by Emmanuel Quartey
Last week, the Wires Crossed team had the opportunity to present the project to staff members at Teaching with Technology Tuesday. The following is a round-up of three ideas that emerged during the Q&A session after the presentation.
1) There is an incredible amount of student talent out there. With the right incentives, that talent could be directed towards making some really cool, useful things.
In a recent interview with Jared Shenson and Charlie Croom (the creators of Yale Bluebook), they remarked that the Yale College Council App Challenge motivated the creation of Bluebook. Other App Challenge winners include YaleMobile, Yale Travelogue and Roammeo.
What this goes to show is that given the right incentives, Yalies are willing to take on the challenge of making something that solves a problem. For every Bluebook, however, there are many potential services that simply don’t see the light of day. How do we incentive such acitivity? Maybe there should be greater University acknowledgement of Yalies who make things like Travelogue. Or maybe there should be a formal system for connecting student developers and designers with ITS staff who would be interested in working with them.
2) Student-made apps are better-looking, and they do a better job of getting feedback from students.
Another interesting factoid from the interview with Jared and Charlie: upwards of 90% of the freshman class has used Bluebook. They ascribe this to their willingness to rapidly iterate the product based on the feedback they get through email or even Facebook comments. They respond to every single comment, and they try their best to acknowledge feature requests.
The biggest difference between student-made apps and “official” apps is that student apps have a human face. I’m more willing to send in feedback because I know that my comment isn’t going to go down some blackhole where no-one is going to ever read it. If something about Bluebook bothers me, I know how to have my concern addressed (and I know that a fix will be up within a few weeks). I don’t bother letting anyone know about my frustrations with official apps because I’m not quite sure anyone cares.
This is easily solved by prominently assigning a real person to each University application. Simply knowing that my email is going to a real person who actually cares about improving the product would make me more likely to vocalize improvements I would like to see.
Another big difference between student apps and official apps is that student apps just look better. If you haven’t tried Travelogue yet, you should. It’s gorgeous. Yale Facebook, on the other hand, looks like it hasn’t been updated since the early nineties (UPDATE: since this post went up, Yale Facebook has had a HUGE facelift. Check it out!).
This is not just a matter of things needing to look pretty. Travelogue’s appearance signals to me that it is a labor of love - that someone actually cared enough to create moments of delight. Additionally, it looks like it’s running the latest technology, and that gives me the confidence that its makers are skilled. All this is in sharp contrast to the university Facebook, which looks like an abandoned project.
There is an important caveat to this: students actually have a high tolerance for a work in progress. An app need not be “finished” or “perfect” on launch, as long as there is evidence that a passionate group of people is constantly working to improve the product.
3) Students aren’t as tech savvy as they would like to be.
I’m going to write a much longer post about this, but Spark Notes version: there is a new computer literacy, one which involves knowing at least some HTML/CSS and image/audio/video manipulation, and Yalies feel like they don’t have the basic skills necessary for navigating a changing world.
The popularity of Hack Yale proves that people are willing to take on the equivalent of an extra class, without credit, in order to come away knowing how to code a simple website.