You may have heard about the new social networking site for OSU students, okstateu.com. If you haven’t heard the buzz about it, take a minute and acquaint yourself here. It’s a pretty exciting project, and I hope it takes off. But did you know OSU actually had a social networking site before Facebook was invented? And that virtually every student on campus used it?
You.okstate.edu, YOUNet for short, was born in the spring/summer of 2001. It was originally started as an organization in the Student Government Association. Using SGA and student technology fees, the organization was able to purchase a server on which to run YOUNet. Derek Martin was the site’s programmer, and two SGA leaders, Joe St. John and Huy Lee, served as administrators. Initially, there wasn’t much to it. YOUNet ran on a content management platform called Synapse, written by OU student Grant Williams. I think those earliest days were spent figuring out how to build the site around Synapse.
In the Fall of 2001, Derek, Huy and Joe hired freshman Jeff Clark as the site’s first intern. Jeff worked with Joe to market the site, and also began learning graphic design. Over the next year, Jeff provided more design elements and content to the site, while Derek continued to work on features.
By Fall 2002, Huy and Joe had stopped their involvement with YOUNet, presumably to focus on serving as SGA President & Vice-President. Derek and Jeff remained through the summer of 2002, and once again tried to recruit interns to support the site. I met Derek at Camp Cowboy, where he was a part-time counselor and I was a soon-to-be college Freshman. Derek pitched YOUNet to me, and I came on board the first or second week of school. Another girl, Candin Richmond, was also hired to help with marketing and administration, because Derek was going to participate in the Semester at Sea program.
I was hired to create and edit content, and to recruit others to write for the site. We decided that I should write a daily blog about my adventures as a new college student, and we called the blog Frosh Meets World. In addition to my blog, we also wrote reviews of music and movies, interviews of interesting people (or strangers I met on the elevator), sports articles, top-ten lists, write-ups of campus events, and a parody of the school’s daily newspaper, which we called the Weekly U’Lassie.
Feature-wise, the site had okstate.edu email access, forums, a classifieds section, church directory, local business information such as hours and reviews, restaurant menus, a calendar of events, a weekly update of the cafeteria menu, and, of course, blogs.
We held marketing events such as ‘Sleep with YOU’ – a movie night out on library lawn. We chalked and passed out promotional items like buttons and noisemakers for Football games. At one point, we set up a dating service called ‘Date with YOU’ – we took applications and dating profiles to send two people on an awkward Valentine’s Day blind date, which I covered and wrote about for the site.
Unsurprisingly, the couple we sent on that date didn’t make it, but YOUNet did bring two other people together. In January of 2003, Derek brought freshman Tanner Burson on board to be YOUNet’s main programmer. That’s how I met the man who would later become my husband.
By the spring of 2003, YOUNet had over 20,000 users in its database.* We were even able to get more student tech fee money in order to buy a second server. Things were going remarkably well.
So why did it fail? I believe the primary fault lies with President Schmidly’s administration. The administration changed hands in the spring, and with that came a new group of people, mostly from Texas Tech. The new IT administrators from Tech were not supportive of our student-run domain. I presume this is because our site was the students’ preferred way to access email, and because the guys from Tech weren’t exactly nice to deal with (you may recall the incident with the stolen code). Also, OSU’s administration has never been that supportive of student-publishing, historically speaking. At the end of Spring 2003, they refused to award the $500 stipend we had set aside for our best intern, which pretty much ruined our ability to get interns for the next semester.
In August of 2003, OSU IT took YOUNet’s servers back to Whitehurst, and took Tanner with them as a student employee. Jeff and our intern, Laura Nielsen, went to the short-lived IT marketing department. Derek had already graduated. I moved to Nashville. Nevertheless, Jeff, Laura and Tanner tried to keep YOUNet. But unfortunately, IT had thrown enough obstacles in their way to make keeping the organization alive impossible. While the three of them worked and went to class, there was no one left with the energy to fight OSU IT and keep YOUNet going.
Tanner finally flipped the kill-switch on YOUNet’s servers in the spring of 2004. IT took control of YOUNet’s assets and redirected all traffic to my.okstate.edu.
As far as I know, Tanner and I have all that’s left of the physical reminders of YOUNet – a few promotional buttons, the banner, a mousepad, and a couple of faded blue t-shirts with our logo and URL. I did keep a back up of virtually everything I wrote for YOUNet, which includes those blogs, reviews, photos, and other random bits of content.
It still makes me sad when I think of YOUNet and its lost potential. But even if YOUNet didn’t make it – we did. I met my best friends through this social networking site. I met my husband. I gained a lot of experience blogging at a time when few people even knew what that meant. Truthfully, YOUNet gave all of us a head start on our careers, too. Jeff became a knock-out graphic designer in Chicago & Boston. Derek is an IT consultant in Dallas. Laura is an awesome marketing and brand consultant for SALT Branding in San Francisco. Tanner is one of the best web developers in the state. He has 7 years of serious programming experience, which he’s put to work for OSU, Eskimo Joe’s, several side projects like Lookit!, and numerous clients.
I hope the new okstateu.com site doesn’t suffer from the problems we had, or at least can learn from the group before it. I know Bill Handy will do his best to make the new site a great experience for students. Just don’t forget about YOU.
* At the time, OSU used a login system called Dexter for student email. It was atrocious. Tanner and Derek wrote a different login for YOUNet, which we advertised extensively. Students became users in order to access their email through YOUNet instead of Dexter. Most of those 20,000 users weren’t active on the forums & blogs everyday, though. When Tanner went to OSU IT, his first job was to help re-write OSU’s email authentication/login system.