The Tab Meets: “Overheard at Cambridge”

CLAUDIA LEONG speaks to Emma Riordan, co-founder of the “Overheard in Cambridge” Facebook group.

claudia leong Emma Riordan Facebook Game of Thrones interviews library whispers Lord of the Rings meme murray edwards Overheard in Cambridge rowan williams spam The Tab Meets tom porteous photography University of Cambridge

While Cambridge students have shared ‘bridge banter and scandalous secrets in the past on sites like Library Whispers, the Overheard at Cambridge Facebook group is likely to be the longest-enduring and most popular of all similar projects. Emma Riordan, one of group admins, describes how everything began, and what the response has been so far.

Punters and porters are among the most frequently quoted people on the group

What made you create Overheard at Cambridge?

The group was started in 2009 by my friend Akiko. We were both in our second year at Murray Edwards. She’d been inspired by an Overheard group at a friend’s university, and decided to set up a Cambridge version. She made us both admin so we could keep an eye on it and add people. To begin with, it was somewhere for us to post and share the silly things our friends at college came up. But it began to expand beyond our circle of friends and has been growing ever since.

Why do you think Overheard at Cambridge has become so popular within the Cambridge community and even with non-Cantabs?

I think Akiko got it right in the group description, which is the same as when it was created, ‘because you hear the craziest things in Cambridge’. Cambridge is truly a unique place and with the huge mix of people within a small city, the potential for amusing ‘overheard’ posts is immense. I think stereotypical perceptions of Cambridge students draws in non-Cantabs who expect it to be full of posh and/or geeky comments. I’ve also been pleased to see the group being so regularly updated. Admittedly things go quieter during the vacations and during exam term, but the momentum hasn’t stalled since we started.

Which is your favourite Overheard at Cambridge post and why?

That’s a difficult question as the group’s been in existence for over four years now. When the group began there were an awful lot of posts quoting things I’d
said. My friends take great delight in the fact that I often don’t think before I speak, and loved being able to quote me on a public forum. These were never directly attributed to me, but anyone in my circle of friends could identify those posts quickly. I believe the post with the most likes is the Rowan Williams quote.

Someone did contact me recently asking if I could please compile the top 20 posts in the history of the group. Whilst that’d be a great thing to have, it would be a logistical nightmare. There’s no way to rank the posts, so I’d have to go through every single post and rank them myself. Sadly I’m not sure anyone has the time to do that!

Overheard by Mill Pond…

If there was something about the group that you could change, what would it be?

The only thing I would change in the group would be the spam. Obviously the group is a great potential advertising space (this week we passed the 8,500 member mark) but that’s not what it’s for. There’s a small team of group admins I took on to spot and delete spam posts. For a long time it was just me as admin. When Akiko graduated she removed her admin status. I’ve kept mine, as I like to stay connected to it. It’s not everyday that you’re part of starting something with so many members! We get probably 10-20 membership requests every day requiring approval and it was taking over my Facebook notifications! I have once or twice received negative feedback when I put up a post asking people not to spam or to stick to the guidelines. This can be unpleasant but I try to ignore it,  I suppose it’s par for a group of this size.

How do you think the group is going to develop in the future?

As long as the city and University of Cambridge exist, there will always be things to be overheard. I graduated in 2010, then continued working and living in Cambridge for another year and a bit after that. Seeing the posts shows me that things haven’t changed all that much. In terms of a future for the group, I don’t know, to be honest! People continue to join daily, and as current students graduate, new students arrive to keep the posts coming.

What do you think of the Lord of the Rings? Are you more of a Game of Thrones woman?

My answer to this might be disappointing. I liked the LOTR films but I’ve never seen Game of Thrones. I know plenty of people who watch it (my boss on one of my freelance jobs is obsessed). I feel a little like I’m missing out on something, but it’s not really my sort of thing. I’m more of a sitcom kind of girl. I have seen the Game of Thrones themed posts but I don’t understand all of it…

If you’re not already a member, the Overheard at Cambridge Facebook group can be found here. Join for endless hours of procrastination, and because the Oxford group is larger than ours.