Students experiment with new social networking app

ntro app
Michael Gethers/Staff
UC Berkeley students try out ntro, a new social networking app, on Sproul Plaza.

Students strolling through Sproul Plaza Thursday — many enticed by the free hot dogs — stopped to explore a new social networking app, which allows students to meet people in the university community with similar interests.

Ntro — created and promoted by the company nProgress, Inc. — connects people based on users’ expressed interests, linking students to other students, as well as to student groups they could be interested in.

The app launched Sunday at Caltopia, but the company used Thursday as its main day to publicize the product. It already has over 1,000 subscribers, according to Rosie O’Neill, vice president of marketing.

While some used the promotional download event as a crime of opportunity to snag a Top Dog — offered in return for downloading the free app — other students said they would use the app for practical purposes.

“The number one reason to use it is because you can find a study buddy really easily,” said Joseph Baietti, a UC Berkeley senior working with the project.

Molly Roth, a UC Berkeley junior and music major, said the app could make it easier to find other musicians for jam sessions. It could also make putting a band together much smoother, she said.

Josh Resnick, CEO and founder of nProgress, said the idea for the app was borne out of the many hours he spent in airports watching hundreds of fellow travelers pass by without any contact.

“I (thought) there must be something I have in common with these other people, but there’s no way for me to figure that out,” he said. “I’m way too gun-shy to walk up and say, ‘Hi, my name is Josh, I used to make video games, are you into that?’ And so I started thinking about this app.”

Resnick began developing the app over a year ago, raising “millions of dollars” in the process. He decided to focus on marketing to students because he thought the college environment appeared similar to his experience in the airport — lots of people in a relatively compressed space, running past each other without a word.

The program, which requires a UC Berkeley email address to join, is exclusive to the campus. UC Berkeley’s schedule of classes and an entire database of campus student groups are programmed into the app to facilitate finding people and scheduling a time to meet.

Security was a main focus in designing the app, Resnick said. Unlike other social networking programs, such as Facebook or Foursquare, ntro — which he termed an “opt-in network” — does not give out a user’s last name or location and does not allow users to search for other people. The only way to access another person is based on an expressed common interest.

The app makes it easier for student groups to reach potential members, O’Neill said. Groups can send out news feeds to all registered students who identify a certain interest.

While it is currently operating only at UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California — Berkeley is the first city the app has expanded into from nProgress’ home city of Los Angeles — Resnick has big plans for his program. He hopes it will be in use at 50 of the largest colleges across the United States by 2012.

“In a weird way, we’re using technology to get people to look up from their phones and actually walk up to someone and introduce themselves,” said Resnick. “Serendipity strikes so rarely, (so) we want to make that process a lot more efficient. There’s so many great missed opportunities out there.”

Jordan Bach-Lombardo is the university news editor.