Online programs are filled with nontraditional college students with families and full-time jobs, so a niche social networking platform like spark could help those students find others with similar demands and schedules.
“It’s about academic networking and finding people who are in the same boat as you,” Krznarich said. “People who work and go to school who want a low-stress way to connect with other people in their cohort. … By providing a platform in the mobile space, we’re giving our students a way to connect with each other, and with the university, outside of their computer.”
Platforms like spark could soon be available at more colleges and universities, said Coburn. Double Dutch, which launched in January, is in talks with 15 campuses considering adoption of their own spark platform for web-based students.
Getting college officials to buy into geosocial networking, Coburn said, can be challenging for tech startups.
“We found that universities are very conservative when it comes to adopting new technology,” he said. “But we’re trying.”
Krznarich said ASU Online has yet to push for students to sign in to the spark app. She expects the 600-student spark population to rise once the university advertises the geosocial service.
Popular geo-tagging sites, including Gowalla, have sought higher-education partnerships. Gowalla challenged college students last fall to check in on the site throughout the week and on football game days for a chance to win various Apple products.
The University of Houston racked up the most Gowalla check-in points, followed by the University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University.
Social media researchers said last summer, after Facebook introduced its Places application, that the technology could catch on in higher education.
Menachem Wecker, co-founder of the Association for Social Media & Higher Education, a group based at George Washington University, said colleges that have connected with current and prospective students through Facebook could use the Places application to track campus hot spots and foot traffic patterns.