University Alumni Association members will soon be able to
create networks of contacts between themselves, when the
association launches inCircle, a networking engine. Plans are also
being made for a student version of the program.

The Alumni Association will release information today regarding
inCircle, which will allow alumni to create contacts for business
and personal use.

Catherine Niekro, director of Marketing and Communication for
the association, worked in cooperation with Affinity Engines, the
California-based company that creates and maintains the inCircle
database.

“It’s really about trying to fit a need and desire
that we know that alumni have,” Niekro said.

A website with detailed information will be posted April 16 on
the association’s website, www.alumni.umich.edu. The actual
program will be available for use beginning May 21. Niekro said the
association hopes to have a network for students available this
fall.

The database is similar to online networking programs such as
Friendster, a website that has been gaining popularity recently and
works as an electronic forum for users to meet each other.

But inCircle differs in several ways from programs such as
Friendster.

Unlike Friendster, inCircle users are able to create two
separate profiles, one personal and one business, and send messages
out to each list. These messages can include job or housing
requests.

“It’s an art to walk the fine line of making it
professional but personal as well,” said Tyler Ziemann,
founder of Affinity Engines.

Niekro said the Alumni Association has about 108,000 members and
a system such as inCircle would be valuable in bringing together a
scattered group of members.

To become a member of the network, a user must belong to the
Alumni Association, which costs $55 annually. For members with an
active uniqname at the University, the networking service will be
free.

“All (undergraduate) seniors get a free year of membership
to the Alumni Association, so they’ll be able to join
(inCircle) right away in May,” Niekro said.

Ziemann, a graduate of Stanford University, has created
databases for other colleges, such as the University of Southern
California.

“We started this in 2001 as an undergrad project for
Stanford as an extracurricular activity that would allow
undergraduates to connect and map the network of Stanford
undergrads,” Ziemann said.

He added that about 30 other universities are scheduled to
purchase similar databases, including the University of Texas at
Austin. Affinity Engines charges a flat rate of $20,000 for each
school. But the University’s Alumni Association will pay
about $10,000 on a per-user fee.

Networking programs such as Friendster have become popular among
students. LSA senior Ronni Neeman is a Friendster user who said he
would be interested in a similar program through the Alumni
Association.

“I think a lot of my friends would be interested in it
— it sounds like a good idea. A lot of people on campus use
Friendster. It seems like if it’s the same type of thing, a
lot of people would be interested in that too,” Neeman
said.

But other students and alumni had reservations about using the
network and the necessity of such a system.

“I guess it would be good to leave messages if you had
books or needed a sublet — it’s another
resource,” said LSA junior Dave Smith. “But if
it’s just adding people to your list, then that’s
stupid.”

University alum Jim Yeats, who graduated in 1979 with a masters
degree in public policy, shared a view similar to
Smith’s.

“I’d guess I’d have to see the implementation,
but I suspect, given where I am in life … I already have
alternate mechanisms for doing the same sort of thing,” Yeats
said.

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