URoomSurf: FacebookGate 2010?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Community, Ethics, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 01-19-2010

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If you’ve searched for your school’s Class of 2014 group on Facebook, you might have noticed another group come up in the search results. The group has your institution’s name in the title, but it’s a “roommate finder” sponsored by URoomSurf.com. The logo for the group, a gigantic blue U.

When I first saw these groups popping up, I immediately thought back to the College Prowler / MatchU incident for the Class of 2009, or as you might know it better, FacebookGate.  And here are the two things I thought to myself:

  1. Whoever is behind this is fully aware of what happened with FacebookGate last year.
  2. Whoever is behind this learned that as a community, we weren’t big fans of them 1) using our official logos and 2) calling it an official group.
  3. Whoever is behind this learned that it’s best to be transparent about who is behind the group.

This year’s story starts with Scott Kilmer from Abilene Christian University, a BlueFuego client. He started with a general inquiry to URoomSurf asking for them to provide the contact on ACU’s campus that has purchased their services and/or given permission for URoomSurf to host a matching program with the indication that ACU’s residence halls would be able to fulfill the requests created there. After URoomSurf noted there is no affiliation, Scott asked that they remove the group, which URoomSurf would not. They did, however, change the name of the group from “Abilene Christian University 2014″ to “ACU 2014″. (Luckily, ACU owns the copyrights for both and Scott will now be pointing to 2 lines of the Facebook TOC: 3) We will provide you with tools to help you protect your intellectual property rights. 5) If you repeatedly infringe other people’s intellectual property rights, we will disable your account when appropriate.)

So this is where it gets interesting. I passed the email chain over to the rest of the BlueFuego team to keep them in the loop, and Joe comes back to me with a simple email.  ”Does this name ring a bell???” The WHOIS on URoomSurf.com brings up this name: Justin Gaither.

Either the person behind URoomSurf is so intimate with the details of FacebookGate that they even decided to register the domain name after one of the perpetrators, or it is indeed Justin Gaither who is again behind it, back for round 2.  The same Justin Gaither who owned a company last year called MatchU, which had no web presence and was left largely unremembered/unscathed through the whole incident as College Prowler took the majority of the PR hit.

I’m leaving it open as to whether it’s Justin Gaither behind this again, but here’s what we also know.  It certainly makes sense to forget the MatchU name all together and go with something else to match roommates, such as “URoomSurf.” It also lines up that there’s yet to be a website for URoomSurf.com, just as last year with MatchU.

So, here we go again. :) Here’s the spreadsheet of all of the groups and member names to date, feel free to chip in. We’re already seeing the same trends as last year, such as common names starting groups as admins.

http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AoR-2dTA7L87dGRlZVRNUFRHaFJXN3M4REtBYS0yQmc&hl=en

Here’s the list of 499 colleges and universities that URoomSurf intends to target (also listed on the 2nd tab of the Google Doc). Feel free to search schools and fill in the spreadsheet with the information.

Last year I mentioned that I thought this would be less of an issue if they had 1) not pretended to be official institution accounts, 2) used copyrighted images, and 3) had been transparent about who was behind the group.   They certainly listened to the community.  So now that you know the information at hand, what do you think?  What is the institution’s place? Discuss in the comments below.

And a huge thanks to Joe and Scott for kicking this off and making this post happen with their sleuthing!

UPDATE: Scott has successfully gotten the ACU and Abilene Christian University trademarks removed from the group name. It’s now called “Incoming students going to college in Abilene and looking for roommates!!” and no longer shows in a search for ACU 2014.  Nice work, Scott!

UPDATE 2: It’s nice to see they’ve actually put a placeholder on their .com site. We’ll see what happens from here.

UPDATE 3: I removed erroneous claims pointing to a Craigslist ad.  After last year’s Craigslist connection with hiring students to do the dirty work, I overlooked a sentence and did not fully read the Craiglist ad I posted.

Comments posted (74)

OK, so I am very late to this discussion. Mostly because my small university was unaffected by the Facebookgate occurrence last year. However, as a young, ambitious individual working in higher education and representing a university on social media sites, I feel like I can weigh in on this topic.

URS, you have to understand that the essence of social media (especially on a site like Facebook) is trust, authenticity and transparency. *holler Mark G* Students should know what they are opting in to with complete confidence that their institution can honor the agreement that they made with URS.

