When I started grad school in 2001, every student was given an online “classcard”. Classcards were kind of a hybrid of modern-day LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. They were mostly static: no feed or status updates or any other advanced features that we are all accustomed to now. But they were wildly popular. Students spent countless hours browsing them. At one point there was a rumor that people could see who was viewing their classcard and everyone freaked out that their snooping would be revealed. When you met other students you no longer needed to ask for their contact info or background since it was easy to search for their classcard. It completely changed student interactions.
During that time, I was spending most of my personal time trying to develop new startup ideas. I ended up co-founding an online marketing company during school and then after school co-founding other companies (SiteAdvisor, Hunch, Founder Collective). Meanwhile, Facebook – the best internet business of the decade – was being hatched. Its first version looked a lot like classcards, and perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that it was founded just down the street at the same university. The “toy” I was staring at every day was actually a much better business than all the “serious” ideas I spent so much time working on.