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EECS class writes new chapter for Facebook

EECS class writes new chapter for Facebook

DRIVEN: EECS students present their cyber hangout for car enthusiasts.
Celeste Altus Photo

There are a lot of car junkies online, including a group of EECS undergrads who found an easy way for them and other gearheads to link up on Mark Movida, Vi Cung, Ka Her and Gleb Podkolzin enrolled in last fall's Facebook class and created “Auto Club,” an application that allows users to share photos, plan events, talk through forums and generally admire all things automotive.

“It was a great experience and very rewarding at the end,” says Modiva, an EECS senior. “We spent a lot of time, and it was worth it.”

The Facebook class, CS 160: User Interfaces, involved 42 Berkeley EECS students and was taught by a team of IBM Almaden Research Center visiting professors, John C. Tang and Christine Robson, along with Berkeley GSIs David Sun and Bryan Tsao. The team asked students to look at Facebook and find a need for a new computer application that could be run on the site.

On average the 11 teams took two months from idea to evaluation of their applications. They spent the semester designing, prototyping and evaluating their projects, then presented their efforts to their peers during finals week, showing off the application prototypes and describing user reactions such as “add privacy,” and “the color scheme is basic.”

“Congratulations!” Robson said at the end of the presentations. “You've created a product.”

While some CS classes aim to get as many people as possible to use an app, this class focused less on use and more on what users need. Students learned that the implementation or programming aspect of a project is not always the most important thing.

“Otherwise, you can build something that works fine but isn’t very useful,” Tang says.

The students developed relationships with the staff of Facebook, working with the company's engineers and developers to help advance their projects.

“Based on this class, Facebook is thinking about ways of encouraging other universities to develop class projects on the Facebook platform and using this class as a model,” Tang adds.

So what did the students come up with? The other projects included: Best Eats, a page of restaurant listings and reviews by friends; Pyramid Communications Hub, in which the Facebook profile becomes the center of the user’s communication universe, fielding phone, email and text messages; Size Me Up, an application to rate other Facebook friends on anything from reliability to attractiveness; and Travelogue, a program to create trips, make plans and share travel photos with friends.

Last fall Stanford also offered a Facebook class that was billed as a first, but Berkeley’s academic calendar started earlier, says Tang, a Stanford alum, so Berkeley’s class was actually the first.