In an effort to limit the white noise on Bowdoin's online notification network, the Orbit was introduced this fall as the official events communication system of the College, replacing the old Student Digest and class email lists.
Nick Daniels '12 and former BSG President John Connolly '11 spearheaded the project last year. Daniels is continuing to work with the Student Web Advisory Team (SWAT), administrators in Information Technology (IT) and Student Activities to move the initiative forward.
The Orbit is designed to facilitate the communication of events between students and administrators in a more organized manner, acting as a social networking system. It will eliminate the need for the frequent class email lists, which Daniels described as "disorganized."
"People in the past designed programs that were limited," said Daniels. "What we've done is we've looked at the basic needs for communication and built a system that would replace the Digest and class emails in an easy to use manner."
Daniels and Connolly first conceived of the project a year and a half ago and sought help from Associate Vice President for Communications Robert Kerr.
"Rob has really been involved from the very beginning," said Daniels.
Tad Macy, Bowdoin's software developer joined the project in January of last year.
"What [Macy] has always told us is that if you can dream it, IT can build it," Daniels said. "The variable is do we have the money and the time to build it."
Kerr, Macy and Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis have since helped to provide ample guidance and resources for The Orbit.
The Student Activities Office became involved in mid-August. Head of Student Activities Allen Delong and Nathan Hintze, his associate director, have been attending SWAT meetings to lend support and advice.
"We're making sure there's some guidance so that this project can be managed and maintained with the students and turned into a better solution," said Hintze.
The project is still in its earliest stages, and students have mixed opinions on whether it will be an improvement from last year's system.
"I think they launched it too early, so some students got a bad impression of it," said Elizabeth Huppert '12.
"I definitely like the fact that they eliminated class emails because they were super annoying," said Sam Carley '13. "I think Orbit is pretty straightforward. I'm a fan."
"I don't think its very user friendly. It's hard to figure out how to post on it," said Melanie Gaynes '13. "But it is nice not to have all the class emails."
Sasha Davis '13 commented, "I think it's a little harder to use. It also comes a lot...I feel like we get emails from The Orbit multiple times a day. I do like the categorizations, though."
Daniels recognizes The Orbit's shortcomings, and says he is working hard to sort them out.
"It's too slow, too ugly, it's still too cluttered. And people don't know enough about it to use it to its full potential," he said.
SWAT has come up with ideas of how to educate students about the system's features.
"[BSG President Derek Brooks] says that the BSG guide to freshman will be updated to talk about The Orbit," explained Daniels. "We also might put 'How to use the Orbit' post on the Orbit, which will explain the full extent of features. We may also down the road hold training sessions for student leaders so they are fully aware of the resources that they have once it is fully designed."
As of now, students working on the project include Daniels, Brooks, and Dani Chediak '13, chair of the Student Organizations Oversight Committee, along with other student leaders who Daniels has included. The team met on Tuesday to discuss their vision for The Orbit with Mitch Davis.
"[Davis] was on board with it," said Daniels. "Our job now is to come up with the next ten steps for the project and set deadlines."
SWAT intends to develop a feature that will allow The Orbit to target select groups of students based on grade, residence hall, club membership and career interests.
"This customizable targeted posting will improve organization and relevance," said Daniels.
The team is working toward syncing events posted on The Orbit with the general college calendar. Daniels explained that this would allow the College to "control different layers of Bowdoin-related content and events."
Daniels said he also understands that student feedback is essential to guiding the project's progress, and the success of the new features.
"That's why I've conducted focus groups with friends of mine who are student leaders," he said. "That's why we have Allen and Nate on board because they work closely with students. By having key people in our development group we can insure that their desires and needs are encompassed in our design."
Davis said he's excited to see The Orbit realized to its full potential.
"Eventually there will be ways for students to self-select what they are interested in," he said. "There will be discussion boards and different feeds...People need to take a deep breath and realize that it's a work in progress. Students are the driving force behind it, and it will be the student feedback that shapes where the project goes from here."
Hintze agreed. "I think there's a lot of potential for it. It's still being evolved. We're still working out the details of it. I also think that the more students use it, the better it will be."
Editors' Note: Nick Daniels is one of the editors in chief of the Orient, and had no role in the composition or editing of this article.