by the Founders Fund, the same group of angel investors who first invested in Facebook (Peter Thiel of the Founders Fund is still on Facebook’s board).

Rather than reinvent the wheel, Inigral is building its applications on top of Facebook. Its first Facebook app was called Courses, which basically aped the canceled feature that students loved (along with other, more popular apps by other companies, such as Cramster’s Courses 2.0). But that was just a placeeholder. The app it is putting all of its efforts into is called Schools. It too runs on Facebook, but it is much more fully-featured.

In fact, it has so many features that Inigral is planning on charging for it. Who would pay for a Facebook app? Not students, that’s for sure. Instead, Inigral plans on charging universities. It is, in that sense, one of the first enterprise apps on Facebook. Co-Founder Michael Staton says:

The whole model of spam and advertise to try to get as many users and clicks in the least time possible isn’t the only way to build a company [on Facebook]. It is a saturated way to build a company.

Universities are asking, “Why are all the students using Facebook?” They want to plug into Facebook to enhance their own mission.

Staton is selling his app to universities as a social utility that lets students show each other not only what courses they are taking, but other campus affiliations such as student organizations, athletic teams, majors, and residence halls. Once it knows all of this about a student, it lets her sort friends and classmates by who shares the most things in common with her.

Schools knows all of this information because it taps directly into a university’s student information system. So that when a participating student changes a course with the registrar, it automatically shows up on Facebook. (With the student’s consent and appropriate privacy controls). Students can only download the app if their university agrees to license it. Currently it is in a limited private beta with Abilene Christian University in Texas, but it is about to roll it out to to other other select partner colleges. A more public release won’t be available until the spring semester.

Inigral will charge a few dollars per student, and in return schools get a way to interact with their students on Facebook in a way that they can control. It is really a group management app for instructors, athletic teams, and student organizations to contact their members and manage events through a forum students are already using anyway.