Back at the beginning, before Facebook grew into its final form, now CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially put together a simple app called 'FaceMash' which was essentially a 'hot or not' style app that compared Harvard students, based on their looks, by using images of them that had been published on the college website.
From there, Zuckerberg evolved the idea into 'TheFacebook', a directory of Harvard students, which went on to eventually become Facebook as we know it, a global behemoth now used by almost half the planet.
Yet, for all its successes, it seems that Zuck and Co. are still keen on exploring their college roots, and getting back to their initial purpose - as evidenced by Facebook's latest release, a college only, enclosed engagement space called 'Facebook Campus'.
As explained by Facebook:
"This year, students across the country are facing new challenges as some campuses shift to partial or full-time remote learning, so it’s more important than ever to find a way to stay connected to college life. In the early days, Facebook was a college-only network, and now we’re returning to our roots with Facebook Campus to help students make and maintain these relationships, even if they’re away from their college."
No word as to whether it will incorporate Zuck's original vision of ranking the 'hotness' of follow students.
Essentially, Facebook Campus is like Facebook Workplace, with separate, enclosed Facebook networks for each college.
"Campus is a college email-verified space designed for students to get updates from classmates, groups and events in a college-specific feed. Students can create study groups, plan virtual concerts or ask for advice with college-only Groups and Events."
In addition to this, students can find classmates by class, major and year (which seems like it could be fertile ground for stalkers), and create chat rooms for their dorm, clubs or any other groups they’re part of.
Security and privacy concerns are front of mind for Facebook - in a separate post, Facebook has also outlined how Campus users will be able to control what personal information is listed on the platform.
"Every Campus profile contains your name, cover photo and profile photo from your Facebook profile, as well as your graduation year. All other fields are optional and you can choose what you want to include. You can choose to delete your Campus profile through Campus settings at any time and your Campus profile will no longer appear in the classmates directory. You can also delete data such as comments in a group, posts, reactions, or an event in your Activity Log."
Really, your controls in this respect are fairly limited - if you choose to use Campus, your information will be made available. Which makes sense, but as noted, it could lead to unintended consequences.
Interestingly, Facebook also notes that it may track your usage and behaviors in Campus for use in ad targeting on other platforms:
"As with other Facebook products, we may use your activity from Facebook Campus to personalize your experience on our apps to show you more relevant content, including ads. This means your activity on Facebook may influence what you see in Campus, and your activity in Campus may influence what you see elsewhere on Facebook."
"Facebook, according to reports, has been losing its grip on the younger demographic, as they’ve shifted their attention to other social apps, like YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. [...] Facebook Campus is built to bring these users back by offering a more exclusive place for private networking within Facebook."
Through that usage, Facebook could find another way into these younger demographics, keeping them connected in other ways, even if they don't choose to use the main Facebook app so readily. So more than a dedicated space for college students to catch up, it could also be a dedicated platform for Facebook to gather insights to fuel its ad tools.
Which, of course, is all of Facebook, but this maybe a more overt offering in this respect.
Facebook has been developing Campus for some time - back in April, reverse engineering expert Jane Manchun Wong posted screenshots of the platform in testing.
Facebook is working on “Campus”, a new space exclusive for college students— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) April 9, 2020
There will be Groups, Events, etc for “Campus” spaces pic.twitter.com/cfEwubLxTt
Now, with schools returning in a changed environment, Facebook's launching the tool. Which could indeed help Zuck and Co keep tabs on younger usage groups as a means to extend Facebook's reach.
If younger people use it. There does seem to be an intentional shift away from Facebook among younger audiences, which may have as much to do with the company as the platform itself.
Can Campus help Facebook overcome this? We'll have to wait and see.
Campus will initially be made available in 30 US colleges, with further expansion planned in future.