Forget the classics, try a Facebook college course

STANFORD, California Thu Sep 27, 2007 10:11pm EDT

A Facebook profile is seen in a publicity image. Stanford students can try to borrow a Web page from a Harvard dropout this year thanks to a course in building software for Facebook, the wildly popular social network. REUTERS/Facebook/Handout

A Facebook profile is seen in a publicity image. Stanford students can try to borrow a Web page from a Harvard dropout this year thanks to a course in building software for Facebook, the wildly popular social network.

Credit: Reuters/Facebook/Handout

STANFORD, California (Reuters) - Stanford students can try to borrow a Web page from a Harvard dropout this year thanks to a course in building software for Facebook, the wildly popular social network.

"This is a class for people who want to create start-ups," said Dave McClure, a high-tech entrepreneur and one of two instructors for the class. "Facebook is more of a lab environment for figuring out how to build those start-ups."

Stanford, situated in the heart of Silicon Valley, appears to be the first university to offer a class on developing applications for Facebook, which is based in nearby Palo Alto. Initial enrolment for the class was more than double what the classroom could hold.

Facebook, founded in 2004 by then-undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg as a socializing site for fellow Harvard students, is now the ninth-most-trafficked U.S. site, according to Web measurement firm Hitwise Inc. It counts 43 million users, up 80 percent in just the past four months, and 200,000 more join each day.

"The class is about how to build an engaging application and attract users," said Josh Liptzin, a Stanford senior majoring in computer science and co-founder of collegewikis.com, who has signed up for the course.

Liptzin has been developing Web sites since high school and his computer science classes have focused almost entirely on programming. He thinks the business and entrepreneurial aspects of the Facebook course are equally important.

McClure and co-instructor BJ Fogg, director of Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab, convened the first full class session on Thursday, with Fogg using handheld chimes and a ukulele for crowd control,

Discussion centred on the social significance on Facebook of voyeurism among site members, the ways they seek to express themselves, the credibility that members have with one another, and the resulting business opportunities.

"There's no one more employable right now than someone who can program in Facebook," said Rodney Rumford, publisher of FaceReviews.com, a blog that tracks and provides commentary on Facebook applications.

The instructors plan to divide students into groups of three. Over the course of the next three months, these student groups must create two Web-based software applications: a program of general interest to Facebook users, and something that can harness Facebook as a learning tool.

They will be graded, in part, on the number of people who use their application.

"We don't want people to read case studies, we want people to build case studies," McClure said in an interview.

The Stanford class will delve more into user engagement theory, project management and marketing, its organizers said.

Facebook boasts that it has an 85 percent penetration rate among U.S. university students, while its fastest-growing demographic is people over the age of 25.

(Additional reporting by Eric Auchard in San Francisco, editing by Braden Reddall)

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