Facebook assignment turns lucrative

January 15, 2008 9:49:35 AM PST
Some Stanford students went to the social networking site Facebook in search of a good grade. But, they're finding a lucrative side-effect to an assignment on computer applications.

Send a kiss, or perhaps a hug. Granted they're the electronic versions, but these are just a few of the things a person can do on Facebook -- one of the most popular social networking sites in the world.

"I think we've had 30-million hugs sent around the world now. We've touched almost every single country," said Dan Ackerman Greenberg, Stanford University masters student.

And this is a success achieved over just the last few months. Dan Ackerman Greenberg is part of a trio of Stanford University students who built the hugs application on the Facebook site last fall -- the impact is genuine.

"Someone posted on our forum a message to their mother who had terminal cancer saying 'we love you mom, we support you, you know, sending you a hug'," said Brett Keintz, Stanford University M.B.A. student.

This project stems from a first-ever Stanford class -- teaching how to create engaging web applications and analyze how people's use of the internet is evolving. Since May 2007, Facebook has provided a free applications software for anyone to use on its site. Greenberg -- also a teacher's assistant -- says it's the perfect tool to teach with.

"Understanding the metrics and analytics behind all of it. Who are these people, down to the individual level. What are they doing? How often are they doing it and why are they doing it?" said Dan Ackerman Greenberg.

Those were the academic motives behind this class, but it catapulted into much more than that. 80 students broke into work-groups. Each vying to create their own catchy Facebook application. Many projects became extremely viral. For example, millions of Facebook users worldwide installed and started sending hugs. Nearly 2-million in the U.K., there were even several hundred hugs coming out Iraq and Iran. The "kiss me" idea was another big hit for one student-group.

"All you do is log in, select some friends from a list and send kisses to them. When we hit a million we knew that we had something going. And then we hit two million," said Chris Mocko, Stanford University student.

And that's why Chris Mocko says his group took their idea from class to company -- forming their own LLC.

"It was like we were in this giant incubator for a start-up," said Chris Mocko.

The money started rolling in when they posted online ads on their "kiss me" Facebook application, with ad revenue sometimes reaching up to $700 a day.

"If you have over like 50,000 to 60,000 daily active users, which we've had pretty steadily throughout, that could pay for tuition for one person," said Chris Mocko.

The Stanford students' success on Facebook led at least three teams to incorporate as companies. Others even got job offers from existing web businesses. Not bad for one academic quarter of work, delving into a new social frontier.

"Because it is such a new area, it's kind of like the wild west. And no one really knows what the jobs avenues are," said Rob Fan, Stanford University graduate.

"I'm really excited to see what our classmates do out of this class, but you know, Silicon Valley is the place where all this innovation happens. There's no place like it," said Brett Keintz.

There is huge demand at Stanford for this class. And it will be offered again in the spring quarter. Next time though, the class may try teaching with a competing product -- instead of Facebook, they may use Google's new open-social tool.


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