Imagine you're a new MBA student at Lehigh University. After a little while in your program, you're ready - like any good Internet citizen - to share your experiences with others so that they can make informed choices about their own MBA programs. You look around at the various choices on the Web for sharing your point of view and find, much to your dismay, that none of the existing options resonate with you very well. What to do?
Well, if you're Tony Powell and his buddy Jake, you create your own review site, The University Review. You do this in your spare moments (apparently MBA studies leave you with lots of free time?), tinkering with the database and interface. And, slowly, people begin to find your site and leave their reviews. Excellent!
In his book, The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It, Jonathan Zittrain notes that
Ideas like free Web-based e-mail, hosting services for personal Web pages, instant messenger software, social networking sites, and well-designed search engines emerged more from individuals or small groups of people wanting to solve their own problems or try something neat than from firms realizing there were profits to be gleaned. (p. 85)
That's why I'm rooting for Tony and Jake. They have a good idea - well-executed - and they're having a blast just goofing around with the site. They're trying to provide a valuable service rather than make a ton of money and they're extremely open to user feedback. For example, I suggested that they include the option to rate universities by program of study. A short while later, the site had incorporated the official United States Department of Education program codes into the university review page. Once the database of user reviews gets big enough, users will be able to search by program (Which Educational Leadership programs get the highest ratings by their own students?).
Will Tony, Jake, and The University Review survive the rough-and-tumble world of the Web? Who knows? They've got some stiff competition from sites like Students Review, College Prowler, and College Grader. But their emphasis on good design, their receptivity to user feedback, and their passion for providing value to others make them a pretty decent bet. Mosey on over to Tony and Jake's site and review your own university (Go Tribe!). You'll be glad you did.
There's more to the story...
Apparently Tony and Jake have caught the innovation bug. They're looking for the next great idea and are willing to see if they can create it:
We are really enjoying being in the Ed Tech space. It's a great community, full of wonderful people, and it's a place where we can provide value. Because of that, we'd like to build something else useful for members of this community. In fact, we'd like to continue building tools in this space as long as we can. To that end, I was wondering if you have a 'dream application' or something that's missing from this space, or something that can be improved. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them. Hopefully we can continue to contribute to the community, and we're looking for the best way to do that.
Got an idea for Tony and Jake? Drop them an e-mail and share your thoughts!