The concept of the social network has revolutionized the job search, personal photography, and the way people share music. The founders of Lore, formerly known as Coursekit, are hoping that the way that students interact, with teachers and among themselves, is social networking’s next disruptive innovation.
In 2010, Joseph Cohen, Dan Getleman, and Jim Grandpre withdrew from the University of Pennsylvania to build a “Blackboard replacement with a heavy emphasis on social networking.” Inspiration struck their freshmen year when the three became frustrated with Blackboard, the prevailing college student portal where professors post information relevant to their classes. In particular, they noticed that it lacked the sleek design features of popular sites like Facebook and Twitter. Three years after this original epiphany, Lore has built a student portal that is understated, organized, and aesthetically pleasing. Again, this is a stark contrast to Blackboard, which appears to be a remnant of the Windows 98 generation.
But effective design is hardly the only thing that differentiates Lore from Blackboard. Lore is a social network, and as such, its aim is to facilitate a conversation that goes beyond the classroom. With a course “stream” similar to a Facebook “wall”, Lore encourages students to share information related to the course that might not fit into a lecture. More specifically, students can post videos, articles, and study tips to the stream so that educators can capitalize on the sharing that is so deeply embedded in social networks. Lore imagines that these contributions would then be recorded to comprise one’s online profile, which they hope would follow students throughout their academic careers.
In an era when qualifying academic progress has gripped the educational community, a Lore profile could become a method by which both students and institutions measure progress in a substantive way. Academic achievements such as research papers and lab reports could likewise be made available to the public as potential credentials for graduate programs or potential employers. Lore, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other recent Internet sensations, is thus branding itself as a platform that gives individuals the opportunity to build their own brand.
Lore has also honed in on another key characteristic of the social network phenomenon: build a great product, and then worry about revenues later. Where Blackboard was adopted by entire schools en masse and at a discounted price, Lore is relying on implementation by individual professors. To say that professors have been responsive is an understatement. Since launching this academic year at thirty colleges and universities, which includes Northwestern, Lore boasts that there are now educators from over six hundred institutions using their product.
In spite of the growing demand, there are no plans to move to a subscription-based system. The service, according to the Lore website, is “free, and always will be.” Instead, they plan to generate revenues from advertising targeted at students and their specific, class-related needs. Those that have seen The Social Network know that Facebook followed a similar method in its incipient stages, and industry experts agree that such a strategy can work with Lore. Renowned venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who uses Lore in a class he teaches about start-ups at Stanford, and groups like Social+Capital and IA Ventures, have already poured $6 million in venture funding into the company.
Up until this week, Lore was known as Coursekit. The name Lore, which means knowledge shared between people, aligns better with their new more aggressive corporate philosophy. In a press release about the name change, Lore claimed that the rebranding effort “reflects the company’s ambition to be the global network of learners, instructors, and educational content.”
If their re-imagination of the school is to become a reality, new school branding techniques, ones that emphasize sleek design, user sharing, and a new approach to profit generation, will play an integral role in taking them there.