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Photo: Islands

Islands, a chat app for college students that's growing in popularity, is rolling out a new version that adds a student directory to the service. That's exactly where Facebook started, nearly 15 years ago.

Why it matters: Teens’ social media preferences have changed since then in major ways, such as a preference for ephemerality (Snapchat) over permanence (Facebook). But some social-media needs transcend generations, as Islands’ makers discovered, and chat apps could end up building new Facebooks for their Facebook-averse users.

“We launched Islands and our thesis was the group chats are the new social network,” Islands founder Greg Isenberg tells Axios.

  • That wasn't a bad idea: The most popular apps among teens and college students today include Snapchat (which does have group chat), and GroupMe, an 8-year-old group texting app.
  • Islands also found that college students today are typically members of about 2 Facebook groups—even though they don't use the service for much else.
  • A year ago, the company quietly began rolling out its app in select U.S. college campuses a year ago and it's now available in 15 schools, including Virginia Tech, University of Central Florida, University of North Dakota, and Cornell University. It plans to add 25 more colleges this month.

As more and more students began to use the app, the team saw a pattern. “We noticed that the average user was visiting 30 [Islands] profiles a month, and power users are visiting 70 profiles a month,” says Isenberg.

  • It turned out that the students were looking up others’ profiles in the app because they wanted to know more about someone they’d met, or to find classmates to reach out to about classwork, for example. But they weren’t using Facebook for this purpose. While most have a Facebook account, Isenberg found that most don’t really use the service at all. “It’s like a mailbox… I don’t check it enough but I have it,” he says.
  • In the new version of Islands, users will be able to join and create group chat rooms on their campus, have a profile page that includes their Snapchat and Instragram handles, see other students who are nearby (within about 1 mile of them), and view a directory of students in their school who have signed up for the app.
  • Currently, 5-25% of students on active campuses are using Islands, according to Isenberg, and each user invites two others. At the end of this past spring semester, Islands' users were sending thousands of messages per day, and Isenberg predicts that when the app rolls out in every U.S. college, users will be sending 2 million messages every day.

“All that’s new is old, and people still wanna learn about what’s going on around them, people are still interested in the people that are part of their community and network,” says Isenberg. Islands is only the latest social app to tackle this.

  • When Facebook debuted in 2004, it took its name from Harvard's listing of freshmen and described itself as “an expansive online directory,” according to a media deck from the time. It also touted that its user profiles included a section for courses to make it easier for classmates to connect on the basis of classes and studies.

Since then, the number and variety of social media apps have soared.

  • For example, Path, co-created by ex-Facebook exec Dave Morin, focused on keeping users’ social networks intimate by limiting them to 50 connections (it sold to Kakao in 2015 after waning popularity in the U.S.).
  • Yik Yak, which emerged in 2013, made its name as an anonymous social media app for college campuses, though it quickly faced controversies when it was used for bullying by high school students and eventually shut down in 2017.
  • Less than 1% of the content on Islands, which offers the ability to create a chatroom where users are anonymous, is reported as inappropriate, and the company has yet to see any major incidents, according to Isenberg.

What’s next: In 2019, the company hopes to begin generating revenue, which will include a combination of advertising and other forms. The startup will likely also raise more funding next year, as it’s been subsisting on the $1.85 million it raised in 2016 from Greylock Capital, TechStars Ventures, Advancit Capital (Shari Redstone’s fund), Scott Belsky, and others.

Go deeper

Updated 26 mins ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Team USA's Simone Biles during the women's team final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on Tuesday in Japan. Photo: Fred Lee/Getty Images

🤸🏾‍♀️: Simone Biles withdraws from all-around gymnastics final — hours after pulling out of team finals, citing her mental health

🏊‍♀️: Katie Ledecky wins gold in first women's 1500m freestyle

🗓: The Olympic events to watch today

🎾: "This one sucks more than the others," Naomi Osaka says on upset loss

🏃‍: Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage - Medal tracker

Updated 59 mins ago - Sports

The Olympic events to watch today

Stefanie Dolson of the U.S. celebrates victory in the 3x3 Basketball competition on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

5 events to watch today...
  • 🤸‍♀️ Men’s gymnastics: Team USA’s Sam Mikulak and Brody Malone compete in the individual all-around final. Coverage starts at 6:15 a.m. on Peacock (watch the replay at 8 p.m. ET on NBC)
  • 🏀 3x3 Basketball: The women’s gold medal game between the U.S. and Russia starts at 8:55 a.m. ET on USA Network. Russia and Latvia will play in the men’s final at 9:25 a.m. ET.
  • 🏌️ Men’s golf: Round one tees off at 6:30 p.m. ET on the Golf Channel or stream on nbcolympics.com.
  • 🏊 Swimming: Men’s 800m freestyle, 200m breaststroke and 100m freestyle finals and women’s 200m butterfly final. Coverage starts at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

National parks "drowning in tourists"

Expand chart
Data: National Park Service; note: Gateway National Recreation Area is excluded due to missing data in 2021. Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

National parks across the U.S. are overflowing with a post-pandemic crush of tourists, leading to increased issues with congestion, traffic jams, user experience, strain on staff and increased damage to the parks.

Why it matters: Some are seeing such a record number they're being forced to limit, and even close, access to certain areas to avoid the danger of eroding the land. The result, ultimately, could change the way Americans interact with the parks going forward.