I used it to find rides home for the holidays, do statistical analyses on the top 10 states and cities of origin for my graduating class, and identify mutual connections through roommates I might know or shared residential colleges. On Sept. 6, 2019, that all changed when Tigerbook, my beloved research and social bonding tool for campus, removed all hometown, dorm, and roommate data from student profiles. For a time, photos disappeared as well. At first, I thought I could adjust, but two months later, I find myself using Tigerbook dramatically less frequently, and I believe that the removal of this data, while protecting students’ privacy to some extent, has overall resulted in a net loss to the Princeton campus.
One of the more undervalued, yet incredibly useful, parts of Tigerbook was its hometown listings, which I enjoyed using to either refresh my memory on where my existing friends were from (so I wouldn’t have to ask them for the 100th time) or to know something about a person before I met them. This knowledge added a layer of familiarity to my relationships and allowed me to tailor my conversations to specific geographic areas of interest.
Hometown knowledge can also facilitate cross-campus connections much more quickly than having to track down people one-by-one. Last year, I looked up everyone from Baltimore so I could attempt to get to know more people from my area as well as try to set up carpools for returning over the holidays (Amtrak tickets are expensive!). I can imagine that building such relationships over familiar aspects from home, especially for new freshmen on campus, can be an incredibly foundational and positive experience, similar to those had through affinity groups at Princeton based on other factors (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender orientation, religion, etc.).
Of course, not everything about Tigerbook was appropriate — some information deserved to be removed because of its inherently private nature. As a freshman, I recall being shocked that my dorm room and campus address were listed online for any Princeton student to see; this posed immense challenges in cases of sexual assault and general harassment. Yet we must also remember that Tigerbook has always been open only to those with valid Princeton netIDs, restricting the possibility of abuse. Googling my name, for instance, would not have shown the results of my Tigerbook page because of the restricted nature of the website’s login.
Some friends have responded to my long-winded laments about the destruction of Tigerbook that I can just use Facebook or other forms of social media to glean information about my peers. Tigerbook was different from social media sites, however, because of its simplicity and ease of use — I could log on, get the information I wanted, and log off without being buried in a deluge of notifications or comments. Perhaps this is what made the website so successful, even with the popularity of social media sites and apps across campus.
We should also get more creative and begin imagining what additional information could be put on Tigerbook. Students could choose to display their preferred pronouns, for instance, which would promote a culture of gender inclusivity on campus. The audio recordings students can self-submit as freshmen through NameCoach on how to pronounce their name could also be included. Regardless of what might be added to Tigerbook in the future, I simply hope that the website continues to grow, not shrink as it did unexpectedly this past September. We can save Tigerbook, but only if we commit as a campus to the tool’s immense utility.
Claire Wayner is a sophomore from Baltimore, MD, majoring in civil and environmental engineering. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.