COLUMBIA — Osmaan and Amir Shah, brothers and co-creators of the new social network Noog.com, don’t want to replace MySpace. They don’t expect students to leave Facebook, either. What they want is for Noog to be something different.
“All the social networks were all about people you already know,” said Osmaan, who is working toward a master’s degree in business administration at MU. “I was always the student that wanted to get to know other classmates.”
Noog, which is free to use, is targeting the college student market, much like the original Facebook. However, the site’s creators are trying to differentiate themselves from sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
“We don’t even call Noog a social network,” said Amir, a 2003 MU graduate. “We call it a social utility site.”
When starting the site, the Shahs wanted to create an application that lets users do more than post photos or send messages.
“We want something that actually provides a service outside of entertainment,” Osmaan said.
Osmaan and Amir came up with the idea for Noog two years ago while working for a college marketing company. The name “noog” and the site’s as-yet unnamed mascot came about almost randomly.
“I started e-mailing domain names with double e’s or double o’s who wanted to sell it cheap,” Osmaan said. “We wanted a name that was easy to spell and easy to say based on how it was spelled.”
The Shahs ended up purchasing www1.Noog.com for $500, which, according to Osmaan, is well below its actual worth.
The desire for a tool like Noog actually started back when the Shahs were in college.
When they were undergraduates at MU, the Shah brothers wanted an environment that allowed users to connect on multiple levels with people they didn’t already know.
“It’s hard for some kids to make quality friends,” Amir said. “We want to give a student who is maybe too afraid to raise their hand in class to chance to connect with other classmates.”
Noog is focused on meeting not just students’ social needs, but their academic needs as well. While at MU, the brothers used academic service sites such as Blackboard and eReserve but thought students and teachers were not using the sites to their full potential. So they combined the two programs.
“We created a hybrid of social networking and academic services,” Amir said.
Amir and Osmaan are working to add applications to the site that will let users share notes, rate professors and sell textbooks.
Even though the network is open only to college students, Noog will also help users transition from college to job markets.
The team is looking into creating an application that allows users to post their resumes.
“That’s something we want to help with,” he said.
Noog is designed specifically for its target market: college students. Amir said that though Facebook started exclusively for college students, it left the market when it allowed anyone 13 and older with a valid e-mail address to join in 2006. The brothers have little desire to leave the college market.
“The college student market is a plenty big market,” Amir said. “There’s no real need to expand to the general public.”
Right now, the Noog staff is concentrating its user base on several major university campuses, including MU. Most of Noog’s marketing strategies rely on word-of-mouth advertising.
However, the team is also promoting the site by sponsoring a Columbia record label, Indie Ground Entertainment, said Thesis, whose legal name is Omar Kadir but who prefers to go by his stage name.
“We are working on a cross-promotion with Noog and Indie Ground,” said Thesis, who is also head of marketing for the label. “We pass out fliers at our shows or put Noog on our fliers.”
While working to grow the user base, the Noog staff is also developing applications to add to the site in the near future to increase its usefulness.
The site currently allows users to post contact information, upload photos and list the classes they are enrolled in. Osmaan said the staff will be working on applications to help build the site.
“We’re going to be adding a bunch of apps this summer and be ready to launch next fall,” he said. “We want students to feel like this is something students have to be a part of.”