Students develop new online forum
For the majority of Colby students, the first thing to appear in their inbox at the start of a new day is a series of two to four e-mails sent automatically by the College. The General Announcements (GA’s) are a forum for students, faculty and staff to communicate and advertise upcoming events on and around campus, and can be sent to a range of lists: residence halls, entire grades or everyone with a colby.edu e-mail address.
For several years, the College community has been casually calling into question the efficiency and validity of this system but it was not until recently that a group of students decided to take action. John Kalin ’14 and Jeff Carpenter ’12 spent their shared time on the Hill, as many do, knowing of each other but not actually knowing each other. When they met during the final weeks of last spring semester, they began to talk about what they could both do to improve the General Announcements. Despite the distance and their separate plans to travel across the country and around the world—Carpenter moved to San Francisco and Kalin spent time in South Korea and China—they kept in touch through the summer and their weekly hour-long Skype conversations evolved into the new website that launched this fall, “The Better Announcements.”
While the project began as an idea to improve the current method of student advertising, it soon developed into a larger concept. “As we got to talking about what we could do,” Carpenter explained, “it became more and more apparent that the best way to do this was not to try and improve it internally, but try to make our own system.” Kalin recalled that the phrase they tossed around was “the rogue General Announcements.”
The most obvious differences between Kalin and Carpenter’s new creation and the General Announcements include a 500-character limit (the GA’s limit is 20,000 characters), illustrations of Waterville weather, the ability to organize posts based on the number of “upvotes” or “downvotes” given to a person’s posting history and the guarantee that only one e-mail will be sent per day.
The added bonus is that each person can send only one post per day, which reduces repetition and space. The result is a clear, concise forum for students and faculty to engage with one another, instead of a series of e-mails with the same redundant message.
Kalin and Carpenter used surveys to ask their peers questions about what aspects of the General Annoucement system worked and what people would want to change. “Ultimately,” Kalin said, “it’s about how we can be useful. We can go back and forth for hours thinking whether people want to see weather images or dining hall menus, or we could just send a survey and see what people want straight from them.” The team want to keep the conversation an open one and make the Better Announcements a truly student-based creation.
Outside of the Better Announcements, Kalin is a Community Advisor (CA), the President of Mules Against Violence (MAV) and plays on the basketball team. A global studies and philosophy double major with a minor in Chinese, he put his marketing experience with other clubs to use and took on the role of on-campus liason for the project. Carpenter is the driving force on the tech-side of the project. During his time at the College, he created an independent major, which he called “symbolic systems,” minored in Japanese and used his tech skills to revamp the Echo’s website and create the Echo blog’s “Colbybox” format. Since graduating in May, he began working as a software engineer at a social media branding company.
Despite their established roles, Carpenter explained that he feels comfortable suggesting an improvement not tech-based, and that if Kalin has an idea about the site’s format, he’s completely open to it. “We both appreciate feedback on things we are and are not experts at,” Carpenter said.
As for the future, Kalin and Carpenter are trying to make the best of the present. “We’re very much focused now on pretty specific things,” Kalin said. “At this stage, because it’s such a baby, too much focus on two years down the road -even next year- is not utilizing the time as well as we could.”
The two do have exciting ideas of where the project could go, including the use of video, profiles with accessible post history and a feature that would allow the creation of a direct response instead of an entirely new post.
For now, though, they’re keeping it simple. Their current goal? To have 90 percent of the campus signed up and on the mailing list. While the current number is presently low, they are optimistic and proud that within one week of school, they already have a solid number of subscribers.
To sign up for the Better Announcements, all students have to do is go to announcements.io while signed in to their Colby e-mail.