The University of Toronto is looking to stake a larger claim in the digital lives of its graduates with a revamped alumni web space that embraces online social networking.The overhauled site, at www.alumni.utoronto.ca, provides a venue for alumni to connect with former classmates and to tailor the information they receive from the university. “This is about much more than creating a website with some bells and whistles,” says Brendan Dellandrea, manager of the Alumni and Friends web space. “It’s about connecting people to the university and to each other – and customizing the experience for individual alumni.”
The site will bring together all of U of T’s alumni services and benefits in one place, and serve as an information hub for the university’s colleges and faculties. Alumni who graduated from Victoria University and then took an MBA at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, for example, would automatically receive notices about events such as the Victoria Book Sale and the Rotman Speaker Series when they log on.
The alumni web space also includes the new “Alumni Circle,” a section that resembles popular social networking sites, although U of T’s version is geared more toward professionals and career building; no Scrabble or virtual gifts here. Privacy is also more rigorously protected. The Alumni Circle is open only to U of T alumni, and members can contact each other only through the system’s “notes” feature; no phone numbers or e-mail addresses are provided. Members have strict control over what information goes into their profile and who can access it.
As with other social networking sites, Alumni Circle allows users to create lists of friends and share photos. But the U of T version also enables users to write a blog or send updates – about a recent trip, the publication of a book, the birth of a child – to a “Class Notes” section that can be searched by college, faculty and graduation year. On their profile page, in addition to their personal interests and educational and work background, alumni can add con-tent from elsewhere on the web – their favourite news site, Google calendar or links to YouTube videos, for example.
Perhaps most importantly, says Dellandrea, social networking through U of T offers a new way for alumni to make professional contacts and gain valuable career help. He cites the example of a law grad moving from Toronto to Vancouver who wants to meet other U of T law grads living on the West Coast – or a grad working with an NGO in Africa who wants to hear from alumni who have had similar experiences. A possible boon to job-seekers and employers, the Alumni Circle will also allow users to create and search resumés. “It’s a much more interactive experience than has been previously available to U of T alumni,” he says.
Launched in a test version in May, the renovated Alumni and Friends web space will continue to grow and evolve, says Barbara Dick, executive director of alumni affairs. She expects to add syndicated blogs by alumni writers, more formal career services and resources, and podcasts of major lectures by U of T professors and visiting scholars. “Not everyone can make it down to campus to hear an interesting lecture, but almost anyone can listen to a podcast of it,” says Dick. “The Alumni and Friends web space will expand the number of ways alumni can continue their relationship with the university and their academic life.”