One of the exciting elements of studying at Stanford is the access–for better or for worse–to Silicon Valley which lies just beyond the borders of the Stanford moat (bubble). Whereas at other schools, there is a sort of tension between entrepreneurship and academics, Stanford students and faculty (at least beyond the few that hail from UC-Berkeley) seem to embrace both whole-heartedly.
And just as the convolution of academics and athletics results in some impressive accomplishments, the combination of academics and entrepreneurship has lead to many a well-known company, from Yahoo.com to Google, from HP to newer startups such as Meebo.com.
I’m blogging this live, as it were, from the CS294h “Social Software” class taught by prof. Jeff Heer (MIT TR35 winner) and Sep Kamvar of wefeelfine.org.
The project list, which can be found here on GitHub, ranged from the hyperlinked storytelling of LineHive.com to the Quora-like Unmelt.com, to Marcia Lee et al.’s GitDocs project, to name just a few.
The gist of the class? Students, in the span of a ten-week quarter, start from iteration and paper prototyping to iteration and engineering, deployment on the real, live Web, and A-B user testing, which is quite an impressive feat for such a short time span.
Social software is huge these days, whether at Stanford or beyond, from Facebook.com or Flickr to newer attempts such Quora, Hunch, and Unmelt.com.
From an academic perspective, the questions come back to psychology and sociology, engineering and design. How are users incentivized to use these student projects deployed live on the Web? How do developers ask scientific-like questions about how their software should be designed? Are there principles behind helping to manage how communities ebb and flow online?
More after the jump.
Then again, there is some tension, or perhaps there should be it would seem, between academics and entrepreneurship, is the pursuit mainly knowledge or cash, bits of wisdom or gigabytes of traffic?
One presenter, Education PhD student Neema Moraveji handed out cards for the quarter-long project, LineHive.com, which allows users to quickly create short timelines from hyperlinked Web sources, and while the panelists ranged from the academically bad-ass Stu Card to folks from industry (6/8 panelists had founded their own company), it seemed like half of the panelist comments were some form of “how do you monetize this?” with talk of distribution, platform plays, and the like.
I suppose as a private institution, this shouldn’t feel sometimes sickening, or should it, but it is strange to consider, at least from this blogger’s perspective who has also studied at a public state-run school, where the divide between academics and founding companies to make money and/or save the world is a little more clear.
That said, I suppose it’s mainly exciting that students got an opportunity to iterate on projects which were released in a matter of weeks into the wild, and that the class itself (cs294h focused on core academic knowledge from CHI publications to bits from sociology (Mark Granovetter) and economics (studies of open source and communities therein), so the academic content does not seem watered down in the search for the next big thang.
It’s Thursday of finals week after all, so the energy is high, students are getting ready to fly/head home for spring break. Have a great time and don’t spend too much time on social software, get out there and move =)