Blend wants to fill the Facebook-sized hole in the college campus social scene

blend app hands food

Except for the pretentious holdouts who snoop in on the social network through an acquaintance’s account, almost everybody is on Facebook. Most of us have friends lists teeming with acquaintances, close friends, colleagues, family members both immediate and extended, and their friends and acquaintances who happen to have met you at one occasion and thought, hey, having one meaningless conversation is reason enough for me to add you! While there are benefits to these larger-than-life friend lists, there are downsides – namely, overexposure and a good healthy fear of posting something not meant for everyone’s eyes. Most teens hate the social network because it’s overpopulated by adults and oversharers – and it’s driven them to other platforms, like Tumblr and Snapchat. Still, there isn’t one social network holding up a “no grown ups!” sign, like Facebook used to when it was for college kids only, and required you to have a valid .edu email address.

Enter Blend, a new mobile app specifically created for the college demographic, where they can freely share their on-campus activities sans the worry of mommy and daddy dearest finding out about their shenanigans. It’s meant to bring back the former Facebook glory days of exclusivity for the younger generation – and Blend means business. Once you graduate, you’re booted out of the social network.

Blend was appropriately founded by three twenty-somethings who decided to drop out of college to pursue a career in tech entrepreneurship. 21 year old Akash Nigam is a former Computer Science and Business student from the University of Michigan, and serves as Blend’s CEO and is also in charge of project management, as well as the app’s front and backend architecture. 22 year old Matt Geiger used to go to Wharton before being in charge of UX development for Blend. And 21 year old Evan Rosenbaum – who at age 14 released the world’s first third-party iPhone Web app and has garnered online recognition – also dropped out of Wharton so he can be the team’s chief interface designer.

Here’s how Blend works. As explained, you have to be enrolled in one of the many universities listed on the app to gain access. After linking your Facebook account, you’re required to specify your university name and expected year of graduation.

Everyday, users are encouraged to post photos – called ‘Blends’ – that best match the app’s theme of the day. 

 blend app

People in your network – if they are on Blend, they are automatically added into your feed through your Facebook account – award your posts “Snaps,” Blend’s version of a Like. The idea is for you to post a Blend that generates the most Snaps for the respective theme. The number of Snaps you receive will contribute to your Score, which will ultimately gain you freebies from brands.

And of course, Blend will face the same issue Facebook did: Letting everyone else in.

According to Blend’s founders, the brands that they are in partnership with aren’t necessarily hugely popular brands, like Target or Kohl’s. They prioritize establishments that actually go out of their way to cater to college consumers, but are also feeling the string of online shopping and big names that can buy up advertisement and customer awareness. This includes smaller brands that want the youth market (think ear buds, beer koozies) or local establishments that rely on the steady churn of the college student body to keep them up and running.

“It’s glaringly inadequate marketing, just how brands are trying to reach out to the tech-savvy, millennial students through extremely old-fashioned means – through fliers and gift cards that they’re handing out, on-site gimmicks when they try to perform some spectacle in the middle of campus,” says Geiger. “We’ve found that kids passing by are way too busy looking at their phones that they don’t even notice [the offers they are missing]. Or the typical mass email where you see something from a local pizza shop, but you also realize that it’s been sent out to 2,000 other people, so you don’t feel special and you don’t feel the incentive to go through [with the deal].” 

Blend is in talks with brands like Rowdy Gentlemen, Yurbuds, Hydroflask, Southern Tide, Country Club Prep, and Amrita Singh. Not familiar with any of them? That’s probably because you’re not the target market. “Students have a very big ‘scam alert’ – immediately when we start putting in Walmart, Target, and other big-box brands [into Blend], it’s going to lose its feel. We need to make sure that brands truly fit and that it’s going to work and jive with the audience,” explains Geiger. “We shoot for brands that we know students would love but don’t know about yet. We take these brands to the next level of exposure, and students also get exposure to a lot of cool, underground stuff that they’re always looking for,” adds Nigam. They are currently working with over 50 brands.

Blend’s bread and butter comes from getting users to click on these Gifts, and it’s trying to make them do it via a “you snooze, you lose” vibe. The more you post and share, the better your odds – and what better group to appeal to with this scheme than a demographic obsessed with visually sharing everything on Snapchat and Instagram?

While the blatant brand love might sound like Blend is already feeling the marketing bloat Facebook staved off before caving to, the sleek design helps play this down. The offers themselves aren’t disruptive cross-screen banners, instead blending (pardon the pun) into the app easily. It’s no frills, but simple and easy on the eyes.

But to say Blend doesn’t face plenty of challenges would be a lie. Right now, only 3,572 universities are listed by Blend on the app’s initial selection menu, so if you happen to go to some no-name school or community college, you won’t be able to use the app.

And of course, Blend will face the same issue Facebook did: Letting everyone else in. For the time being though, the app is taking great trouble to make sure no one gets through the college gate. “We do double authentification [to detect fake logins]. We’re not going to release exactly how we do that –that’s Blend’s ‘secret sauce’,” says Nigam. It’s this secret sauce that supposedly kicks users out of the app upon graduation. 

To test this, I installed the Blend app on my iPad and instead of choosing the test credentials the company provided for me, I signed up selecting Cambridge School of Language as my university and 2015 as my year of graduation. It let me in, no problem, without needed an .edu email address. A day after fibbing my enrollment, I am still able to use the app.

