Face-off with Facebook

Students and recent graduates of East Coast schools seem to think that it's prime time to grab their own piece of the college network pie.

How many sites can the craze sustain?

It might be a while before we see a big shakeout among youth-focused social-networking sites. The current leaders in that space, Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace.com, have recently faced .

That hasn't stopped their breakneck growth, but a new crop of competitors with high aspirations is hoping to carve out a niche.

Many college students have read about the success of Mark Zuckerberg and a few friends, who started Facebook, essentially an interactive online directory, during their sophomore year at Harvard University.

Now that Zuckerberg has set up shop in California, and Facebook is joining MySpace and Friendster in , students and recent graduates of other East Coast schools seem to think that it's prime time to grab their own piece of the college network pie. And they're hoping that a focus on exclusivity and events is their ticket to success.

Young entrepreneurs out of New York University, Loyola College in Maryland and Emory University have recently knocked on the proverbial door of CNET News.com with their pitches.

One site, CollegeHotList.com, hopes to get students to categorize and rate everything from the local bars and campus events (read: frat parties) to the latest online videos. And in the spirit of the Hot or Not site that gained viral-marketing fever years ago, CollegeHotList lets users turn on a feature that allows others to rate how "hot" they are. Talk about a popularity contest.

Another site, College Tonight, is billing itself as a "social sidekick" to college students and recent alumni. It also focuses on the nightlife calendar, and it has features such as a "Crush Calculator" and "Social Polling," as well as a section devoted to rumors.

As Facebook initially did, both sites are basing membership on .edu e-mail addresses, which they say helps ensure privacy and will keep members happy.

Zachary Suchin, president of College Tonight, said in a phone interview on Monday that "Facebook's biggest mistake" was moving away from exclusivity. Harvard students were "pissed off" when it first expanded to other Ivy League schools, and then students at those universities were bothered by the site offering membership to lower-tier schools, he said. All college students were bothered by the expansion to high schools and then companies, he concluded, though he praises Facebook's "crisp" design.

College Tonight, which launched nationally on Friday after about nine months of development, has signed up about 1,000 members, according to Suchin, a former party promoter who says his site is focused on getting people to meet up in person rather than just interact online.

CollegeHotList, meanwhile, which has been under development "in the past five months or so," according to co-founder Chris Mirabile, had 16,000 unique IP address visitors at its peak in a single day.

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