URS should be doing working with schools to offer this service to ensure students are getting what they want. That makes URS and the university accountable if they can’t deliver. But borrowing university names, logos and marks, and slapping up links to your website is misrepresentation. There is a perception that you are sponsored by the university, just by using its name.

If these inexperienced college graduates don’t know better (and I find that a little hard to believe with what happened last year) then Steven Moseley should have. Why didn’t he advise them to approach schools and students in legitimate and conventional ways? Posting links on group pages or creating groups for schools they are not hired by is SPAM and misrepresentation. Purchasing advertising space on Facebook, developing relationships with admissions and housing officials at universities, and “hitting the pavement” with their developed, well-thought out business model should have been a higher priority than creating “buzz.”

Brad and BlueFuego, once again, thanks for your vigilance and honesty. Keep up the good work.

Heather & Other Followers:

You bring up some points we have not addressed yet. The issues about colleges being able to honor roommate requests have already been discussed. Most schools have a policy that students can mutually request roommates. Others do not. That doesn’t mean a student won’t find the website valuable. We make it clear that there are no promises that they will be paired together as roommates for on-campus housing or that there are no affiliations with any school. There is nothing wrong with providing a better resource for identification and networking purposes.
Heather points out that students are confused. These are H.S. seniors. They can think for themselves and read our information to understand who we are and what we do. So we respectfully disagree with the perception that students are somehow confused. Students understand URoomSurf is an upgrade from how they network and identify roommates in Facebook groups. I think it requires an understanding of the STUDENT perspective and what they have been doing for the past 3 years in these groups to understand exactly what and how they are thinking. I think we can say that we do understand the student perspective as we are recent graduates, and our website has had overwhelming success in only 5 days.

We never used any logos of any university to market URoomSurf. We never use fake profiles to market URoomSurf. We understand the use of university names was not favored by anyone here, but the fact is we believe it is within fair use, and was necessary to identify groups of students. Having an understanding of and willingness to see where each side is coming from has been very helpful for us and we hope it can be helpful for those that disagree with our views.

Over the summer we contacted a reasonable sample of college housing offices, big and small, private and public. We told them about URoomSurf and asked for their thoughts. We did not speak with admissions since roommates are primarily a housing-related issue. That being said, we may have called your school already.

This is what we found:

1. Most schools were not ready to work with us as we did not have any history or feedback from student users. A few offices said, show us that students want it and we can begin the discussion from there. Otherwise we can’t really move forward.

2. Some schools disagreed on the simple idea that this type of service would present a value proposition to a student. I think we have proven students find the service valuable. Some schools said they didn’t know if it would. We’ve answered that question in our first five days.

3. Most schools are risk-averse. They won’t involve themselves with any third-party if there is too much risk involved. As young guys, right out of college with no experience and no university endorsements, it was pretty clear that no school would work with us until we establish proof of concept, and proof of value.
Our service as it stands may not provide much value to housing departments, but as Steve mentioned above, we have at least established the POSSIBILITY of an application that can deliver value to the student and housing office in areas of time / cost savings, and overall utility. A poster above said it was impossible. We are entrepreneurs. We see obstacles as challenges, but nothing is impossible for anyone that has the vision and drive to see something through.

After compiling information from the housing departments we had conversations with, it did not make sense for us to spend our time marketing to colleges themselves.

We understand that many of you felt we should have consulted with admissions first, but talking to admissions offices about housing-related issues simply didn’t make sense. We understand that using a university name in our groups wasn’t taken well, but the name is a necessary descriptor of who the group is for.

If you allow yourselves to be objective just for a moment we hope you can see the big picture and the possibilities of how technology can bring people together in better ways than ever before. This is what students want.

As far as our comments and those of others: Few of us have stood up to many on this blog, and tried our best to do so respectfully while others have nit-picked at little issues as if they are HUGE problems, taken personal shots at us, and basically have shown their goal is to stop us at all costs. Others here have jumped to conclusions without understanding their own “evidence” or created Facebook groups calling us shady, and encouraging their students to join in (don’t worry these same students are using the website, and the group can no longer be found). We’ve done our best to respond with valid arguments, real evidence, and sound logic – while others show their anger by repeating the same arguments that have been addressed from the very beginning. We don’t know what else we can do on our end but to keep our doors and lines of communication open for anyone willing to work with us.
We’ve posted our number and e-mail address above. You can also find our contact information at our website.

