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INNOVATORS Q&A

These founders are building a new social network that goes back to the basics

Tagg encourages its collegiate users to thoroughly express themselves and connect with others in a more meaningful way amid COVID-19

(Left to Right) Husam Salhab, Victor Loolo, and Blessing Ubani are the founders of Tagg, a new social network for college students.
(Left to Right) Husam Salhab, Victor Loolo, and Blessing Ubani are the founders of Tagg, a new social network for college students.Tagg

The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at alexa.gagosz@globe.com.

Victor Loolo, Husam Salhab, and Blessing Ubani are the co-founders of Tagg, a new social network that encourages its collegiate users to thoroughly express themselves, discover others like them, and connect in a more meaningful way. Loolo, who nicknamed the app “Gen Z’s love child,” explains how the app mixes elements of Tumblr, Tinder, and Wikipedia to create a network that focuses on people instead of content.

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Their user base has grown into the thousands since they initially rolled out at Brown University. Now the app has a waitlist that is growing daily, from students across other Ivy League schools as well as other universities in the Northeast. They admit about 20 users from the waitlist each day.

Q: What is Tagg and how does it work?

Loolo: Tagg is a social networking platform for college students on their campus that provides them with a unique opportunity to express every aspect of themselves. Tagg allows students to curate a profile that actually represents them as opposed to a typical internet alias. The app also lets students search, discover, and connect with the very people who would make up their social niche. On Tagg, you can meet new friends on campus, find dates, study partners, and learn even more about your current friends.

Q: How does Tagg promote users to connect with people on a deeper level than other social networks?

Ubani: Tagg empowers people to share all the little things that make them unique, such as their interests, hobbies, and values; not for likes and superficial approval, but to genuinely connect with others. The number one way to connect nowadays is through social media, but the issue with the current platforms is that they are oversaturated and incomplete in terms of embodying the users personality. We tailored our features to let our users represent every aspect of themselves as opposed to fitting an aesthetic which is the common theme across all the other social media platforms.

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Q: Is Tagg exclusively for college students?

Salhab: Tagg will be exclusive to just college students as we bring our solution from school to school. We are bringing together the communities we are closest to because we know first-hand the impact that COVID-19 has had in disrupting them, and the increased sense of connectedness that is being delivered through our product is what we are aiming to achieve.

Q: How will you prevent bots that are often found on other social networks?

Salhab: Fighting spam is a challenge that every social networking platform has to face at some point, so we will not try to reinvent the wheel. Programmatic spam detection alongside a team of community guideline supervisors are the two main steps on our roadmap.

However, Tagg is inherently less vulnerable when it comes to spam than other platforms, as it focuses mainly on people, not content. Plus, a school email address is required for someone to sign up at the moment, which makes it a lot harder for bots and spam to enter the platform in the first place.

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Q: How did you and your team come up with this idea?

Ubani: In the beginning of college, making friends is hard. In order to have a complete college experience nowadays, students have to make a very conscious effort to avoid the normalized way of forming cliques and sticking to them for all four years and this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. This is not the fault of students, but rather their actual means to make these connections. As a student, you should be able to experience all of your college network and choose where you fit in.

Q: Why should people use Tagg instead of the social networks that already exist?

Loolo: (One of our users said) Tagg is therapeutic. It is like taking a break from all the other social media. It delivers on its promise of a true community driven platform, leaving all the superficial standards other social platforms possess such as likes and followers.

Our platform focuses on the original purpose of social networking, which is truly connecting with people in their direct social space. This is one of the biggest appeals for our users that other social media platforms just don’t deliver on.

Q: As your team fine-tunes in development, what challenges are you facing, and how will you address them?

Salhab: By nature of being in hyper-growth mode, our challenges are continuously changing. At the moment, as we expand and grow faster, our biggest challenge is keeping up with our user-base’s growth, and iterating fast enough to cater to their needs. We are addressing this by continuously working on finding and acquiring more talent to join our team. While there is no shortage of supply, being at this critical stage it is important for us to find the right people who would fit in well with our team’s culture and values.

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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.