August 24, 2007

Campus Creation Aids Networking

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Amir Heyat ’08 and Can Babaoglu ’08 have found a niche in the ever-popular group of social networking sites that even Facebook, Wikipedia or YouTube cannot fill. They have spent the last several months creating, a new website designed to provide a more intimate connection among Cornellians.
“The Internet is often just like playing a video game, especially with Facebook’s new applications like the ‘superpoke’ that have distanced it from real life. We want to integrate real-life interactions with our website,” Heyat said.
After signing onto with a Cornell net id and creating a simple profile consisting of name and class, the page has four parts: a dictionary, “zampus scene,” a “cafés” section, and a “videos” section.
The user-created dictionary is similar to Wikipedia, except that it features Cornell slang terms such as “CTB” and “hotelies.” Zampus scene is a section about nightlife and enables users to look up favorite bars and share their nightly plans with other users. The cafés section enables users to advertise casual activities and gatherings like sports pick-up games. Lastly, the “videos” section is similar to YouTube, except that it is only accessible to Cornell students.
If Zampus succeeds and expands to other campuses, the creators insist that each school will have its separate network.
“Facebook will never have the homey, cozy feel that Zampus will have within each campus,” Heyat said.
Heyat and Babaoglu, after discovering that they had a similar desire to make Cornell a more integrated campus, started to collaborate on the project. They feel that although Cornell boasts of its diversity, some students have expressed concern as they find themselves only socializing with circles of people similar to themselves.
“The community is small but often divided into groups — like Greek life, the international students, and different ethnic groups. Our website allows you to interact with the full spectrum of students through the things they write and the videos they make,” Heyat said.
“I believe Cornell is an open culture, and as a foreign student I felt welcome, but I had certain problems like understanding slang, and I hope our website can help people from everywhere adapt to the Cornell culture. I think it may serve as a window to other parts of the community,” Babagolu said.
Heyat and Babaoglu began their project without any technical background. THEY searched firms in multiple continents for technical support AND eventually met fellow Cornell student Mark Thomas ’10 who helped them connect with a company in Austin, Texas.
“We approached the company in May, flew out to Austin, and told them we wanted the website ready by August,” Babaoglu said.
The website is set to launch some time in the next two weeks, between August 31 and September 8.
Both Heyat and Babaoglu plan to make management of Zampus their full-time job when they graduate.
“I felt a huge pressure to go into investment banking, but I wanted to do something I felt ownership of. We’re proud of our creation, but ultimately the website will take on a life of its own. The users will decide its success,” Babaoglu said.