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MIT staff blogger Chris Peterson SM '13

Going Social by Chris Peterson SM '13

Thinking about MIT Admissions and social media.

I remember the first time I ever heard of Facebook. I was donning my cap and gown and preparing to walk at my high school graduation. Pomp and Circumstance bellowed off the bricks nearby. Over the din, a friend shouted that his older brother had something called The Face Book, and that “everyone was in it.”

His brother was a meaty metalhead (and consequently a personal hero of mine) so I figured it was some sort of creepy cultish leather tome with yellowed pages and predictions about how each one of us would inevitably meet our untimely, grisly demise. I was wrong – that was Craigslist. But, like so many cripplingly insecure and regularly unwashed college freshman boys, I joined it anyway, and it soon changed – even became – my life.

This was ages ago – long before the first Rick had ever been Rolled – and it was a very different website then. There were no photos, no groups, and no messages – just a profile picture, interests, and a wall. Students could not friend students at other colleges. In fact, most colleges weren’t on Facebook. In retrospect, it was a primitive and dim space to socialize, not unlike a hipster bar in an NYC bomb shelter, or Olympic Stadium in Montreal (poor Youppi!).

It’s been a little over four years since then. And though I still can’t grow a decent beard, oh how the times have changed!

Facebook now has over 300 million members. Over 80 billion photos have been uploaded, and over 600,000 are viewed every minute. Brody Ruckus has given way to Billabong. Like a scruffy college graduate who has somehow managed to bluff his way into a real job, Facebook has hit the big time, and now actually gets taken seriously.

And for good reason too. All organizations – profit or nonprofit, private or public – require human capital to produce their goods or spread their message. We’re all people powered, and sites like Facebook are our cold fusion. When asked why he robbed banks, diminutive miscreant Willie Sutton replied “because that’s where the money is.” Well, organizations love Facebook (and other social network sites) because that’s where the people are.

So starting today, you’ll see a “Share on Facebook” link at the bottom of every blog entry. By clicking this link, you may choose to publish the article to the News Feed of your five thousand closest Friends on Facebook. Everybody wins. Your Friends will see cool content they may have never stumbled across otherwise. You get to be the dude or dudette who provides the hook-up. And we get to spread our message to people who might otherwise never have seen it.

That’s why they call it “social media” – because it is animated by and conducted within our preexisting social circles. But within this promise of social media lies its peril.

We know that even if you love MIT, you may not want MIT to be where your friends are, jumping in where it is isn’t wanted like that awkward kid in high school who invited himself over to your house and would let himself in and begin eating your Cheetos while loudly criticizing your Tekken techniques. And we want to respect your wishes, even if you ARE a certifiable moron for going with the Armor King over Ganryu.

But it’s not that simple, because we don’t know what your wishes are. Some studies show that prospective students prefer for school to contact them via Facebook. Others suggest that students prefer email for these sorts of inquiries, and would like for Spam U. to let them Farmville in peace. We also know that different students use different social spaces online, and that no one site represents all the students we might like to speak with.

The best way for MIT to achieve the potential of these social sites is for y’all to guide us around their pitfalls. Our new “Share” links are relatively unproblematic and uncontroversial, and I hope you will use them (perhaps even on this post!) However, as we move forward, we’ll be looking to you (collectively) for guidance. What social spaces do you use when you’re thinking about, researching, or discussing college applications? What social activities or practices (apps, chats, pages, etc) would you like to see more of? Would you play an MIT Farmville or Mafia Wars, and would you share it with your friends who’d never thought of MIT because they’d find it fun too?

I actually do believe in viral marketing, which is to say that I believe promotions can be as fun to experience as they are effective at messaging. But here at the Admissions Office, we’re all (sadly, even myself) old fogeys, and the only “hip” thing for us is the prosthetic kind. So tell me, what could we create in the crowdsourced Web 2.0 blogosphere networked public buzzword universe that would be fun, educational, and social for you?

20 responses to “Going Social”

  1. sepideh says:

    nice idea…!

  2. sepideh says:

    did I just now lost the oppurtunity to mention irritatingly FIRST! …? ah crap…

  3. Rishi says:

    That’s awesome!

  4. MIT Farmville? Could such a thing ever be created? Wouldn’t it more like “MITville”? Now that’s a game I’d play. Heh.

  5. Anon says:


  6. Perry says:

    MIT IRC channel? Not the best for mass messaging, more for people helping each other out/getting to chat with other applicants.

    and smashing pumpkins rock

  7. Anon says:

    Harvest Moon is infinitely better than Farmville and has been around much longer.

