Student groups frequently seek to maximize turnout at their events, but the task of filling seats can prove difficult. To address this dilemma, two undergraduates have created the website Ventfull, which aims to increase awareness and attendance of campus events.
The site, which launched Wednesday, was created by Pete Simpson ’14 and Joe Stein ’16, The Herald’s web producer. Steve Carmody, an IT architect, Amrit Mazunder, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, and staff at the Brown Entrepreneurship Program’s Venture Lab also helped build the platform, Simpson said.
The site features a colorful campus calendar that is organized horizontally by day. Users can also access features that let them anonymously “upvote” goings-on and provide them with customized emails about upcoming events.
“We made it super simple” from a user’s perspective, Stein said, adding that the optional email service is customizable and easy to navigate. Users can filter events on their calendars by different color-coded categories such as social, organization, performance, sports, academic and free food.
Simpson said he and Stein worked to build the most user-friendly system they could “to get people actually into the events ecosystem where they can accidently browse more.”
After a year of development, Ventfull went live Wednesday in a “stealth launch” so student group representatives could put up events before users visited the site, Simpson wrote in an email to The Herald. The iOS app was released Sunday, he wrote.
The problem of how to publicize events on the day they occur has been a concern for the Undergraduate Council of Students in the past, said UCS Vice President Sam Gilman ’15, who served as the primary liaison between UCS and the website’s developers.
The Council has found that student groups “really struggled to get students out to events, particularly students who aren’t in their group,” Gilman said. He added that there was “no real way to get through the clutter.”
“Student groups now have an avenue to reach students who are interested in their general topic area and activity in a way that they’ve never had before,” Gilman said, calling Simpson and Stein “two Brown students with a vision to improve campus.”
The Student Activities Office hopes Ventfull will become one of the main portals for information about campus activities, said Timothy Shiner, director of student activities and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center.
When Simpson and Stein were developing Ventfull last spring, Shiner connected them with Gilman. Together, they worked to make the site a “university-specific product,” Shiner said.
“For the first time, there was really an opening for a group of innovators and for us to help them scale their platform, get it endorsed by Brown and help build the infrastructure to help it succeed,” Gilman said.
When the idea was first presented to UCS, some Council members expressed concern that the site’s upvoting system would increase big events’ popularity while further hampering small events’ turnout, The Herald previously reported.
UCS organized focus groups in response to this concern, Gilman said As a result of the focus groups, Simpson and Stein changed the website interface to show a horizontal daily calendar with all of the day’s events, instead of a vertical calendar that showed only the most popular events, he said.
Because of the upvoting feature, “it’s way more reasonable now for particular event organizers to climb to the top of their niche or category,” Stein said.
Upvotes are anonymous and not designed to serve as an indicator of attendance, Simpson said.
So far, student responses have been positive, Simpson said.
“For someone who feels like they’re busy all the time, it will be really nice to have something sent to me, so I can have something readily available to pick events from in a category that I am interested in,” said Charlie Figueroa ‘16.
Emma Murray ’16 called the site “tremendously brilliant.”
Though UCS members voiced concern last spring that the site would compete with Morning Mail, UCS President Todd Harris ’14.5 said Ventfull could peacefully coexist with the University’s official events mailing.
Keeping viewers’ attention to the site often presents a challenge for tech start-ups. Ventfull’s creators are interested in making sure that “in two or three weeks once the new shiny toy effect wears off, people will still come back and derive value out of it,” Simpson said.
The creators also hope the site lets the University collect data on which types of events students are interested in attending, Simpson said. “Basically, this will help schools be able to understand what their students want, and then give them those events,” he said.
Looking ahead, the SAO is developing an idea to have screens displaying Ventfull in public spaces, such as J. Walter Wilson or under Faunce Arch, Shiner said. These screens will likely be implemented this semester, Harris said.
Expanding the site beyond the University to other schools, groups and even cities may be another long-term goal, Simpson said.