Coffee@CU: An Inside Look At Columbia’s “Friendworking” Site

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Friendworking = friendship + networking

You’ve probably seen this LinkedIn/Tinder mashup on Facebook already, but what is Coffee@CU anyway? One of ADI Labs’ spring projects, it’s meant to give CU students an outlet to meet people outside of their social circles. Its well-known perception of Columbia and Barnard campus culture tends to focus on isolation, loneliness, and stress culture, yet the school’s online presence is active with discourse as seen in various CU-associated Facebook groups and sites. Coffee@CU is one of the latest hubs of campus meetups, currently run by ADI member and PM Jimmy O’Donnell (SEAS ‘19). I sat down with Jimmy to talk about the history of Coffee@CU and why Columbia has a niche for such a site.

The Coffee@CU site is addictive but riddled with ambiguity. Its layout is simple; one can scroll through photos of CU students that list their name, school, interests, and free time. Anyone can request a coffee meetup with someone else by sending a quick, witty message. But the site is vague and doesn’t specify whether its users are looking for hookups, new friendships, or networking opportunities. According to Jimmy, the ambiguity is in part purposeful to initiate new relationships and friendships that otherwise would have never happened due to a campus social that people often find stifling.

“The culture of Columbia lives online,” says Jimmy, citing student life sites like WikiCU and CULPA, where campus commentary breeds. I’d add that often these online enclaves such as Columbia Buy Sell Memes reflect a ‘community’ built not on connection but rather commiseration and the social isolation that’s a reality for many Columbia students. “Columbia’s a fundamentally lonely place, where people have problems building a community and finding and keeping friend groups,” Jimmy says, explaining that Coffee@CU was created to target the difficulty many students encounter in making social connections on campus. The site was originally created by Parthi Loganathan (SEAS ’16) in an effort to meet new people in his last semester at Columbia. In fact, Jimmy and Parthi first got to know each other on a Coffee@CU meetup, and this spring, Jimmy takes over project manager as the site is nurtured by ADI Labs, a group of students who focus their energy on creating working sites and apps for Barnumbia students’ needs. Now, Coffee@CU is seeing a resurgence of interest as ADI coders build upon the site’s foundation built two years back.

Though the site has hints of Tinder (where Jimmy interned last summer), Bumble, and LinkedIn, it’s most closely inspired by Tea With Strangers, a site where users can host a meetup over tea with strangers, meant to inspire conversation by forcing people out of their comfort zone. He remembers using Coffee@CU when it was clunky and newly-made in Spring 2016 to reconnect with an NSOP friend. They bonded over a niche interest in public transit and ended up forming a group chat with other like-minded friends. This seems like the actualization of the ideal vision of Coffee@CU: a platform to foster a connection between people you met in passing, saw on stage or in class, and you wished you could get to know better.

However, the inexplicit nature of the site still causes confusion: Jimmy describes an instance when a friend of his said she had created a profile, prompting the response “Why? You already have a boyfriend.” While ADI Labs is currently prioritizing working out the technical kinks of the site (which won’t let me send any requests, suspecting I am a robot), we might see additional features in the future that sort profiles, possibly according to interest or year. But for now it remains ambiguous, a social platform for meeting Barnumbians that’s more fruitful than posting a name in Columbia Crushes.

Friendworking over coffee via Pixabay

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