Anonymous URoomSurfer – First, please don’t assume we don’t have an “understanding of the STUDENT perspective and what they have been doing for the past 3 years in these groups to understand exactly what and how they are thinking.”

I’ve done more research on this topic than you, guaranteed, and I’ve been researching these groups FAR before you even dreamed up this little venture of yours.

http://squaredpeg.com/index.php/class-of-2012-research/

“I think we can say that we do understand the student perspective as we are recent graduates, and our website has had overwhelming success in only 5 days.”
You can only play the recent graduate card so long. The fact is, you’re graduated and you’re in business now. And there are no concessions for newbies in the real world.

The simple fact is that (advertisements aside) you NEED the cooperation of universities to be long-term sustainable, and you’re totally missing this point.

The more people such as Rahel the URoomSurf Rep come in and say things like “CHECK OUT http://WWW.UROOMSURF.COM Are you still calling it a scam? It’s ok, I’ll wait.”, I the more I blow your product and site off as another little entrepreneur venture that won’t be around long.

So when clients and newspapers and magazines come to me for my opinion, as well as others in the community who are dealing with you, and this is our impression of you…. what do you think we are going to say to these publications that are read by higher ed professionals FAR beyond what my little blog’s readership has? We’ll continue to dismiss URoomSurf, tell others to avoid, and by the end of the day, your attitude and demeanor do the talking LONG before anyone even acknowledges or tries your product. Your attitude is a reflection of your entire company, and ANYONE who is representing your brand, such as Rahel, or Kelly Klein, or anyone else blocking administrators such as JD so they can continue to spam groups, continues to drive your brand into the dirt.

It’s simple business. Respect your community first. Choose your business partners wisely. Listen carefully to the people that your product depends on for success. LEGWORK and talk to others before launching a product (especially when you have a track record in higher ed such as Mr Gaither). Don’t constantly attack and defend your product when there are obvious flaws. And if they didn’t teach you any of this at UMiami before you graduated, perhaps it’s time to put the business ventures to the side and go back to school for some more education.

Brad. A little bit condescending.

URS,
Thank you for clarifying a few points, such as your history with universities and their reactions to your service.

I don’t think anyone here has a problem with the service you are providing. And I think there are students who would find this service useful. (Roommatefinder.com has been successful for quite a few years now). Although, to be honest, five days isn’t exactly a benchmark for success. I think most people here have a problem with your tactics, which seems shady and show your inexperience. Brad is right is saying that if you want acceptance and buy-in from clients, you must get on their good side first by proving you’re trustworthy and knowledgeable.

I also agree with Brad that you can’t play the “I’m a recent college graduate” hand forever. I graduated 2 years ago, so I’m no old fogie that’s out of touch with the student experience. And if you think high school students are mature enough and knowledgeable enough to navigate the college-entry waters without confusion then you are seriously mistaken. But as you keep reverting back to your inexperience, I guess you should chalk up this whole situation to a worthwhile lesson in business and life.

As for your claim for not using ghost accounts to create these groups and then spam university-sponsored groups, that’s just untrue. After my last posting on this blog I did a little more investigating with my own university groups, and the URS group creator and “student” posting your link on group pages was either a URS employee posing as a student or a fake student altogether. Either way, I believe my university will be taking it up with our legal adviser.

Respectfully,
Heather

UPDATE: Since my post this morning, I have had a conversation with Justin from URoomSurf.com, my boss at the University of Central Missouri, and the director of housing and dining at UCM.

First, upon checking our database of prospective students, the student who posted a link to URS in the official UCM Class of 2014 group appears to be legit. While I can’t speak for all university’s who have been affected by URS, in this instance it checks out. I encourage each of you to check for yourselves to be sure.

Speaking with the director and marketing coord. for UCM’s housing and dining area affirmed my thought that URoomSurf.com was operating without permission from anyone at the university. Conversations with my bosses has led us to consult this issue, as well as the use of the title of the university in its group, with our legal adviser. I will not comment further on this matter.

Heather

I’m a freshman at Clemson University and I was an administrator of the Class Of 2013 facebook group last year. I’m highly aware of what happened with FacebookGate as the group I was initially in was deleted by facebook because of the college prowler incident.

This year, someone from Los Angeles who I at first assumed was an accepted student to Clemson approached me with helping me create a group for the Class of 2014. I agree and he promoted the group saying that I ran the group last year and was very knowledgeable about Clemson stuff. The group expanded. One day I logged onto facebook to find that I had been kicked out as the administrator of the 2014 group and had been replaced by 4 people who did not yet have any posts or interactions with the facebook group.

