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Social Learning Sites Sprout

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education looked at the rise of “social network” style study tools targeted at college students:

“Our mission is to make the world one big study group,” says Phil Hill, chief executive of OpenStudy, a social-learning site that started as a project of Emory University and Georgia Tech. It opened to the public in September.

Many of the social-learning sites are, like OpenStudy, for-profit companies—or at least they aspire to be once their services take off. And some of their business plans rely on a controversial practice: paying students for their notes.

The big question facing all of these sites—a group that includes Mixable, from Purdue University, and GradeGuru, from McGraw-Hill—is whether students are really interested in social learning online.

It’s interesting to see universities themselves behind these products (Emory’s OpenStudy brands itself “the of study help”) — especially given the extent to which professors already complain that students become too engrossed in their laptops, detracting from engagement in the classroom. But I guess schools smell the money. Not so Andrew Magliozzi of Harvard, who isn’t following in the footsteps of Mark “Money” Zuckerberg:

When Andrew Magliozzi posted his notes from a Harvard course on a public blog, the professor told him to stop because he was disturbing the intimacy of the classroom.

Mr. Magliozzi, who declined to identify the professor, took the notes down. But the incident spurred him to create a nonprofit Web site,, that aspires to disturb the intimacy of classrooms across America’s elite colleges.

“I’m asking to change the default setting on education from private to public,” says Mr. Magliozzi, a 2005 Harvard graduate.

His vehicle for accomplishing that is a free online forum where student bloggers can share class notes and form study groups. Mr. Magliozzi chose the name as an ironic nod to Harvard’s final clubs—those elite organizations, immortalized in the film about the founders of Facebook, The Social Network, which are rumored to maintain private caches of study guides for Harvard courses.

Purdue’s Mixable, in contrast, relies on a Facebook plug-in, Read more



Most teachers I know see mobile phones in the hands of kids as a distraction from class. A local, Williamstown-based startup named MobileEd thinks they can change that. Their thesis is that mobile phones, as computationally powerful tools that most kids already have, can be integrated into the learning process and the curriculum in useful ways, without much additional expense.

Their proposal, to provide resources and curriculum development tools for teachers interested in integrating mobile phones into the learning process, is currently a finalist in the Macarthur/Hastac Digital Media and Learning Competition. Their proposal video features a pilot project held at Williamstown Elementary, where kids used mobile phones to collect data, gather photographic documentation, and record interviews and podcasts.


Dear Williams Record, please fix your feed

The Record RSS feed has been showing a 5-year-old story on top for the last couple of months. I’ve used the contact form on the Record website to notify them about this issue at least twice, and have not receive any response – not even an acknowledgment that they’ve received my message and are aware of the issue. Does anyone even read messages submitted via the contact form?

I’ve noticed recently that the Record has started to run ads on its pages. Good for them. We’d like to link to Record stories more often and send more viewers to the site, but it makes it a lot easier for us to link to your articles when you have an RSS feed that works. Most of the news and blog sites I visit daily, I visit via RSS feeds and/or Twitter. If your RSS feed is broken and you don’t have a twitter account, you are essentially off the radar. Which might be fine for a personal blog, but is hardly a good idea for a news publication that is apparently trying to earn money from advertising.

And this isn’t a personal or EphBlog-specific complaint. All of the readers who are likely to link to your stories on their own blogs, or share them on Facebook, or on Twitter, or elsewhere, are also the readers who are most likely to be using feeds to organize their information flow. These are the active, engaged readers you are losing when you have a non-working RSS feed.

PS: I should note also that the Record seems to have no social media presence. No Facebook page or Twitter account as far as I can see. Something to think about… but first, before you get onto those platforms, fix your feed. Get the basics right, at least.


NYT Tags

This looks cool.

Today we’re pleased to announce the addition of approximately 5,000 new subject headings to These subjects include organizations, publicly traded companies and geographic identifiers, ranging from Apple Inc to Kansas to Williams College. Like the 5,000 person-name subject headings released last October, we have mapped our latest crop of subject headings to DBpedia, Freebase and — in the case of our geographic subject headings — GeoNames.

So why are we so excited about this?

