It was just about noon on a spring Tuesday in Seattle when Erin Leary, '80, made the connection. She was reading the latest postings on the alumni-only Internet area called The Farm when she stumbled on a name she hadn't thought of in almost 20 years: Gregg Garmisa. She fired off a query: "Gregg -- Did you live in Paris in 1978-79? If so, I think I once visited your apt. What's up in the Midwest??" In Chicago, Garmisa, '80, posted his answer the next day: "Mais bien sûr . . . that was me."
And so began an e-mail minireunion -- one example of the kind of reconnecting the Stanford Alumni Association hopes to encourage with its expanded website (www.stanfordalumni.org). The new offerings include online discussion groups, a package of e-mail services, a specialized Stanford "start" page, a growing alumni directory and a career network. Leary relishes the chance to use the web to stay in better touch with friends and campus happenings. "It's nice to know that these things are possible," she says. "I've told a couple of my friends, 'You gotta check this out.'"
The new services were quietly launched in May; the official unveiling came in early August, when all alums received a brochure describing the new website. Though portions of the site are open to the public -- information on Travel/Study trips, reunions and Sierra Camp, for example -- only registered alums can access many of the new services. (A password is required, and these aspects of the site are strictly protected for privacy.) More than 25,000 alumni have signed up, with thousands more expected in the wake of the brochure. "The Alumni Association's mission is to reach, serve and engage," says Chandrama "C.J." Yem, SAA's director of online services. "We're just trying to do that through the Internet."
Stanford isn't alone in seeing that potential, says John Fees, who recently surveyed 120 alumni associations about their Internet initiatives as part of his final MBA project at Harvard. "Everyone wants to capture the attention of alumni," he says. "Stanford seems to be coming up with useful and relevant content that will be compelling."
University surveys show that a remarkable 86 percent of Stanford's 160,000 alumni have access to the Internet. Hoping to get more of them to the Alumni Association's site, SAA is holding a contest called the Online Getaway Giveaway Sweepstakes. Users who register with the site are eligible. The winner will have the choice of going on a Travel/Study trip to Paris (seven days in November) or Bali (12 days in March 2000).
Some of the highlights of www.stanfordalumni.org:
E-mail -- The electronic mail service allows alumni to have an Internet address that will never change: email@example.com. Users can have messages from that address automatically forwarded to a work or home account. Or they can send and receive e-mail directly on the web, simply by going to the SAA site and clicking "e-mail." "I feel safer with Stanford handling my e-mail, rather than some generic provider," says Willy Schwenzfeier, '97, a freelance graphic designer in San Francisco.
The Farm -- Billed as an alumni gathering place, the service was designed by a software company specializing in online "community." Users can browse through dozens of discussion areas, ranging from current events to travel to dorm memories. "I'm not a big fan of chat things in general," says Garmisa, a busy lawyer for an engineering consulting firm. "But the idea of being able to go to Stanford's discussion area, catch up with old friends and make new ones -- that to me is appealing." The Farm also includes a section called Stanford Exchange where alums can post for-sale and want ads. One other advanced feature: alums can send instant text messages to anyone signed onto the system.
Alumni Directory -- Registered alumni can search this database for old friends and long-lost roommates. All grads are listed. Alums control how much -- if any -- of their information is in the database. "We recognize how important privacy is to our customers," Yem says. "We've designed a system that respects that."
Stanford.Start -- Many users of the Internet have created personalized "start" pages through services like My Yahoo or My Excite. Designed as a launch pad to the rest of the Internet, a start page offers an alternative to a browser's generic default home page. Stanford.Start features campus headlines, a selection of headlines from the New York Times, weather updates and a customized running tally of stocks. The page also includes search functions and links to online retailers Amazon.com and eToys.
@Stanford -- A monthly e-mail newsletter, @Stanford offers a sentence or two on a dozen key campus stories, with links to the complete articles on one of the University's web pages. Tested on a small audience last fall, @Stanford now has some 36,000 subscribers. Subscription instructions and back issues are posted on the SAA site.
Career Network -- More than 5,000 alumni around the world have volunteered to be listed in this database and serve as career resources. Users can search for fellow grads who work in particular fields, cities and companies.
For more: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (650) 725-4228.
Kelly Young, '99, a former Stanford intern, is a reporter for the Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, Ark.