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Leadership Perspectives

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Quick — what’s happening on campus this Friday night?

It seems like a simple question — one that you should be able to easily answer in this age of constant connections and information by simply pulling out your laptop or smartphone. Our campus is exploding with new and innovative events: From performances to cultural events to service to gaming, most weekends have something for everyone.

But you’d never know it by looking at the university’s official event calendar www.cmu.edu/events, which generally only displays events sponsored by academic or administrative departments. These are terrific events, to be sure — but they only represent a tiny fraction of life at Carnegie Mellon. The official calendar is barren for a few reasons, but the most important one is simply visibility. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg scenario: Students don’t look at the calendar because it doesn’t have content they want, so they don’t make an effort to add their organization’s events to the calendar since they won’t attract any attention.
Many solutions to this problem have been proposed — the event calendar, when it was developed, was itself an attempted fix. Students spend tens of thousands of dollars and use reams of paper each year blanketing the campus with posters to raise awareness. Some students have even started websites to scrape event data from the Web and aggregate it. Yet the problem with every solution that’s been tried is user adoption.

To solve the calendar problem, we first need to attack visibility. One of the ideas that I campaigned on last year was the idea of media screens: video displays on which student organizations could post event flyers and details directly via a Web interface. Posting an event to these screens would be significantly easier and cheaper than spending a night postering the entire campus. Most importantly, once content is brought in, it can be redistributed anywhere — through the Carnegie Mellon iPhone application, through an iCal file, or as “commercials” during a cmuTV broadcast.

The point is this: Students are the key to solving this problem. We have the content and the events to get people out of their dorm rooms and offices, and we need to push hard for a better medium to share it, not settle for a patchwork of posters, Facebook, and word of mouth. Our current options simply are not measuring up to what we’re capable of at Carnegie Mellon. Come help us build something better.