Assumptions and Failures
In 2004, Sconex.com, a high school social networking site, was founded by Joesph Presbrey, a junior at MIT at the time. When Sconex was first created, Facebook was already in circulation but was exclusive to college students. Presbrey created Sconex after a an inspired conversation between his collaborator, Jaward Laraqui, and his sister about her inability to access Facebook because she was still in high school. Thus, Sconex was born.
Sconex was made with high school students in mind with some added features that mimicked college life. Sconex users were able to connect with friends from school, make friends with students from other schools, create a personal profile, post photos and notes, create and join groups, post class schedule and create polls with yearbook categories. Although Sconex did catch on with high school students quickly because of its exclusive platform catered to them — Sconex was also quickly forgotten when MySpace caught on and especially when Facebook allowed high schoolers to sign up. Though not much is known behind why Sconex had shutdown after it was sold to Alloy (there’s actually not much known about Sconex on the web as though it just disappeared), let’s take a look at a few assumptions that led to the downfall of the product.
Assumption #1: Sconex would be as big of a hit with high schoolers as Facebook is with college students
High school students make a huge percentage of social network users and because Facebook was only accessible to college students at the time — Sconex thought it would be a big hit if it was equally as exclusive. It did catch on with high schoolers across the country as a competitor to Facebook. However, in order to sign up for Sconex your high school had to be registered in their database as a high school and answer a few questions to gain entry. This made Sconex only accessible to the suburban schools but left out the smaller rural schools.
Assumption #2: Sconex users would use and need all the features
Sconex provided a large platform with a variety of capabilities such as blackboards, scheduler, and “crushes” — which was great but may have been overwhelming for a high schooler. Crushes was a feature where the user is able to add another user on their list of crushes — your crush will receive an anonymous email notifying them of a crush. If your crush also adds you to their list, both parties would be notified. Sconex crush feature was the PG version of dating websites of its age, definitely an advanced feature for its time. Though Sconex did its best to stand against its competitors by creating new innovative features by merging some of the technology that college students were using — the site became a bit too complex with all its jammed pack features. It also didn’t account for the amount of time high schoolers, at the time, would be able to spend on the website — as most high school students were in classes from 8am to about 3:30pm (and at the time, most students had limited access to the internet — mostly available via desktop/laptop) some engaged in after school activities and didn’t return home until later in the evening.
Sconex had the potential to be great but its greatest downfall was trying to do too much to match its competitor — Facebook, and go beyond without taking more consideration to high school students’ needs. Sconex’s assumptions and failures had taught me how important it is to listen to your users, to design with your users in mind, and to not design just to be better than someone else.