College Tonight parties its way across the country

by Beacon Staff • October 10, 2007

Does taking Jell-o shots off of someone's stomach sound more enticing than "poking" them over cyberspace? If it does, College Tonight, the new online social networking service designed exclusively for the college student may just be what the doctor ordered.

Following in the footsteps of networks like MySpace.com and Facebook.com, College Tonight promises to focus its attention solely on the needs and interests of college students.

College Tonight's predecessors also started out as college-specific networks, but gradually allowed universal admission. It was required that members of Facebook have a .edu email address until this past May. Now anyone, from high school students to corporations, is welcome to join the site.

According to ComScore, a data collection agency, about 70 percent of its members are outside of the original college age bracket, and that percentage is quickly growing.

This will not happen to College Tonight.

"No matter how much money we are ever offered, it will only ever be offered to college students," said Zachary Suchin, CEO and company spokesman.

Suchin, who graduated from Emory University with a degree in film and political science in 2005, and co-founder Jason Schutzbank, who is currently a business student at Emory, began development on the site in 2005.

"We saw a vacuum in the collegian market, especially in terms of social interactivity," said Suchin. "We're big fans of Facebook, but Facebook is a Web site, and we're a Web service. The future of social networking is not sitting behind the computer. It's getting up from your chair and interacting with people face-to-face."

But the idea of meeting online "friends" in a real-life setting is unsettling to some students.

"Face-to-face?" said freshman writing, literature and publishing major Elizabeth Santana. "Wouldn't that promote what the media has attacked networks like Facebook and Myspace for-interaction between strangers? I think that privacy controls would be really essential to the well-being of any network like that."

While Suchin admits to being a supporter of Facebook, he does not feel the same way about MySpace.

"MySpace has always been absolute garbage," he said. The site's overly customizable homepages and obscene amounts of flashy banner ads cause it to run slower and take away from its overall appeal, he said. He went on to say the "punch the monkey, win an iPod" advertisements are insulting to the intelligence of college students.

"The entire experience is designed to promote social interaction rather than relegating people to a sedentary lifestyle," said Suchin. "People don't have to be [stuck with] photo albums and pokes."

The "night-out" theme carries throughout all of the features on the site. Friends are referred to as "My Entourage," the on-site messaging is called "Drunk Dialing," the photo hosting is called "My Shots" and profile comments are referred to as "Rumors."

And what's a college network site without an "Inebriation Station," in which your blood-alcohol content is calculated? Thus far, however, the most popular feature has been the "My Hookups" section, where you can meet dates or friends. Any user can declare a "crush" on you through your profile page. Crushes are private, but others can see the total number of people that are crushing on you.

Privacy concerns are definitely in the forefront of Suchin's future plans for the site.

"A tremendous amount of development is going into issues surrounding privacy," he said. "We have former FBI profiler John Douglass on board to help craft an unprecedented level of privacy protection. We are trying to maintain a contained community, rather than create a vast and never-ending network."

Douglass is noted for his involvement in bringing the Atlanta child murderer, the Green River Killer, and San Francisco's Trailside Killer to justice.

Currently, Suchin and his team are on a 116-campus blitz, the largest ever in social networking promotions. The East Coast leg of their campus tour kicked off in Boston on Sept. 27 with great fanfare. College Tonight throws a huge party at each stop, hosted by Real World cast members and always filled to capacity, Suchin said.

"This is an extremely exciting time for social networking," said Suchin.

However, not everyone expresses such enthusiasm.

Critics of the network cite Facebook as too established a network for people to just abandon, unless a paradigm shift in networking attitudes occurs.

Freshman broadcast journalist major Kayla Harrity agreed.

"The features sound cool and all, but Facebook is too big a network for someone who has already spent the last year or so establishing a network to simply jump ship so quickly," she said. "It needs to be revolutionary for that to happen."

But if you think the level of social interactivity that College Tonight aims to provide is in fact revolutionary, then it's time for you to "get on, get up, [and] get out!"