I have no idea. (But thanks for using Williams as an example!) Perhaps one of our more tech-savvy readers (DeWitt Clinton, Steve O’Grady) could explain how we might use this to better organize information about All Things Eph . . .


Digitizing Project of the Record begins

From the Library Website:

Getting the historic Williams Record online has involved many people working countless hours to solve the numerous difficulties that arose; there is still much to be done. Staff at the Internet Archive and Williams College Libraries are continuing their efforts to make the scanned images easier to locate and read. However, many issues of the historic Record are already in the Internet Archive and can be read page by page.

Take a look: go to Internet Archive and search williams college student newspapers. You’ll get a list of Williams Record volumes and the related titles Williams Advocate and RecordAdvocate.

The e-transfer process will certainly take a long time, but the benefits to researchers will probably be numerous.


Meta: This is why we can’t have nice things

The voting widget, which was removed when we started to have some site instability issues, was recently brought back to EphBlog after quite a few reader demands, because many of our readers felt that it provided valuable feedback. However, soon after we launched it, we started to see some pretty suspicious voting patterns, especially on posts written by David Kane. Read more


New Williams Record website is live!


And they have an RSS feed!

(h/t JeffZ)


If I understand K. Thomas (below) …

apacheon ‘server issues’, the elusive EphBlog continues to evade the best efforts of the Apache hunting parties.


Server issues

We are trying to figure out what is causing the intermittent WordPress outages that have been annoying our commenters and authors over the last couple of days.

My guess at this point is that the culprit is the voting widget, which generates a large number of database queries. I have turned that off for ‘observation’ purposes – if performance improves, and we see no further outages, we are going to leave it turned off, at least until we make further improvements to our database situation (moving it to cloud hosting might be an option, I hear).

Apologies for the inconvenience.


Student Blogging as College PR

There’s an article in The New York Times this morning (“M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to the Nth Degree“) that discusses how colleges are using student blogs to publicize life at the college and entice prospects. It notes:

Dozens of colleges — including Amherst, Bates, Carleton, Colby, Vassar, Wellesley and Yale — are embracing student blogs on their Web sites, seeing them as a powerful marketing tool for high school students, who these days are less interested in official messages and statistics than in first-hand narratives and direct interaction with current students.

Notice that Williams isn’t mentioned.

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Williams has a YouTube channel


The most recent video is a profile of the newly reopened Goodrich Coffee Bar:

found via @WilliamsCollege on Twitter

This is also a good opportunity to link to the Williams College Podcast feed. Latest episode (24 Aug. 2009): Prendergast in Italy

Both of the above are picked up by EphPlanet.


Spring Street Books

Spring Street Books seems like a great organization.

Spring Street hopes to make the Williams Community a better place by helping students find and sell used textbooks on campus, assisting the search for cheap books on the internet, and donating profits back to the community.

The idea for Spring Street Books was originally conceived in the Mills 2 common room in the spring of 2008. was purchased and work began on October 1st 2008 by Joey Kiernan. Six days later, a preliminary beta site was released to the Williams community on a WSO discussion.

Currently, the Spring Street Books Board of Directors includes: Peter Huang, Joey Kiernan, Briana Marshall, Jared Nourse, Rachel Teitelbaum, Evan Skorpen, and Jack Wadden.

Great stuff. Latest news here. Have any readers used Spring Street Books? To the extent that these students hope to create an organization that will outlive their time at Williams, they ought to recruit faculty members and/or Williamstown-area alumni to their Board.

If they are ever interested in branching out beyond books, EphsChoose needs leaders . . .


EphBlog Mobile Edition

If you’ve ever felt like getting your fix of EphBlog from your cell phone, smartphone, gaming device, etc., but couldn’t wait for the whole thing to load on a tiny screen, we now have a clean, stripped-down, mobile version of EphBlog that enables you to quickly browse through recent posts, read articles, and make comments. It even supports touchscreen devices. Try accessing from your phone or other web-enabled portable device and let us know what you think.

This was made possible thanks to the WordPress Mobile Edition plugin and the Carrington Mobile theme.


