Elis launch student calendar Web site

In 2004, a Harvard sophomore changed the way college students socialize by launching thefacebook.com. Now, two Yale juniors and a sophomore are out to revolutionize how students schedule their lives.

StudentPlanIt.com — started on Sept. 3 by Sean Mehra ’08, Jeffrey Reitman ’08 and Aarlo Stone Fish ’09 — has currently registered more than 430 members. The free site, which is only available to Yalies for the time being, is geared toward helping college students organize their time commitments, its creators said. It allows students to manage their own calendar, they say, and to check the calendars of their friends to see when they are busy.

“We realized there’s a large presence of social networking sites on the Web, with MySpace and Facebook, but there’s really no place for students to manage their work and their schedules and take care of business,” Mehra said.

All users, who must have valid Yale e-mail addresses to register, can put up basic profile information, including a picture, and also maintain their personal calendar.

The three creators said they believe the most powerful tool on the site is the organization-based scheduling system. Clubs can register on the site and their members can join the group through the site’s interface. The site allows organization leaders to easily communicate with their members and schedule events. Group events immediately appear on members’ personal calendars, upon which they can RSVP. Every registered club receives a message board for members and a guestbook for non-members.

The site also allows organizers to text message every member who has RSVPed to an event in order to give an update about location or time, although members can opt out of the feature. Also, unlike Facebook, which sends an e-mail every time a user receives a friend request or is tagged in a photo, StudentPlanIt only sends one optional e-mail a day outlining the user’s calendar and giving relevant updates.

Reitman, who uses the site to manage the Saybrook intramural volleyball team said his organizational duties as captain have been lightened.

“I no longer have to be worried about who’s coming to a game and deal with tons of e-mails,” Reitman said. “I just log in and see exactly who’s coming and who’s not coming and why.”

Reitman said he believes that organizations waste too much time at the beginning of the year making e-mail panlists and having members sign forms, while StudentPlanIt.com allows them to manage membership.

While 50 clubs have registered so far, the site’s creators said they were surprised by the organization that has embraced the site most eagerly — the Yale Belly Dance Society, whose president, Kristen Windmuller ’08, said she asked all 40 team members to register on the site.

“Because we had so many new members this year, and we didn’t want to fill people’s e-mail inboxes all the time, we wanted a place to post all our events and practices, this seemed like the easiest way,” she said.

Windmuller said she has been generally pleased with the decision so far.

“The Web site itself has been a little buggy from time to time, but nothing that has been that devastating,” she said. “You get a lot less people e-mailing you all the time asking ‘when’s this, when’s that.’”

Mehra, Reitman and Fish all said online privacy is a priority for them, especially after the recent controversy surrounding Facebook’s addition of news feeds.

Every event has three settings: public, which means all information about the event and its attendees are available; private, which means that anyone can see that attendees are busy, but cannot see what they are doing; and hidden, which means that the event only is visible to attendees.

“We have an extensive privacy policy and terms of service approved by an attorney,” Mehra said. “We’re not going to be a place for people to stalk other people.”

The three entrepreneurs met through the Yale Entrepreneurial Society, where they are serving this year as co-chief technology officers.

“We normally don’t appoint three officers in one position often, but they work really well together…. They’re a great trio to have around,” YES President Brad Hargreaves ’08 said.

“We met to start some projects for YES, and we realized that in combining our talents, there was a lot of potential there,” Mehra said. “The idea stemmed at the end of last semester… and we realized that this is what we need and what all colleges need. We wanted Yalies to try it out first.”

The creators said they hope to build a strong base at Yale before thinking about expanding to other universities, in the way Facebook was first launched exclusively at Harvard.

“Facebook has been an inspiration the whole way. We admire how [creator] Mark Zuckerberg found a target and utilized it,” Mehra said.

But Mehra was quick to point out that the site will not compete with facebook.com.

“We’re really here to capture a different market,” he said. “Facebook is strictly social. You can’t really get a lot of productivity on Facebook — there’s so much junk and no real way to coordinate the members of a group well.”

The company, which was incorporated this summer as Xplanit, Inc., currently has no revenue source, and the trio said they are paying for the site strictly through “out of pocket costs” and are currently “operating at a loss” with the expensive maintenance and hosting fees. Eventually, they said, banner and text ads might run on the site.

“There’s no formal timetable for this,” Reitman said. “Don’t expect ads on our site for a while. That’s not what we’re going for now.”

In creating the site, the group has innovated a number of potentially useful features including optional text-message or email reminders for the event, a directory of users and organizations, and an intuitive event management interface.

The Saybrook College Web site — maintained by Mehra and Reitman — now pilots the StudentPlanIt’s newest feature, which allows organizations to place their calendar on any other Web site.

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