Blend app (9)Although not having the ability to import photos isn’t a big issue, the lack of Instagram-like functions people have grown to love is a glaring omission. No artsy filters here – and no hashtags yet either.

Right now themes are dictated by the Blend staff and the 180 “campus influencers” the company has recruited all over the country to spread the word – which are all pretty inventive so far – but it would really make a huge difference if at some point they decide to receive suggestions from their users, a feature the founders say is in the plan.

Blend app (8)

The elephant in the room, of course, is what will be deemed inappropriate? While users will appreciate the lack of adult supervision, as the Internet and social media has taught us, nothing is ever truly secret or safe. If there are college kids, there will be photos of binge-drinking, ingesting illegal substances, maybe even nudity. How is Blend prepared to deal with this content?  And how would it approach a Snapcheat Leaked-type situation? It’s  almost guaranteed to come up.

According to the founders, the college community is accepting of its peers – if it “flies” with students, then it works for Blend. As a preemptive measure, they monitor all the photos and anything that is outrageous gets taken down.  Community members can also report inappropriate content.

 “We feel very passionately about this, even more than the bigger names like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – we feel that they’re almost becoming victims of their own success. They’re really broad, very diluted, and multi-directional,” says Geiger, explaining the drive behind their creation of the Blend app. “When Facebook started, college students were using it way differently than they do now, and it’s gotten to the point where the content on Facebook is so selective … it’s really not fun anymore.”

Blend currently has tens of thousands of users, a number they say continues to rise. By the end of the year, they hope to hit around 300,000-500,000 college students. “There’s around 15 million college students in four year schools. That’s our goal, and we feel that we can do it – we feel that Blend is going to be the thing that right when you get accepted into your school, the first thing you do, along with getting your school email address, is join the Blend community,” says Nigam. “We feel like the best four years of your life just got a whole lot better.”

Smart Home

Ecobee leverages humor in a heated discussion with climate change skeptics

Ecobee cranked up the heat on climate change doubters. In observance of Earth Day, Ecobee and ad agency DCX released video of a social experiment that tested the effectiveness of humor in easing tension during discussions with skeptics.
Social Media

Facebook says it unintentionally uploaded email contacts of 1.5 million users

Facebook says that over the last two years it unintentionally uploaded the email contacts of 1.5 million users as they signed up to the social networking service. The process has ended and the email addresses are being deleted.
Smart Home

Oh, Zuck, no! Facebook rumored to be creating a voice assistant to rival Alexa

Facebook hasn't been a big player in the smart speaker market, but that may be changing: The social media giant is reportedly working on a digital assistant to compete against Alexa and others.
Social Media

Facebook toys with mixing Stories and News Feed into one swipeable carousel

Facebook's News Feed could look a lot like Stories if a prototype the social media giant is working on rolls out to users. The design change mixes Stories and News Feed posts into a full-screen slideshow that users swipe left to navigate.
Social Media

Looking to officially rid your inbox of Facebook messages? Here's how

Deleting messages from Facebook Messenger is almost as easy as scrolling through your News Feed. Here, we show you how to delete an entire conversation or a single message, both of which take seconds.
Social Media

LinkedIn: Now you can express love, curiosity, and more with new Reactions

LinkedIn is following in the footsteps of Facebook (three years later!) with the rollout of new reactions that give users more ways to express themselves when responding to posts in their feed.
Social Media

Twitter’s experimental Twttr app is even more popular than the real thing

Twttr, the new app that lets regular Twitter users test new features, is proving more popular than the main app, according to the company. The revelation suggests some of the innovations may land for all Twitter users soon.
Social Media

Messenger and Facebook, together again? Facebook tests integrating chats

Longing for the old days where Facebook and Messenger were one app? Facebook is testing an integrated chat option. While Messenger remains more feature-rich, the test brings some chat functionality back into the Facebook app.
Social Media

How to download Instagram Stories on iOS, Android, and desktop

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.
Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went down worldwide for 2 hours this morning

Chaos erupted on the internet this morning, as Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp all went down from 6:30 a.m. to approximately 9 a.m. Thousands of users were unable to access the sites or send or receive Whatsapp messages.

Skype screen sharing for mobile will let you share your swipes on dating apps

Skype is prepping the launch of screen sharing for mobile so you can share your swipes on dating apps, shop with buddies, or, perhaps, show a PowerPoint presentation to coworkers. It's in beta just now, but anyone can try it.
Social Media

No more moon showers as Facebook Messenger’s dark mode gets official rollout

Facebook Messenger launched a dark mode last month, but to activate it you had to message the crescent moon to someone. Now it's been rolled out officially, and it can be accessed in a far more sensible way — via settings.

Twitter has revealed a launch date for its handy hide replies features

Twitter has revealed a launch date for a feature that lets users hide replies to their tweets. The hope is that it will help the original poster filter out offensive or irrelevant content from conversation threads.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Facebook data security, Ubisoft helps Notre Dame, and more

Join DT Live as we discuss Facebook security issues, Ubisoft's plan to help rebuild Notre Dame, and more. We are also joined by Emily Teteut of Snap the Gap, Jennifer Sendrow of New York Public Radio, and DJ and producer Zeke Thomas.