New Alumni Web Site

A brand new alumni web site! Comments:

1) Seems to be built with Drupal. Good choice! Who are the technical leads behind the project?

2) I like it!

3) Don’t like some of the color choices at the top or the scrolling text to the right.


Twitter Ephs

Can someone explain the ecology of Twitter to me? Thanks to Ronit’s hard work, we are now sending out EphBlog posts via Twitter.

I assume that AndrosHoque, a recent follower of EphBlog, is a scam of some sort. But how does the scam work? He has one post and 214 followers. Who would follow that?

My favorite Eph Twitterer is Zed Park (Annabel Kim ’07). Her fun tweets include:

Twitter confuses me. I feel like I’m leading a bigamous life, split between the doyenne of Facebook and the upstart ingenue of Twitter.

I should just finish the books I’ve already started. Too many to-do lists, not enough to-do.

I feel the same.

Which Eph Twitterers are your favorites?


Public Affairs has a Flickr account

While browsing photos on Flickr tagged with “Williams College,” I came across an account for the Williams College Public Affairs office. Wow! They seem to have posted their professional photos that they took for College publications. For instance, there are many pictures from Commencement 2009. Also notable is this great collection of photos of music professor David Kechley beaming, while posing with different instruments. An example:

This is a great step forward for Williams embracing technology. If they put all of their excellent, professional-quality campus photos online, it will be a treasure of a viewbook for anyone looking for pictures of Williams. An example of this kind of thing: the Library of Congress.


Tag/Category discussion

Please continue the discussion below – comments have been moved.


There is no mold

Marco Sanchez ’10 was the winning entry in the Claiming Williams public service announcement contest. Kudos on the excellent claymation work! To watch, click here, then click on “There is No Mold” and the other video entry titles in order to view them.

If you care for off-topic, unnecessary ranting, continue reading at your own risk. Read more


Technical difficulties?

If you’re having problems with loading ephblog, email me at with a description of the problem, the exact browser and the version of the browser you’re using, your operating system, and a screenshot if possible.

Also, if everything seems to be working fine for you, it would be super if you could let me know that in the comments thread below (again, with browser and OS info). Thanks.

PS: here are some other eph blogs you can read while we fix things around here.

UPDATE: feeds are back. Is anyone having problems now?


Ethan Zuckerman on Internet Freedom

It’s a long post, but Eph Ethan Zuckerman’s work on censorship and the evolving uses of technologies is worth a read. He was the first “tech guy” for Tripod, the webhosting company that started in Williamstown, and still lives in the Berkshires. A few quotes to whet your appetite:

Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers.

Web 2.0 was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats.

I had a front-row seat for this transition, working with Tripod. We sincerely believed that the purpose of the web was to give college graduates helpful information about renting apartments, applying for jobs and investing their money. Our users rapidly told us that what the web was really about was publishing their own information… which left us with the difficult challenge of figuring out how to make money off of people’s collections of cat pictures.

Read more


EphBlog set on Flickr

Thanks to EphBlog readers’ generosity, I have a Flickr Pro account. One of the purposes of this gift was to make my pictures easier for EphBlog readers to browse and enjoy. I recently realized that I had not made all of my EphBlog photos into a “set.” (A set makes it easy to look at a group of photos without having to do a lot of back-and-forth clicking, as is necessary with simply tagging them.) I have now done so: EphBlog photo set. It should include all the pictures I posted on EphBlog over the years. A few are missing, but not many (I am adding them as I find missing ones). So if you’d like to reminisce back and take a look at those pictures, there they all are. Browse, and enjoy.

By the way: In my opinion, the best way to ensure that the Flickr sidebar contains a good sampling of Williams photos would be to require that the pictures are from six different Flickr accounts. Then you won’t get five blurry running pictures, five underexposed dance pictures, or (gasp!) five fall foliage pictures.


Tech Update

Hello all,

In the interests of providing assistance to TECH, I am posting a list of current problems and suggestions. Please be patient as the ‘wizards behind the curtain’ work their magic. 

Also forgive my lack of ‘tech lingo’. I realize there must be a term other than “doohickey” to describe a tool, so feel free to correct me if it clarifies an issue for TECH.

