The New York Times recently featured a piece about Unigo and the 20-something kid who dreamed up the idea, Jordan Goldman. I immediately checked out the site, and initially had trouble getting on. It might have sensed that at my age, I had no business being on a website created and maintained by college students.
But I tried again later, and it let me in. I have two college students, for crying out loud. And a $67,000-a-year tuition payment. I deserve a break today.
What I saw in Unigo was fun and promising, a classic example of Web 2.0 — user-generated content — about to take off from the crowded Internet runway but with good genes and youthful enthusiasm bearing it aloft.
Goldman, a graduate of Wesleyan University, spent a couple of years after graduation in Europe, then returned to New York City to develop his business plan and go begging for investors. His plan worked, and today he runs an office of about 25 young people who manage Unigo and a crew of intern correspondents spread out over the nation’s colleges and reporting back in with videos, photos and updates.
The site thrives on student-written critiques of their own colleges, and already would appear to be one step ahead of those on-paper college guides we all used in the past. Here’s what Goldman says in the Times piece about his site:
“My whole family chipped in for me to go to college,” he said. “They were saving from when I was 2 or 3 years old. That the best resource for a four-year, $200,000 decision are these books — with no photos, no videos, no interactivity, only three to five pages per school on average, fully updated usually once every several years — just doesn’t make the grade. This is the most important decision people that age have ever made, and the information is just not there.”
Here’s how it works:
Each Unigo editor has a list of 10 colleges (including, always, his or her own alma mater) to oversee; their most important task may be finding an unpaid intern on each campus willing to act as a liaison and an occasional reality-checker for Unigo’s efforts. The real masterstroke, though, was the purchase of a hundred Flip video cameras, which were delivered to the on-campus interns themselves with a minimum of instructions. The results are not only vivid in a way no guidebook can match but also, in the way of the generation that produced them, often guilelessly intimate.
The point is to provide students, and presumably their parents, with an unvarnished look at real life at the colleges they’re considering — something the colleges themselves are not good at providing. Who can blame them? As a parent who drove her kids to nearly every college on the East Coast, only to find that the tours were a bit too rah-rah superficial, I’d rather check out a school on a site like Unigo before packing up the van and heading out who-knows-where. Even if that means I might be watching someone talk online about the campus suicides or the black-white divide that still exists. I’d much rather get to the truth about a place before my kids get there, rather than after they’ve moved in.