This month, a new web site called Unigo.com–a free, gigantic, student-generated guide to North American colleges for prospective applicants and their families–went live for the benefit of tens of thousands of trepidatious high-school students as they try to figure out where and how to go to college, reports the New York Times. Not coincidentally, it also aims to siphon away a few million dollars from the slow-adapting publishers of those elephantine college guidebooks that have been a staple of the high-school experience for decades. As status anxiety has helped drive college applications to record levels, the college-guidebook industry has expanded along with it, stoking those anxieties in order to sell students a way to assuage them, most conspicuously through their merciless numerical ranking of the colleges by every metric they can plausibly invent ("Most Millionaire Graduates," "Top 10 Schools You’ve Never Heard Of"). But over the years, the handful of major players in the guidebook business–a group that includes The Princeton Review, Fiske, Peterson’s, and especially the rankings-granddaddy, U.S. News & World Report–have enlarged their operations without really adapting them to the habits of a generation whose first, and often only, source for information is the internet. The guidebook publishers all have decent web sites, but since the ultimate purpose of those web sites is to sell the books, they have little choice but to be parsimonious about how much information they give out for free. On Unigo, the information is all free–"free," of course, is understood as a synonym for "accompanied by advertisements"–and with the exception of brief editorial overviews of each of the 267 colleges, all of it is voluntarily provided by current students at those colleges…

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