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SIO should be able to handle student traffic

SIO should be able to handle student traffic (credit: Josh Smith/Forum Editor) SIO should be able to handle student traffic (credit: Josh Smith/Forum Editor)
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Most services at Carnegie Mellon would probably be best described as “perfectly adequate.” Health Services system? Eh, it works. The CAMEO library interface? It is hard to use, but seems to run all right. Blackboard? It’s a pain in the butt, but we’ll live, I guess.

The Student Information Online (SIO) resource? It has a few glitches, but up until last Monday it was about as perfectly adequate as a system can get.

Last Monday, as with most registration days, I dragged myself out of bed at 9 a.m. to register. About 10 minutes prior to my start time I noticed SIO was getting a little slow and then, without warning, it collapsed like a shoddy FEMA trailer. Suddenly SIO went from “perfectly adequate” to “far below standards.” Some hours later, The HUB reported on its website that everyone’s registration time was delayed by one day.

At first, my question was, “Why didn’t anyone in the registration department bother to have the system stress tested before using it for registration?”

But after thinking a moment, the answer is easy: At a school prized for being top notch in nearly every field, Carnegie Mellon is happy with its internal services being perfectly adequate. Not good — not even great — just barely serviceable and, in cases like this, non-functioning at crucial times.

SIO has actually been a prime example of this over the last year. The service has been aiming to replace ScheduleMan.org for a while now, even going so far as to produce an oddly similar interface.

Even though the service was uglier, less usable, and harder to navigate than ScheduleMan, most students seemed to not mind using it for things like course audits and grade checking.

That was until this semester, when the school announced that students would be registering through SIO rather than the usual Online Registration (OLR) — which was about as horribly put together as a non-Geocities website can get. We weren’t thrilled, but we dealt with it because the service was, at that point, at least functional, if not spectacular.

But with each slip like this, it’s becoming clear that the school needs to step up its usability game. The ScottyLabs initiative and new TartanHacks organization are good starts to this — making university interfaces more open to student development (and fostering that development) might encourage registration handlers to step up their game in the web tech department.

The university should pursue a policy of maintaining clear, usable, well-built systems that can be relied on in all situations — services that showcase the school’s world-renowned Human-Computer Interaction Institute and computer science department rather than slapping them in the face with services like SIO, OLR, and other student services.

To do otherwise is not just burdensome on the student body; it’s settling for adequacy, and that is not what Carnegie Mellon is about.