Connecting Dorm Communities
Alexander Atallah ’14 and Bryant Tan ’14 may have stumbled upon the next great idea in social media. Earlier this quarter, the two freshmen launched Dormlink, a website aimed at helping dorms communicate more effectively online. The site is currently operating in Cedro and Otero, Atallah’s and Tan’s respective dorms.
“It started off when I just went up in front of my dorm meeting and said, ‘We should make a website! I’ll get started on it!’ said Atallah.
The website facilitates dorm-wide announcements outside of dorm chat lists and it allows students to share more about themselves than they could on other social networking websites such as Facebook.
On Dormlink, students can edit profiles, which lists information such as individuals’ majors and current classes.
Tan notes that students can find out who else in the dorm is in their classes, making tasks like organizing study sessions easier.
“A lot of people suggested that we get information that Facebook isn’t really compatible with, like which classes you’re in, what majors you’re considering—info that is specific to you and your school,” said Atallah.
The website also features a “corkboard,” a service that allows students to post photos, text, and links to a board to share them with the entire dorm. Others can then comment about or ‘like’ them.
The website aims to help the entire dorm community interact on a larger level. It facilitates selling textbooks, administering surveys through Survey Monkey, and sharing Google docs.
“We wanted to collect all that contact information and put it in one private place,” Atallah said.
On his blog, Tan noted that Dormlink has a different focus than other major social networking sites. “Its primary strength lies in its dorm-centric-ness (yes, that’s a word), making people feel more comfortable to share and open up than on (for example) Facebook.”
Additional features of Dormlink include a “places feature” through which friends can tell other friends about “places of interest” on campus. Additionally, there is a built-in Google Calendar, and a projects feature that allows students to create an online workspace.
There are other unique features of Dormlink; Tan describes a dream feature in which “people can post, comment and vote on dreams, then sort the entries by popularity to get a list of the top ten dreams of all time.”
Tackling the Details
Tan and Atallah originally used a Stanford domain name to host the website, but they quickly realized that the server was running too slowly. Currently, Dormlink is run from the laptop server in Atallah’s dorm room in Cedro.
After being featured in *The Stanford Daily, *Atallah and Tan received offers from other Stanford students to host the website. They have not yet taken any offers.
And regarding the site’s financials, Tan and Atallah want Dormlink to remain free of charge. Consequently, the website’s expansion across campus (and possibly to other campuses) may be slow. Rinconada paid $30 for a Dormlink page, but Tan and Atallah later refunded that when they decided to keep the website free.
Dormlink has received significant attention not only from Stanford students, but also from Silicon Valley. Atallah and Tan have spoken with Cliff Nass, Stanford professor of communications and renowned expert in human-computer interaction. They remarked that Nass “gave us advice about how to market [Dormlink], how to split up our user groups, how to get other dorms to interact. He gave us a lot of future ideas.”
Tan and Atallah have entered Dormlink into numerous BASES competitions, including the 150K Challenge, the E-Challenge, the Social E-Challenge, and the product showcase.
“I never thought I’d do anything like this,” Atallah said. “I [entered Stanford] really into physics and economics and political science and IR. Bryant is really into physics. Computer science is a lot easier for getting a job—there is really a lot more demand for an army of programmers than an army of physicists. This experience has made both of us more interested in CS, and both of us a lot more unsure about what we want to do.”