We Interviewed the Creators of Collegiate ACB, the Biggest and Newest Anonymous College Forum
After Juicy Campus went down in 2009 with a rash of potential lawsuits and lack of revenue, and after College ACB also went offline in October of last year, a hole in the undeniably popular market for college gossip sites opened up. How would people spend their lectures meticulously ranking fraternities? How would anyone know who, truly, had the best ass on campus? Dark days indeed.
Enter Collegiate ACB—the next site that will take over campuses this year. If you're in college and hadn't heard of it yet, consider this service journalism.
Unlike Juicy Campus, which had an office and the very public face of Matt Ivester running it, Collegiate ACB is run by two college kids who, until now, have not disclosed their public identities. They did for us, though: The site is operated by Kirk Henf, from the University of Florida, and Tim O'Shea, who goes to Central Florida. Both code and market the site from their respective dorm rooms. They're juniors and fraternity guys, and they're somehow balancing busy school and social schedules with running a destination that had 50,000 unique visitors a month this summer—when school wasn't even in session.
From our conversation conducted over many emails yesterday, I got the sense that both are trying to avoid the pitfalls that turned Juicy Gossip into the Internet's Karachi, Pakistan during its darkest days. Henf and O'Shea said the site aggressively takes down posts that are flagged by users. (Whether users actually will take advantage of this is a different story, of course.) And the two said the site is not indexed by Google, a strategy used by anonymous image boards like 4chan to not have someone's name, for instance, come up in a Google search. These are smart moves that could enable Collegiate ACB to be used more responsibly than its two predecessors.
Because I'm an idiot, I originally didn't realize that Collegiate ACB was a different website than College ACB (which has now been rebranded as “Collegeacb.co,” and does not appear to have any active forums). So excuse me for my first question.
Thanks for doing this, guys.
First things first: How did you get involved in this site as college students? Did you buy it from [former College ACB owner] Peter Frank or are you working under a different corporation? Basically, what's the management structure like?
We are in no way affiliated with the former College ACB. We came up with the idea for CollegiateACB back in March when we identified that in the fall of CollegeACB, Blipdar, and JuicyCampus, there was no longer a centralized location for anonymous student discussion. After development, we released our first version of the site to a single school in March and formed a company (CollegiateACB, LLC) which is currently run by the two of us. For the most part, one of us handles the technical side (web development and the server) and the other deals primarily in marketing for the site, though we’re looking to hopefully add others to our team in the future (someone to deal strictly with securing advertisers, for example).
I see, I see. So without the College ACB affiliation, how has the site already grown so quickly? Word of mouth or other means? I'm on the forum for my alma mater right now, and it's pretty staggering how many posts have already gone up. Classes haven't even started yet.
A very large amount of our traffic comes to the site directly (including new visitors), which indicates to us that it's spread primarily by word-of-mouth. Other than that, we've found many people will talk about the site on Facebook, Twitter (for which we have an account @CollegiateACB), TotalFratMove, and other similar sites. Once a few posts on a school appear, people tend to stop lurking and contribute more frequently. We were quite happy with the number of posts and traffic we've received thus far, especially considering many students were on Summer break.
What kind of traffic are we talking about here?
We averaged over 50,000 unique visitors per month over the summer. Given the increases we've seen since students across the country have been returning to class, we're hoping to see that number double (at the very least) by the end of September. We're on pace to do that, too.
So let's get into the actual philosophy of the site. Matt Ivester kind of embraced the idea of Juicy Campus being a gossip site without any moderation—and that arguably helped do the site in. From what I've read, College ACB tried to go for a more intellectual approach and it also had some user moderation (although it also wasn't without the controversial content). How do you see your site being similar or different from its two predecessors?
After seeing how sites like Juicycampus and CollegeACB affected college campuses in a negative manner, our main goal was to make a site that would allow for anonymous discussion on any topic without pushing the boundaries on what we and students found to be acceptable. By having the option for students to contact us via email (as well as having a built-in reporting system) we are able to maintain a healthy environment for discussion. Another thing that sets us apart are our topics of the week which focus on current controversial or popular topics (such as this week's on abortion). Our goal with these is to encourage debate and conversation amongst students throughout the entire country. We normally have thousands of students partake in voting.
Just from going through a few of the schools' forums, it seems like a lot of the topics are similar to the discussion websites of the past, albeit more toned down. What do you guys think are appropriate conversations for the forums to have? Okay with the fraternity/sorority rankings? Against the specific call-outs of particular students?
Although we try to gauge our policies off of what the general user-base seems to think, there are of course several things which we always try to avoid. These include (but are certainly not limited to) racism and targeted personal attacks. We (and other students) strongly believe they do nothing but hurt others. The biggest issue with the quality and focus of posts on the site is students failing to report questionable content. Without it being brought to our attention, there's little we can do. It's difficult to actively moderate when you're receiving hundreds of posts at all times of the day. As far as rankings go, we (as members of Greek life) see nothing wrong with them. People are entitled to share their opinions on the social status of sororities and fraternities.
I agree that it's probably going to be impossible to take down everything that can construed as offensive, but odds are there still will be some backlash to the site when school kicks back into gear, whether it be from school newspapers, disgruntled students, etc. Do you plan on being a public face for the site? And are you prepared for any criticism that might come, even if it's the site being scapegoated for the bad behavior of students?
If we feel taking public ownership of the site is either necessary or beneficial, then certainly. We have no problem with being known as the owners of the site. As far as criticism for the site goes, I'd say we expect a fair amount of unwarranted complaints. I think time has shown that anonymous discussion is something which students seek; we are simply providing them a central location for doing so. If anything, I would hope students will appreciate our willingness to work with them and take their suggestions; we've already prevented search engines (such as Google) from indexing our site, allowed for automatic hiding of posts via an upvote/downvote system, and provided them with a simple means of reporting content.
Say you have enough time to do whatever you want with Collegiate ACB this year. What features do you want it to have? Where do you want to take it in the future?
We'd like to expand beyond being just an anonymous forum for students. We'd like to have college-specific news sections which would announce upcoming sporting events, concerts on campus, etc. In essence we want to become a students primary college resource: a combination of everything they'll need to not only be successful in school but to have a great time as well. We plan to do back-to-school giveaways and what not, when it's financially possible. In the short term, however, we're working to find advertisers and investors to cover server costs and the addition of new features.
As pretty much everyone with an Internet connection knows, anonymity has its upsides and downsides (I'd like to thank our Facebook commenting system for not being called an asshat in every post). Do you ever see a time when Collegiate ACB embraces real identities like many blogs' comment sections? Or are you comfortable taking the good and the bad that comes with anonymity?
No, we can't foresee that happening. We already allow for users to register and login for access to additional features such as private messages with other registered users and reserving a username. In the end, however, CollegiateACB was designed to be an anonymous communication board, and we plan on it remaining that way.