Online students connect off line with ‘geosocial’ networking

Double Dutch could be on more campuses later this year.

Because an online college student might want to meet a classmate the old-fashioned way – face to face – Arizona State University (ASU) has a social networking platform that helps students spot each other on their laptops and smart phones.

More than 600 ASU Online students are connected to spark, a “geosocial” site that allows students to check in when they enter a library, coffee shop, or anywhere else in their community. The hope is that other ASU web-based students will see a virtual classmate in a nearby coffee shop and stop by to say hello.

The spark site, powered by San Francisco-based Double Dutch, is similar to other geosocial or geo-tagging services like Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla, and Facebook Places.

Instead of posting your location on a vast social network – especially Facebook Places – spark is only accessible to ASU Online students with university-issued eMail address, creating “micro-communities based on place-based networks,” said Lawrence Coburn, Double Dutch CEO.

“We’re not taking the mega-app approach here,” said Coburn, whose company took in $1.2 million last month from investors led by Lightbank, the investment fund run by Groupon cofounders. “We are starting to see more demand for single purpose niche networks … because people don’t want to tell 1,000 people that they’re at the gym.”

Spark could facilitate face-to-face connections between ASU Online students looking for a study partner, but the site also could provide a digital space to sound off about homework, quizzes, and exams – topics that students hesitate to discuss in broad social media platforms.

“Students should feel free to geek out and share stuff about their physics homework any time they want,” said Sarah Krznarich, an ASU social media expert who has worked with Double Dutch in creating spark.