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Liu and Mounajjed launch Bonfire

Catherine Zhou / Thresher

By Kenzie Langhorne     1/30/24 10:12pm

Bonfire, a new startup platform for sharing on-campus social events, launched Jan. 17. The student founders Michael Mounajjed and Ben Liu say Bonfire aims to unite students. The founders say there are currently 770 users on the platform, equivalent to one in every six Rice undergraduates using the app.

Mounajjed, a Hanszen College freshman, said Bonfire was inspired by issues he saw with OwlNest, such as it being hard to filter, and Rice students using GroupMe groups and flyers around campus to find events. 

“It’s really difficult to find what you’re passionate about when you don’t really know what is going on,” Mounajjed said. “After a long night of searching through OwlNest and going through all the GroupMes, posters and all the really complicated stuff, I realized … it’s too hard to find what I really like. So we decided to build Bonfire [as] a way to see everything happening at campus all in one [location].” 

Liu, a McMurtry College sophomore, said the founders focused on the shortcomings of OwlNest to address why club leaders do not post and why students do not look for events on OwlNest.

“Pretty much every Rice student uses Google Calendar,” Liu said. “What if they were able to explore all the events that were posted on to Bonfire through their personal Google Calendar, so it would be side by side with their current schedule?”

Mounajjed said Bonfire currently does not have a process to verify events being posted, but the platform is moderated and warnings are given out for posting fake events. 

“Anybody can post, and that’s really an egalitarian way that we can make sure that all Rice students have a voice,” Mounajjed said. “We monitor the platform constantly … While you can make a post on the platform, if you decide to put something on there that would be negative, we do give out warnings and are ready to remove a user from the platform that is not responding well.” 

According to Liu, competitors of Bonfire are virtually nonexistent. For instance, he said Bonfire has a different purpose than Fizz, an anonymous discussion app. Liu acknowledges that clubs will continue to use social media, but Bonfire aids students who do not follow specific clubs or are not on email lists.

Mounajjed said Bonfire is not a social media platform, and its mission is to bring people together physically through its virtual platform.

“We are not trying to create a space where students can interact digitally by chatting with each other, and we have noticed that [social media has] become increasingly negative,” Mounajjed said.

Julia Hanson, a Hanszen socials committee head, said that event advertising can get buried in Instagram feeds, so she thinks Bonfire is a useful tool. 

“I think a lot of our advertising in the past has gotten lost through other content, when we post Instagram posts and it kind of falls into everyone else’s feed,” Hanson, a junior, said. “So a whole lot of people don’t see them, or if we send out an email it gets jumbled in with a lot of people’s spam sometimes.” ‘

Tess Mansfield, a Bonfire user, said that it is a great app for planning what to do with her weekends. 

“I am a huge planner, and I felt one of my main issues was I would always be trying to figure out my weekend plans the day of or two hours before,” Mansfield, a Hanszen freshman, said. “It’s helpful to have one place where I can scroll through and figure out what to do.”

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