Mercer students create first-ever 'community media app'

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Datta and Christensen build what they call the first-ever “community-based social media app” (Taken by Marin Guta)

Two Mercer sophomores have created an app that’s poised to challenge some of the biggest titans in social media, such as Facebook.

After spending months cooped up in their dorm rooms creating app prototypes and forming a concrete business plan, John Christiansen and Chirag Datta have created what they call the first “community media app.”

“Our premise is to take a step backward and use internet and social media to better your offline life,” Christiansen said. “(The app) will help you connect with friends and let you see what’s going on around the country but also help you become a part of it.”

The duo said that their app grants what Facebook cannot — more privacy.

They said that college students dislike Facebook because they fear that employers could find  inappropriate pictures on their profiles.

Christiansen said that he noticed that most college students want to “disassociate from their parents” or “deviate away from potential employers” finding their profiles.

Christiansen, who conceived the idea for the app, wanted to create something that addressed students’ privacy concerns. He also wanted to give students a chance to to interact with their peers outside of school.

Both Datta and Christiansen agree that other apps — particularly Mercer-engineered apps — fail to allow students to socialize. They argue that their app does.

Before the app is launched on a college campus, Christiansen said that the university needs to have a large enough percentage of students interested in the app.

The app only allows students to sign up using their university-given email addresses.

This ensures that students  don’t run into their parents or grandparents while using the app, Datta said.

Once the app is downloaded onto the user’s phone, he or she can post photos that will appear on a feed along with other college users.

Users can add font and various filters for pictures and also have their own profiles that they can update.

“How we want it to work is to be able to tell you what’s locally happening, but also people can discover what’s going on around the community,” Christiansen said.

This means that people will be more free to post what they want, and parties will be made more public, Datta said.

Christiansen and Datta refrained from delving into the specific features of the app since they said they were still pitching their product to developers.

“We have to talk to developers and investors, and we don’t want to reveal too much as of  right now,” Datta said.

The secrecy revolving around the app has apparently caused rumors to circulate campus.

Christiansen said that he’s seen a couple of Yik Yak posts criticizing his secrecy.

“It’s OK if you want to come up and ask; it’s fine,” Christiansen said. “We’d be able to tell you a little bit more about it and settle your curiosity.”

Christiansen said that, in the early stages of the design process, he worked alone to keep the product under wraps.

Although Datta and Christiansen are both involved in the same fraternity, they never really interacted with one another before the project, Datta said.

“I was really selfish with my idea,” Christiansen said.

However, the pledge brothers had a four-hour conversation that was completely unrelated to the app one night.

Then, a couple days later, Christiansen came up with an idea that he needed advice on, so he flipped a coin to determine whether or not to talk to Datta.

“I flip a coin for everything,” Christiansen said. The coin flipped heads.

As Christiansen pitched his social media plan, Datta — an entrepreneurship major — said that he was intrigued by the concept behind the app. He felt that he could leverage his business skills for the project.

“Last semester, I was set to start a company. I didn’t know what it was going to be, but it was going to be a company. And I wanted to launch it by December,” Datta said.

Datta was ready to get his real estate license and to begin renting out houses to students, but once Christiansen starting talking about his plans for the app, he was sold.

Christiansen said that they’ve gone through at least four or five remodels of the prototype.

However, the team showed its latest model to Atlanta-based app developer, Stacey Roach, who was instantly impressed by their product.

“He said the entire project was a perfect blend and that students should be excited,” Christiansen recalled Stacey telling them in the meeting.

The group has plans to hold a seminar to show the app to students. He hopes that students can provide feedback on the app.

There are a lot of potential setbacks that could hamper the process. The developers could doubt their product, which could significantly slow down their ambitious plans.

But Datta and Christiansen believe that they have a fighting chance.

“I’ve been waiting for someone to tell us, ‘You guys need to stop doing this, it’s not worth your time,’ but I haven’t heard that yet,” Datta said.

“Not even a man who’s been in the industry for 45 years, not even Stacey who’s been in the industry for 25 years — who’s a programmer himself and has been doing this for a living — none of them have said, ‘No,’ ” Christiansen said.

If all goes as planned for Christiansen and Datta, this time next year, they’ll be touring different colleges around the country promoting their new location-based social media app.

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