Thursday afternoon, Aaron Wasserman made a pitch to University administrators, technical support employees, and several First Year Council freshmen students.
Via teleconference and long-distance screen sharing, Wasserman, from his office in California, pitched a new cell phone program to an Alabama administration that seemed very interested in the creation of an iAlabama application.
In his junior year at Stanford just over a year ago, Wasserman created iStanford with his team at the request of Stanford’s University Registrar. iStanford is an application which offers a variety of services in one, convenient program, because “students don’t have time to go to all those Web sites,” Wasserman said.
The iStanford application has more than 60,000 downloads, and schools from Texas Christian University to Duke to the University of Texas to Washington have begun to provide applications for their students.
The suite makes everyday doings simpler, from finding a building on an interactive map to dropping a class “as easy as deleting an email,” Wasserman said. Students can buy these products from the Apple Application Store on their iPhones, iTouches and iPad, as well as the application markets on Blackberries and Palm Pres.
“We wanted presence,” Wasserman said of his initial ideas for the prototype iStanford. “We just thought, what would be cool?”
Wasserman said the student now has the ability to not only locate themselves on a University map, but to see real-time updates on the location of buses and short descriptions of buildings as coolest of all.
“This is just the easiest … and coolest … way to interact with all this data,” Wasserman said.
“The GPS locating for live, real-time bus locations would probably be easily translated to Alabama,” Wasserman said, citing UA’s Crimson Ride shuttle system as similar to Stanford’s.
Wasserman also pointed to surprises in the development that would easily translate to UA.
“The courses part of the app was anticipated to be one of the least usable. It was just so complex, and on a small screen,” he said. “That turned out to be quite the opposite.”
Wasserman also pointed to the fact that the application “contextualizes” the data into a simple, list format.
“It could not be easier,” Wasserman said.
Many agree that the pitch is something UA students would want for themselves.
David Wilson, president pro tempore of First Year Council, authored a resolution designed to bring an iStanford-like application to the Alabama community.
“The idea was to create a series of smart phone apps that would provide a ton of different services to university students, alumni — everybody,” Wilson said of his resolution, which passed First Year Council unanimously.
Wilson, who attended Wasserman’s pitch on Thursday afternoon, said he left impressed with the new opportunity presented.
“It’s a plethora of new programs, campus maps … it can further connect students and alumni and prospective students to the activities happening on campus,” he says of Blackboard’s app. “For students to have something like this in hand, it’s just very cool to them,” Wilson explains. He also points to the potential impact on prospective students.
“We’re looking ahead,” Wilson said. “High school students will look at this and think, ‘Alabama’s really on top of things. They’re changing, really working toward progressing with technology.’ Because it’s just right there in your hand, there’s just a constant stream of information.”
Wilson expressed confidence after the meeting that the University would seriously consider Blackboard and Wasserman’s deal. The freshman pointed to several aspects of Wasserman’s product pitch that stood out as selling points — chiefly among them, development capability.
“We just can’t develop fast enough,” Wasserman stated in the meeting Thursday. “Why shouldn’t clients be able to expand on our product?” He went on to explain how essentially any organization on campus with an idea for the app can present it and utilize his product’s suite.
“Organizations can develop the app, and work on simple ideas,” Wilson said. Essentially, a middleman — possibly a new university employment position, Wilson speculated — would receive requests and ideas from organizations on campus. “Somebody on campus,” Wilson says, “would call Blackboard and tell them what we need. It’d be constantly developing.”
Wilson expressed confidence that the University will make what he believes to be the best choice for students.
“If we sign with Blackboard,” Wilson said, “they’ll make it so that every single organization on campus will have a say.”
Wilson agreed in particular with one statement Wasserman made in his meeting. “This is a very, very valuable starting position,” Wasserman said. “But this is not the end.”