The bubble of American college football recruiting has few parallels in the sports universe. Millionaire coaches fervently woo teenage boys. Jobs, reputations and big-money contracts are on the line. Rabid fans pay for exclusive information from scouting services as the young players struggle to chart their futures.
It has practically morphed into a separate sport unto itself, and much of the fan action takes place on Twitter. There, "recruitniks" monitor the high schoolers' feeds and then speculate, rumor-monger and gloat with other hardcore supporters.
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Now, a group of Southern football fans has found a way to distill the madness in one place. Their site is called DirectSnap.com. It organizes and streams tweets mentioning the nation's most-prized prospects into individual profile pages for each player as well as the teams recruiting them.
Here's an example: A recruiting reporter tweets an unconfirmed rumor that a top quarterback prospect might be taking a last-minute visit to a powerhouse school. The rumor spreads across the Twittersphere. Minutes later, a random football-crazed student spots the recruit at a campus dining common eating with an assistant coach and tweets what he sees. The student's message goes out to just a small number of followers, but both tweets go directly into the quarterback's DirectSnap profile stream and to the diehard fans anticipating his final decision. Rumor confirmed.
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"Before, you would have had no way to put those two pieces of data together," Drew Roberts, one of DirectSnap's three 28-year-old co-founders, told Mashable. "A lot of news breaks on Twitter before it hits the recruiting sites or even the message boards, so we want to go directly to that source and organize all of it."
It's a lot to organize. Last weekend, when the two top high school football All-America games were nationally televised, DirectSnap indexed more than 46,000 tweets in three days.
Many players commit to college teams only to change their minds at least once before being forced to sign a binding letter-of-intent late in their senior year. Much of the online interest comes from fans living and dying by the roller coaster of a players' decision-making process.
"These are 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, so they change their minds all the time," Roberts said.
On Thursday morning, when news broke that a 6-foot-7 260-pound offensive lineman had switched his college commitment from Louisiana State University to Auburn University in Alabama, the player's DirectSnap profile filled with hundreds of tweets over the ensuing few hours.
Players' DirectSnap profiles feature vital statistics such as height and weight, the colleges they are most commonly mentioned with and embedded highlight videos culled from YouTube. DirectSnap pulls rankings of the top 300 players in each year from the scouting sites that compile those lists.
Roberts and his co-founders launched the site on Dec. 28 and drew some 70,000 visitors in its first two weeks online. Roberts said that analytics show the site's most avid users visiting multiple times per day to monitor progress and spending an average of 10 minutes on the site. But Roberts wants the DirectSnap to have a wider appeal too.
"What we really try to do is also make it accessible for casual fans who can just go to a team to page to get a good glance at what players are getting talked about with regard to their team," he said.
Roberts and his co-founders are funding DirectSnap themselves, in part using money from a popular college football blog called Saturday Down South that they started last summer. DirectSnap is monetized solely through on-site ads, although Roberts said that they would be interested in exploring partnerships with larger recruiting and sports sites as they gain more traction. They're working on a DirectSnap mobile app and also plan to start a similar site for college basketball recruiting.
One lesson Roberts and company have learned since launch: Don't include tweets from the recruits themselves. They experimented with that in an earlier stage, but found the streams bogged down by typical teenage tweets about girls, parties and homeroom. But, no mater; DirectSnap's masses of football-mad Twitter users solve the problem for them.
"Anytime a recruit does something of actual importance to their decision process, the fans jump all over it," Roberts said. "So everything important gets picked up by everyone else."
Would you use a site like this? What do you think about the online craziness that surrounds college football recruiting? Let us know in the comments.
This story originally published on Mashable here.