    This is a fact.

  8. Chris says:

    @Perry –

    IRC channel has been suggested, and I’m not necessarily opposed to just hanging out on one aimlessly all day. However, IRC is basically something that CS types use, and while MIT is hardly opposed to CS types (I think that should go without saying) it also doesn’t necessarily broaden our reach.

    For “helping each other out”, I’m currently thinking of something more like Digg / ObamaCTO crossed with the Berkman Question Tool. The idea is that people can ask questions that are not answered on the website, and then other people can hang out and answer them, and then vote up or down helpful answers, mark a question as answered, etc. What do you think?

  9. Alireza'14 says:

    @ Sepideh are u applying this year?

  10. oasis '11 says:

    i still support a joint twitter for the bloggers on the sidebar of the main page…even though i’m against twitter on everything else. raspberry

  11. Chris says:

    @everyone suggesting a twitter:

    what for? I mean, what could we post on a Twitter, or how could we use it, in a way that would be worthwhile and not just an announcement RSS feed? Keep in mind that all of the good Twitters (like shaq’s for instance) are updated consistently by a single person, and in our case that person would have to be someone, probably me, whose job would include randomly responding to weird things etc. Not sure it’s the best use of time…

  12. Ruhban says:

    @chris: yeah u probally right about the IRC thing. What you are suggesting is precisely what most of us would love to get. What about something like a regular webchat, with our MyMIT id n password to keep spammers out. There is one more thing that might have been great to include, but just got this light bulb and now only let it go, thought tell me your views about it. As in SFS, we got some people dedicated to a particular group of people, the same way, if we have some people from the admission office to mentor applicants. Perhaps it wont be possible for our application season but maybe from next year. I knw mentoring 15000+ applicants aint much of a practical feasibility but am sure it can be made possible with a few cosmetic changes here and there!!! what say?

  13. Chris says:

    @Ruhban –

    Interesting idea. Honestly I’m not sure we have the peoplepower to mentor 15k+ applicants with our regular staff – I’m not sure how much mentoring I could do for 1000 students “assigned” to me during the busiest time of the year!

    I think the best solution is to build conversational systems that let current MIT students and more experienced prospectives mentor newcomers. To that end, maybe an IRC backchannel is a good thing to build, but I’m definitely looking forward to some sort of Pligglike install that would allow people to answer each other’s questions and so forth.

    I’d also like threaded comments, but MT 3.2 isn’t exactly the flower of new technology. Hopefully we can upgrade soon…

  14. Ruhban says:


    Yep “peoplepower” problem is a real one but it necessarily dosent mean to be admission officer directly. What can be done is to let volunteer students mentor a batch of applicants and then like 10-20 or so, students can ask for help from admission officers as n when needed.

    For the upgrades “May the force be with u”

  15. Anonymous says:

    Let it be twittered!

  16. VAL ('14?) says:

    I would definitely play “MITville” or “MIT Wars”. I’m not even joking here.

    “Congratulations! You have been promoted by William Barton Rogers to a level 300 Hacker!”

  17. manis404 says:

    A PERIODICALLY active IRC channel could solve that manpower problem. I mean, the channel could be active a few hours a day/week/month/whatever. Bloggers could take turns at animating the channel for an even manpower usage. And a note could be posted somewhere(on the main page?) to let the blog stalkers know when the next “live chat” session is scheduled.

    One more (fun?) thing I think the comment system could be improved with “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” system, where each comment can be mercilessly rated(or down rated). Engadget style.

  18. Will says:

    Twitter could serve the purpose of transmitting tiny ideas that would never be blogged about, or would take too much time to be written and delivered to the web masses.

  19. Lainers '12 says:

    For what it’s worth, I was reading the blogs as much to help me to decide to apply as during and after I applied. The blogs – Sam and Mollie and Laura are the ones I primarily remember – are a larger portion of why I wound up with MIT as a first choice than it is easy for me to admit. The fact that they were somewhat indexed, easy to find, and especially that I could read to my hearts’ content without signing in or having any account anywhere were very important. That said, I’m probably not typical.

  20. Val'14? says:

    Hey youre not an old fogey, you have very cute ear phones!
    Great blog and awesome idea!