Shortly afterwards, all sort of posts appeared people (who weren’t necessarily administrators) saying that they had filled out this great survey on URoomSurf and encouraged everybody to join the same. I had a feeling what was going on but was powerless to do anything.

Yesterday was the final straw for me. I noticed that all the roommate surveys that students had started had been deleted by the administrators and in their place was a new discussion board topic telling everybody to join URoomSurf. I decided to end my involvement with this group and created my own 2014 group where only me and people I know that are legit students here would be the administrators. I’ve also contacted the admissions office to see if anybody in their office would like to help with their effort. However, many incoming students do not know about what happened with the facebook groups and refuse to believe what I am saying about them (since one of the administrators sent out a message to the group members apologizing for deleting the roommate surveys). Also, once I posted something in the group directing people to the new facebook group, I received lots of comments telling me to “chill out” and that they see no problem with what’s going on in the group either (many with suspicious accounts as well). Anyways, that’s what’s going on with the Clemson facebook groups. The administrators have since switched from yesterday and now there’s a whole new group of administrators who have never had any contact with the facebook group (no wall posts, no interaction) yet are not friends with each other.

If anybody has an idea of what to do, feel free to email me at ptong@clemson.edu

never mind, the former group administrators got removed and replaced with new administrators who are high school graduates in 2010 (seems more legit) and the group seems to be restored to normal. I got contacted by Justin Gaither and he seems to say that he had nothing to do with what happened.

Don’t know what happened before with all the stuff posted before, I guess I’ll never know haha

FYI Pierre – When a student registers at URoomSurf, they are given a snippet of HTML code that they can use to suggest the service to their friends on Facebook.

We don’t make them use it, but the explanation to all URoomSurf ads you’re seeing is simple: kids are signing up, like the service, and are suggesting it to other kids.

“We never use fake profiles to market URoomSurf.”

Then please explain why the URoomSurf discussion thread in our Class of 2014 group was started by someone named “Justin Blackwell” who, oddly enough, looks exactly like Justin Gaither (a face I’m guessing is probably seared into the memories of many higher ed folks who were involved with Facebookgate last year – or, for those who weren’t, just check out the About Us section of URoomSurf).

Brad et al. are absolutely correct. Honestly, as a higher ed administrator I don’t have a problem with the idea or concept behind URoomSurf, provided there are accurate disclaimers and respect for University housing offices. It’s the shady and unprofessional marketing that raises red flags for me.

Tom -

Allow me to explain further. First of all, Blackwell is one of my middle names.

Just because I use an account for business purposes and an account for personal purposes doesn’t mean its a fake profile. You said it yourself, the picture is me. My profile is public for anyone to view, and you can find my contact information and associations listed.

A similar use by the blog owner is a great example. I have just as much right to have a business account as Blue Fuego.

Brad’s company – BlueFuego has an account under the name “Blue Fuego.”

See image: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/177969/BlueFuego.png

There is nothing wrong with the use here, except Blue Fuego is an organization, not a person.

It is a common practice by many FB users, including higher ed professionals. Exampes: XYZ University Admissions, XYZ College Res Life, etc.

Your opinion is that our marketing is “shady” or “unprofessional.” I respectfully disagree with that opinion. My opinion is that our marketing is reaching students and helping them network and identify potential roommates and friends, which is the purpose of the website.

If you have any further concerns feel free to give us a call, or e-mail. Contact info is on the website.

Thanks

BlueFuego’s Facebook profile is nothing more than a name save. Feel free to friend it, you’ll just get a message directing you to our Fan Page like so many others. :)

http://twitpic.com/14s4nq/full

http://www.dentistsurgery.com
Looking up for the information for a paper on teeth diseases I came across dentistsurgery.com site. The information presented there is indispensable: 5 main teeth diseases described in each detail with pictures and advice how to prevent them! My paper was the best one in my group!

Brad. A little bit condescending…

The opposition has no argurment and the service is very popular. Why get between the site and its 80k users when it helps the kids make friends before collegei

FYI Pierre – When a student registers at URoomSurf, they are given a snippet of HTML code that they can use to suggest the service to their friends on Facebook.

We don’t make them use it, but the explanation to all URoomSurf ads you’re seeing is simple: kids are signing up, like the service, and are suggesting it to other kids.

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