NEWS

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November 15, 2002

Online message board gets mixed reviews

A classic tale of cyber-romance: Brandon Seagle, a first-year in the College, was surfing the class of 2006 online bulletin board when he read that a girl in his house was in need of someone to fix her bicycle.

"I told her I'd fix her brakes," he recalls. "She e-mailed me and we just started talking. And stuff went from there."

After a continued correspondence through e-mail and care packages, the two finally met face-to-face on the first day of O-Week. They became an instant couple.

"The chemistry was just there," said the girl, who asked that her name not be used. "When we finally saw each other we already knew each other so well."

Several relationships and friendships were kindled as a result of the Class of 2006 bulletin board, a new feature in the College Programming Office's (CPO) Web site for incoming first-years.

By giving perfect strangers with one thing in common—that they were all soon to begin at the College—a way to get in touch with each other, the bulletin board helped ease many students through the often tumultuous transition period between high school and college.

"We tried to foster a community for the first-years," said Carrie Goldin, assistant director of the CPO. "We wanted to give them a forum for asking questions, meeting each other and building their new class."

The CPO received such positive feedback from the bulletin board that they plan on not only making a new one for the class of 2007, but also creating a board for each of the classes already here.

But while the bulletin board served as a tool for many incoming first-years to connect with their peers, a large group of students who used the site complained that the posting of pointless material detracted from the site's effectiveness.

"People were asking stupid questions, like if students here have sex," said Matthew Holtzman, a first-year in the College. "They were also forming online groups for the placement exams. It was ridiculous."

Holtzman said he found the board helpful in organizing meetings among people from the same area. But besides helping Holtzman, from Manhattan, meet up with other New Yorkers, he thought that some students' abuse of the site ruined it.

He suggests that the site would be improved for next year if more of the postings were filtered. "Censorship is key. It worked so well during the McCarthy era. It could easily shut some of these kids up," Holtzman said.

Golden said misuse of the board was a problem and that some messages were deleted, but she emphasized that the cases of inflammatory messages dwarf in comparison to the overall number of posts—over 30,000.

To remedy this problem, the bulletin board Web site will in the future be accessible only by log-in, meaning that all messages—including inappropriate ones—will be traceable.

A fairly simple Web site, the bulletin board allows users to create topics, and then it lists the topics in order of how recent a post was made to it. Incoming first-years then scrolled directly to discussions relevant to them and connected to the people with whom they would soon be sharing a dorm, extra-curricular activities, or concentrations.

Soon to be first-years with little to do as they weathered the long University of Chicago summer also turned to the message board, which was not filtered, as a source of entertainment.

The thread with the most posts - 1,015 as of Thursday afternoon—contains mostly incomplete thoughts, fragments, and inside jokes.

"People put up random stuff," said Noah Singer, a first-year in the College. "In my eyes it defeats the purpose of the message board. If you are using it as a source of information, then all that stuff just clogs it up."

Singer said he wrote messages occasionally, mainly asking questions about the logistics of dorm life. But he was turned off by the many people who tried to have an affected image. "There were a lot of people who were pretentious," he said. "They tried to be like 'We're going to U of C and we have to act all intellectual.'"

Another function of the bulletin board is that it assuaged students' last minute fears about college life: what to pack, what dorm life is like, which professors to take classes with and which ones to avoid.

And one helpful upperclassman, who named herself Bethany on the message board, started a thread of advice for soon-to-be first- years who planned to be pre-meds, mapping out which classes to take and non-science concentration options which one with medical school aspirations could seriously consider.

Singer said the upperclassmen's words of wisdom were the most useful part of the site, and that the best way to improve it for next year would be to better inform them about it, so they could chime in with the lessons they learned from their first years at the College.

A popular topic for threads was finding people with similar interests or traits. One of these threads called for the gathering of nerds.

"I have been to more quiz bowl matches than I have dates," Jonathan Humphreys, a first-year in the College, posted on the board. "My IQ is higher than the weight I bench press. My favorite sport is thinking. I am a nerd. Who else? Stand up, be known, proclaim your nerdiness."