A digital marketplace has burgeoned under @bu_gigs, an Instagram account circulating offers and requests from Boston University students on anything from housing to clothing to services. The account also posts BU course advice and runs polls on student opinion.
But on Feb. 4, the account will move off the platform. Since launching last fall, @bu_gigs has gained more than 7,000 followers and posted nearly 5,500 times, but creator Kaluwe Muntanga said he is hoping its audience will download an app he is currently developing to replace the Instagram page.
Muntanga, a senior at Northeastern University studying computer science, runs the “gigs” account for BU, as well as those of 19 other schools both in and out of Boston. He began posting about the upcoming app last week.
On each gig account, Muntanga reposts direct messages on the accounts they were sent to. He is the sole media manager, meaning he spends around three hours per day sharing posts.
Once the app is in operation, Muntanga said, he hopes his workload will lessen.
“I always wanted to make this into an app. Instagram was just a way for me to test out the idea and to see if I was onto something,” Muntanga said. “I just can’t run those pages. There’s so much. I’m at the point right now where I’m constantly behind on stuff.”
The app, dubbed “Social Call,” is currently developing its database and servers, but Muntanga — who is coding the app himself — said its interface and design are essentially complete. The layout aims to resemble Instagram in visuals and operation.
Muntanga said students using the app will be able to post directly without him being a middleman, which eliminates the wait time before their offer or request appears in the feed. The app will also allow users to sort requests by categories, which include the main sections found on the Instagram version: request, hustle and offer.
@bu_gigs has recently begun posting 24-hour categories as well, soliciting student responses to a poll or question via Instagram stories and sharing the responses. Muntanga said he hopes to keep that feature to maintain social engagement and keep the app from going “stale.”
The first “gigs” Instagram account, @neu_gigs, was launched Oct. 1 of last year, and the BU-related account followed on Oct. 20. From there, Muntanga created a range of accounts for different universities, all of which will be located on Social Call under school-specific filters.
Because the Instagram algorithm can bury posts and prioritize pages with high follower counts, Muntanga said it wasn’t practical to stay on the platform.
“I feel as though it’s very hard for you, especially as a student, to get the word out about stuff if you’re not a famous person,” Muntanga said. “[The app is] more focused toward college students. You have your community, you don’t need to follow a mass amount of people … and I think that way, it gives your posts more value.”
Zoë Chirico, a junior in BU’s College of Arts and Sciences, started following @bu_gigs around the time of its launch last year. She occasionally engages with its feed and has posted her own requests on the page.
As a computer science student, Chirico said the account has been a resource for her to reach other CS majors and discuss homework, but that an app separate from Instagram would likely be more efficient at finding specific posts.
“An actual app for things [can] be a lot more organized, because things kind of get lost since [Muntanga] does post a lot a day,” Chirico said. “I feel like that’ll really help people trying to buy or sell products.”
Another @bu_gigs follower, College of Fine Arts sophomore Amy Stapenhorst, shared a request for apartment subletters through the Instagram page after she was unsuccessful in reaching people via Facebook and other websites.
While she plans on downloading the app, Stapenhorst said she is concerned about whether the Instagram page’s following will take the time to keep up with a different platform.
“I think that it’ll be nice to have it on a separate app so it’s not crowding out my Instagram feed,” Stapenhorst said. “I’m also worried that it won’t be used by as many people or people won’t check it as often as they do Instagram.”
To incentivise students to download the app, Muntanga said it will be free, but he is considering implementing the condition that people invite one new user to the app each month. The platform will keep track of users by cell phone number when they sign up.
Once the app comes together, @bu_gigs should operate the same way, Muntanga said — just on its own footing.
“A lot of people say it’s a marketplace,” Muntanga said, “but I’ve always viewed it as an expansion of Instagram.”