*Current Problems:

1. Posting wasn’t possible (for a short while yesterday), for at least a couple of us with a Mac/Safari setup.

2. Comment sequence is inconsistent. For example, in the “Tough Times…” thread, the comments mostly run top to bottom, but PTC’s latest comment came in at the top.

3. If you click directly on “Comments” at the foot of the post, you don’t get the entire thread, and there is no ‘page continuation’ available to do so. (And I believe they are coming up reversed, as well)

4. Clicking on a specific “Recent Comment” does not take you directly to that comment.

*Most Recent Suggestions:

1. At least three queries that comment sequence be from top to bottom, but speak up now if you feel otherwise.

2. If comments do end up in a top to bottom sequence, then the ability to click on “pages [1], 2, 3”, should be at the bottom.

3. Comments need to be numbered and dated.

4. Some sort of master list for “Recent Comments”, or at least, a longer one. (note: this has been an issue which TECH has been aware of for a while…perhaps since the last site changes were made?)

5.  Guy suggested something other than a “puke green” background (although note that I am currently seeing an all white background)

More comments and suggestions, please!


Well done phishing

I just got an e-mail from asking me to verify my account information so that my account would not be deleted:

Dear Williams.Edu Email Account Owner,

This message is from messaging center to all email account owners. We are currently upgrading our data base and e-mail account center. We are deleting all unused email accounts to create more space for new accounts. To prevent your account from being closed, you will have to update it below so that we will know that it’s a present used account.

I was wondering if anyone else got this. It’s well done spam, I have to say that. I almost believed it — why wouldn’t Williams want to cut down on unused accounts? — until I noticed that it asked me for my username and password (and it is allegedly sent from So, don’t any of y’all write back to it, ya hear?


My Hip-Hop

Jeff Delaney ’05 writes:

Considering your broad knowledge of the alumni pool, I am hoping you can provide some guidance in my search for an Eph that might be interested in a new project I’ve been working on for the last few months with a few friends in NYC: My Hip-Hop

Simply, myhhtv is a web start up dedicated to providing far more balanced and original hip-hop programming than is currently offered by popular Viacom media outlets (i.e. BET, MTV). If you can think of anyone who might be even remotely interested in hearing about the venture, or has some legitimate level of experience with entertainment programming, it would be most helpful.

Great stuff. Can anyone suggest some Eph names for Jeff to contact? (If you want to reach Jeff directly, his e-mail is jeffrey.delaney at Gmail.) One of the key purposes of EphBlog is to bring together Ephs in specific subject areas. Alas, hip-hop is not my, uh, oeuvre. My main advice to Jeff is to reach out to everyone and anyone. The secret to networking is to maximize the number of people you (try to) talk to. This is hard since no one likes to get rejected, but it is necessary. I would also urge Jeff to aim high. Even very important Ephs are often ready to meet with youngsters starting out their careers.

Some names? Well, the trustees provide some interesting places to start. David Bowen ’83 does venture investing in New York City. He would be the first person that I would try. Stephen Harty ’73, Bob Scott ’68, and Richard Levy ’74 are all located in NYC, albeit in less directly relevant fields. Still, you never know who they might know. In any networking situation, you ideally want to meet the person face-to-face, perhaps over coffee, perhaps just in their office.

My favorite rule of networking, copied from an anonymous Eph, is “If you want money, ask for advice. But, if you want advice, ask for money.”

More later.


New College Homepage

The College is rolling out a new homepage on Wednesday. Comments:

1) Seems like an improvement to me. I especially like the landscape format.

2) Under the Especially For Students sub-menu, there should be a link to WSO, at least.

3) How about a link to EphBlog under Especially For Alumni? [Like that will ever happen! — ed. We can always dream.]

Our readers often have strong opinions on this topic. Tell us what you think.


Someone gets it

Kudos to the Williams web team for making the audio of Tom Friedman’s talk available online. This is a good start. My hope is that, eventually, video of most campus events will be streamed online and made available for later download.


Design Changes

The College homepage now makes mistake #7 on Jakob Nielsen’s list of Top Ten Mistakes in web design.


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