A new social networking website specific to the UC system was launched last month as a virtual unifier encouraging communication between students, professors and alumni through one-on-one video chats.
UCMeTalk has garnered 1,000 student fol- lowers so far and allows randomly selected indi- viduals from different universities to connect and build professional and casual relationships by extending their networking opportunities. The site, which went live on Oct. 22, was founded by Purdue University senior Nazir Katbi, UC Los Angeles senior Omar Hilmy, UC Irvine alumnus Anthony Liu and UC Riverside alumnus Siraj Soliman.
According to Katbi, the project manager of UCMeTalk, the group is ecstatic for the site’s future in bringing together UC students through an innovative online approach. Katbi said the inspiration behind a UC social networking system came from the UC Davis pepper spray inci- dent last November as well as a desire to see individuals linked by their activism.
“We were definitely inspired by what hap- pened at UC Davis last year, with regards to the pepper spray incident,” Katbi said. “Basically, my friends and I consider ourselves to be pretty much in the social activist loop, and we saw what happened when the pictures came out. At the same time, coincidently, we all had been talking about starting a project before graduating, so I guess both of those two things intersected at that time. After a while, we realized, why not just wake up college students that don’t know each other, together through networking and moving beyond just the typi- cal way to meet new people on campus? And one idea led to another, and it kind of all just exploded into UCMeTalk.”
Students, alumni and campus faculty members who sign on to UCMeTalk must have valid UC.edu email addresses and are asked to specify their gender, college major and status.
Katbi said his favorite aspect of the website is the concept of matching up random people, much like the social network Chatroulette, but in a safe manner with fellow classmates from the same or different UC campuses.
“For me, I really like the concept of getting on the website and being able to meet someone new,” Katbi said. “But at the same time, because we restrict it to the UC students, it’s still like someone in your realm of relevance. It’s really cool to be able to meet someone you never could’ve had access to, yet at the same time you have so much in common with.”
Other features of the site include a point-awarding system where students can add or subtract a point from a user’s “reputation” after chatting and be eligible for weekly prizes depending on their amount of points. There is also a “shout-out” feature, similar to a status update, which allows users to reach out to peers via brief messages.
According to UCSB second-year communication major John Craig, the networking system is unique and appealing because it allows for campuses to share information and learn from each other.
“I like the idea of it,” Craig said. “It’s trying to link all the UC schools together, and for us students, it’s beneficial because we’re able to get our thoughts out and see how other UCs are running their schools versus how we’re running ours. That’s like a channel for us to be able to trade information from school to school.”
Craig also said the site bridges gaps between cam- puses and can be a potential catalyst for research.
“It brings unity to the UC system, because gener- ally speaking, we are one school,” Craig said. “We can use this, like, someone from Berkeley can help teach someone from our school … they can exchange infor- mation.”
However, Craig said more people need to be informed about the website’s purpose and features in order for it to be mutually beneficial for all 10 UC campuses.
“What needs to happen is that a lot of people need to hear about this and be positive[ly] motivated about joining this website,” Craig said. “The idea of it is awesome, and it’s something that is definitely new that no one’s really thought of. I think if we can just get a lot of people to hear about it, and get this viral across the UC system, it would be beneficial to all our campuses.”
According to UCSB communication professor Miriam Metzger, UCMeTalk might be a superfluous service as existing social networking sites currently link many academies to one another.
“I think that the goal and idea for the website is good, as it aims to build community, which is always a good thing,” Metzger said. “I worry about the site’s viability, given the intense competition with sites like Facebook. I am not sure people really want to have more than one social networking site or have the time to be active on more than one.”
This past week, the site hosted a Multicultural Networking Night; according to Katbi, future plans for UCMeTalk include incorporating similar themes into the site and adding more features to ensure that the network connects students with similar interests and needs.
“We’re trying to launch a big, live video network,” Katbi said. “It’s got great career-building options — things along the lines of debate rooms, tutoring rooms, stuff like that — so that’s what’s coming in the future.”
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of November 19th, 2012’s print edition of the Nexus.