SAN FRANCISCO: Social media is showing a trend towards smaller walled gardens, especially among young people, who appear to be seeking smaller platforms specific to their colleges, turning Facebook’s original strategy to find new advantages.

This is the trend that drives Tinder’s decision to introduce Tinder U, which is only available to users with a .edu email address. The similarities to Facebook’s origins are obvious. Match Group, Tinder’s owner, first announced the feature on an earnings call that also cast the app as the Group’s main driver of revenue growth.

In a similar vein, Islands, a popular app that allows students at the same institution to chat and meet is adding a Facebook-style directory to its list of features, Axios reports. As Facebook did during its infancy, it digitises the student directories that each college already has – at Harvard, these are known as facebooks.

The insight that drove Islands’ development, said Greg Isenberg, the company’s founder, is that “group chats are the new social network”. A year ago, the app began rolling out to select colleges around the US; in active campuses, between five and 25% of students are using the app, Isenberg said. The growth strategy is that each user invites two new users. It likes to think of itself as a Slack for college students.

Among teens and college students in the US, the trend is moving away from permanent and blog-like, passive social media, such as Facebook’s wall function. Snapchat and Microsoft’s GroupMe, meanwhile, are very popular among this demographic. Groups and ephemerality are two themes that help explain this shift.

Oddly, the app’s audience does tend to have a Facebook profile, but doesn’t use it much. Isenberg likened it to a mailbox – something you have but don’t necessarily check often. Odder still, typical users were using the app to look up the profiles of people they met IRL, contacting classmates about homework, just as Facebook was originally designed to do.

By 2019, the company hopes to have rolled out further and to generate revenue, which it says will come from a combination of advertising and other (unclear) forms.

Welcome to paradise

Aside from Facebook’s current political woes, it was the freshness of the original product, the fact your friends were on it, the fact that it didn’t ram ads down your throat which made it so worthwhile. Originally, the platform felt large enough that all of your friends were on it, but your aunt was not. It belonged to a generation; its successors have never known that Facebook, thereby creating space for a new one. “Welcome to paradise,” the Islands’ website proclaims.

“A big feedback that we got is that people want more followers on their platforms, and people are afraid to go up to their classmates and say, ‘Hey what’s your Instagram handle, and what’s your Snapchat?’” Isenberg told Mashable in 2017.

Facebook’s parable is one of unlimited growth and a model that could never quite escape the situation of its original users: college students, given an opportunity to be someone that they wanted to be through university. Today’s students, however, arrive at college with a permanent online identity.

Islands and Tinder U offer a safe space to choose a self and to be part of a community without dragging the rest of your online life along. The issue for social media companies is that small communities and limited audiences don’t offer reach. The offer of engagement is similarly minimal, users just don’t go there to engage with brands.

“All that’s new is old, and people still wanna learn about what’s going on around them, people are still interested in the people that are part of their community and network,” says Isenberg.

Sourced from The Verge, Axios, Mashable; additional content by WARC staff