Is Facebook the Future of Roommate Matching?

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For decades, roommate matching on the college campus was left to chance. Incoming students would be randomly paired, introduced via mail (and then email) and would meet during the traditional phone call identifying who’s bringing the mini fridge and who’s bringing the TV. But in today’s Facebook era that is no longer the case.

Once paired up, students – and their parents – are performing their own social media-based background checks via Facebook, browsing their soon-to-be-roommate’s profile, info and photos. In some cases, these investigations even lead to students and parents requesting new roommate assignments when they uncover characteristics or values they deem incompatible with their own.

If students are going to such a length in search of the perfect roommate, why not let them own the process from the start?

Enter RoomSync.

Founded in 2007, RoomSync (formerly known as RoomBug) is the only Facebook app on the market today specifically designed for college roommate matching. Students sign into the application and complete a survey which includes a sliding scale questionnaire on lifestyle preferences and several questions aimed at identifying your ideal type of roommate.

From there, students are able to browse for other students looking for a roommate. When they find a potential match, students can message each other to chat. If they hit it off, the end result is a room request sent to the institution.

If this process sounds familiar, it’s likely because RoomSync isn’t the only company touting a service that matches potentially like-minded individuals. The now infamous RoomSurf gained headlines both for their site which lets students match themselves outside the eyes of institution, as well as for their questionable marketing practices. While they are now working to turn over a new leaf, RoomSurf’s efforts have unfortunately cast a bit of a shadow over the practice of roommate matching in higher education.

With 21 client institutions and 25,000 users of their app, RoomSync is a prime example of why we can’t shut the door on a chapter that has only just begun.

But what’s the point in letting students match themselves? Why is this worth our time in the first place?

A recent Michigan State University study identified roommate issues as one of the top 5 reasons students drop out of college. Could at least some of these issues be avoided if roommates were allowed to self-select each other based on commonalities found via Facebook? With the hard numbers just starting to come in, Robert Castellucci, Co-Founder and VP of Marketing for RoomSync, tells Higher Ed Live that’s exactly what they’re seeing. In fact, one of their clients, University of Florida, made some pretty exciting claims yesterday for the first time.

Presenting at ACUHO-I Annual Conference & Exposition (ACE) in New Orleans, University of Florida’s TJ Logan shared what the institution’s experience has been with roommate matching on Facebook.

Here are some highlights:

  • Over 1,400 (>25%) incoming students used the network in 2010
  • Pairing led to an increase in diversity, with less Caucasians assigned together compared to recent years
  • 65% of hall staff surveyed reported a decrease in roommate conflicts
  • When conflicts did occur, 48% of hall staff said the conflicts were less severe
  • Students reported that even if they didn’t find a roommate, the roommate matching process provided them an opportunity to make friends before arriving on campus

(Editors Note: The above figures were updated at 11:30 a.m ET 7/12)

Pretty impressive, right? And this is only the first year of data available. With over 60% of the incoming University of Florida Class of 2011 now using the tool, the institution is expecting even bigger things over the course of the next year.

When looking at these initial numbers it’s clear, RoomSync appears to have itself a pretty major accomplishment. By offering students a roommate matching solution they are leading to a decrease in reported roommate issues, and potentially playing a major role in an institution’s retention efforts.

Perhaps it’s time we all take another look at roommate matching. What we are seeing could be some of the first evidence that social media-based programs can directly impact student retention and success.

If you’re interested in even more on the subject, check out the below presentation recording and skip ahead to about the 20 minute mark.

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  • Justin

    Interesting read.  This is great data to have as Roomsurf starts to bring our offering to colleges.  While we will continue to offer our retail product to the students nationally, we have recently formed partnerships with a number of institutions to provide our roommate matching solution.

    We hope to see similar results from the students at the University of Central Florida once we do our mid-semester assessment through res life.

    - Justin Gaither, Co-founder @Roomsurf

    • John

      Dear Justin – You are a tool. 

      • Justin

        Let’s keep it positive John. 

        - Justin

  • http://www.edumorphology.com mpstaton

    Facebook is the future of the internet.  

    • http://twitter.com/RobRoomSync Rob Castellucci

      I completely agree, Michael. The most encouraging sign for me is that Facebook relentlessly iterates their site, unlike MySpace which just stayed static for great lengths of time. Always coming out with new features like video chat and others that facilitate social communication, tells me that they will continue to innovate and shape the internet in the future.

      Facebook just announced 750 million active users this week and should be getting a lot more mobile adoption with the Facebook For Every Phone announcement – http://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-mobile/facebook-for-every-phone/200217473360613 . Just imagine if Facebook were allowed in China right now…

      Seth, great post!

  • Jermaine

    Hey Justin, you mean THIS RoomSurf?

    “The now infamous RoomSurf gained headlines both for their site which lets students match themselves outside the eyes of institution, as well as for their questionable marketing practices. While they are now working to turn over a new leaf, RoomSurf’s efforts have unfortunately cast a bit of a shadow over the practice of roommate matching in higher education.”

    • Shawn

      Plus, this stuff is from RoomSync. I don’t know why you are taking credit for this.

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  • Keisha Janney

    Here is an anecdotal op-ed that might disagree with a system like RoomSync:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/11/opinion/11dowd.html

    • Anonymous

       Hi Keisha,

      Thanks for sharing that article. I think it brings up some really interesting points.

      The main problem the writer brings up is that if students live with someone they know or are similar to they won’t experience the growth potential when faced with someone who is matched up randomly. While I find that suggestion interesting and initially fairly convincing, the numbers just don’t match what she is saying. Numbers coming in from organizations like RoomSync show that paired roommates aren’t “mirror images of each other” and in fact, that roommate matching via Facebook leads to an increase in diversity among roommates over the traditional random pairing.

      So if the numbers say that students matched up via roommate matching services are more diverse-not less, what are these similarities that students are using to make a selection? Generally speaking, it appears these decisions are based on things like if you are a morning person, if you’re messy or clean, if you’re loud or quiet. These are characteristics that when paired put two students together who can live together comfortably. And in the end, I have to think that’s the priority here. Because a student who is uncomfortable in their living situation is statistically more likely to drop out, and less likely to complete their education.

      Students living on campus are exposed to the melting pot of society at every turn, on their floor, in the classroom, etc. Sure it’s a noble idea to force this experience within the confines of their freshman dorm room, but if it’s at the cost of their chances to graduate I have to say it’s careless at best.

      All that being said, the op-ed brings up the really good point that that point of view is probably the most common and accepted one among the broad general public and campus administration. So it begs the question, how can roommate matching companies engage in a dialogue about this and shift the public’s perception? For starters, they need hard numbers. And for the first time it seems those are starting to roll in.

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