Discourse: A social networking app for college students

Problem Statement

Currently, people are yearning for more authentic ways of interacting with others on social media. They want to meet others through their community in which they feel a sense of belonging and have meaningful discussions based on trending topics and relevant conversations. However, social media has swayed to offer ways for people to meet others genuinely or conveniently strengthen their current friendships and community bonds through features such as audio chat groups. This product addresses this problem by providing a solution for more authentic social media interactions.

Problem Space/Background  

Human beings are social creatures. We need the companionship of others to thrive in life, and the strength of our connections significantly impacts our mental health and happiness. Being socially connected to others can ease stress, anxiety, and depression, boost self-worth, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness, and even add years to your life. 

Today, connection and social support are more critical than ever. But many young adults find it hard to make friends as they adjust to the demands of college life and live away from home for the first time. 

  • 53% of current college students reported that they are currently concerned with feeling lonely

Because of this, young adults rely on social networking platforms to find and connect.

However, social networking has changed dramatically within the last decade becoming: social media. The toxic hierarchies created by the number of "likes" and friend followings, along with the "Reels" and "Short Videos" that promote infinite scrolling and clickbait posts, has left its user disconnected by causing reactions instead of interactions among each other.

Research Insights 

Our dominant user persona were university students so we created a survey to gain some insight on the effects of social media platforms. 20 university students participated and provided insightful information.

  • 60% reported feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or lonely after using social media.
  • 65% reported that they feel social media has gotten worse in terms of building meaningful relationships.
  • 60% reported they find themselves comparing their lives to others due to social media
  • 55% reported that social media produces FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) 


Based on the survey insights, we were able to create a persona and identify pain points of our users. 

Solution Explanation

After analyzing the feedback from our users, and comparing it to the other research conducted, we were able to define our MVP: A social networking mobile application that encourages social engagement among its users by using video chat rooms based on different topics of discussion.

Key Features:

  • As a user, I want to use a university domain email so I can meet and chat with other students from my university.
  • As a user, I want to be able to make a simple profile to showcase my pictures and a description about who I am.
  • As a user, I want to join daily events (topics of the day) so I can meet and chat with others from my university
  • As a user, I want to have video chat rooms because it encourages verbal social interactions. 
  • As a user, I want to be able to text chat in the chat rooms in case I cannot use video.  
  • As a user, I want to be able to mute and unmute myself in chat rooms.
  • As a user, I want to see a disclaimer before joining chat room to prevent any negativity or offense discussions
  • As a user, I want the option to leave a chat room whenever I want too. 

Lofi & Hifi Mockups

Due to time constraints, the Homepage, User Profile, and Chat Rooms were modified. 

Iterative Design Learnings

After we showcased our prototype to our users, we received great feedback. We had designed two options for the Homepage and allowed the users to choose which option they prefer. We asked our users to complete the task of joining a chat room and use the video chat interaction. We asked questions regarding the style guide and made proper iterations. 

Implementation Details

Discourse is a web application built in React with the library and using NodeJS and Firebase as the backend.  We used email authentication, Realtime database, Firebase Analytics and Firestore database from Firebase and NodeJS to create the token generator endpoint.  It is hosted on Netlify and Railway.  In the future we plan to adapt our code to React Native for mobile development.

The hardest part of the development was integrating video/voice chat into the application. I had to learn how to use the Agora library and how to implement the specific methods I needed.  Another challenge was generating unique tokens to access agora. 

Future Steps

Hopefully, I will launch this product to at least one university and use the KPIs to measure my team's success, and having this product will be a great reason to have us be hired.


Product Manager Learnings:

Kyan Louie

Through these 4 weeks, I’ve learned that framing my questions to get more meaningful data about the problem is more important than trying to get data from questions about the solution we think can solve the problem.

I should always come in with a problem-first approach because having a solution in mind can create bias

I must be able to plan accordingly with when to finish deadlines and understand a more efficient manner in which not to get behind

Designer Learnings:

Leticia Feliciano

Within these last 4 weeks, I've learned the importance of defining the problem and creating a solution first before beginning product development. I've learned the importance of communicating with the team and ensuring everyone understands the problem space and solution. I enjoyed working on a cross functional team in an agile environment which was something I've never done before.

Developer Learnings:

Kaitlyn Wickson

I learned a lot more about react, importing new developer libraries and how to research information on a completely new topic for myself. I also learned how to work with a backend developer and how our two roles interconnect.

Developers Learnings:

Ushindi Gedeon


Within the past weeks at Co.Lab, working in a cross functional team, I have learned how to materialize the team’s objectives into viable features in collaboration with the project manager, the designer and the front-end. I also learned how to integrate Real Time Communication into my project.

Full Team Learning