Virb terminates partnership with college

Colin King

Virb, a website hosting platform, has terminated its partnership with Columbia after being bought out by the website host company Go Daddy in October 2013.

Prior to the college’s partnership with Virb, which began in 2012, Columbia used an in-house system called WebAgent that hosted portfolio websites for students. During this time, the staff at  the Portfolio Center, located in the 623 S. Wabash Ave. Building, struggled to manage the technology themselves. The college partnered with Virb to streamline the process, according to Christie Andersen Asif, executive director of Career Initiatives at the Portfolio Center.

Virb was helpful to students because the site offers many themes and templates to aid users in building websites, portfolios, online stores and blogs, according to Virb’s website.

Throughout the college’s partnership with Virb, more than 3,000 students created online portfolios using the service, Andersen Asif said in an email. As part of the terms of the partnership, students could create a website using their Columbia email account to receive two free years of hosting and a discounted monthly cost after the initial free trial expires. However, by December 2014, the agreement will end, Andersen Asif said.

“It’s not uncommon for tech-based companies to change ownership as they grow, and Virb is no exception,” Andersen Asif said. “They made a decision that it was no longer profitable to encourage Columbia students to start their website via Virb. We disagree, but it is ultimately their call.”

Andersen Asif said the Portfolio Center was interested in continuing its relationship with the website and was disappointed by the news, but the office was able to negotiate the current terms of the contract to last until the end of the Fall 2014 semester. After December, the website will still exist, and students who have already created sites can still host for free for the allotted two-year window. Current sites will also have an option to receive the discounted monthly fee of $8 by using a Columbia discount code. Virb will still offer one-year free trials to new customers, but the Portfolio Center will not continue to provide Virb tech support, Anderson Asif said.

Although the department was surprised by the news and is disappointed by the change, the Portfolio Center is focusing on the positive aspects of the situation, Andersen Asif said.

“We still recommend that every student leave with a strong web presence,” Andersen Asif said. “This includes having profiles on sites appropriate to their industry. The end of our partnership with Virb means that we can expand our list of recommended providers to include other popular systems and best practices for working with those systems.”

Adrienne Bazir, a senior traditional animation major, said she has used Virb for two years after staff at the Portfolio Center suggested it to her. She said Virb seemed like the most useful and simple tool for her portfolio, which includes a personal bio, comics, drawings, animated story reels and links to her other online profiles. The free service was also a highlight of using Virb, she said, but she will continue to host her site with Virb and pay the monthly fee.

Although Bazir will still continue to use her Virb account, she said it is unfortunate that the college will no longer partner with the company.

“I don’t know what we’re going to use now [to] make a portfolio website,” Bazir said. “I know that for me and a bunch of my friends, it was easier to use Virb because we knew it had a partnership with Columbia.”

Julie Harris, the advertising and public relations internship coordinator, said because of the nature of marketing and PR and its use in many fields, she handles internships for a wide variety of disciplines across the college.

Harris said Virb has been a highly effective tool for students to promote their creative talents in an online environment and that it is unfortunate that the company is phasing out its partnership with Columbia. However, she said that this change will be an opportunity for students to explore other web-based portfolio opportunities that may better fit the needs of students.

“Those who don’t [take this opportunity] will be left behind because online portfolios, especially in the creative and entertainment industry, are so vital to building your personal brand,” Harris said. “It helps with securing internships and jobs as a distinctive piece to supplement your resume.”

Despite repeated requests for comment, Virb representatives did not respond to The Chronicle’s inquiries, as of press time.

Workshops focused on a broad set of online portfolio options will begin in spring 2015.