Mike Petroff, web and technology manager for Emerson College in Boston and a member of the .eduGuru crew, has been working on a new online tool to help the higher ed community further collaborate and learn from one another.
Called FollowEDU, the tool is a searchable directory of higher ed people in the social media sphere. FollowEDU is still in beta, but a public launch is planned for next week. Meanwhile, you can sign up for an invitation at the website or follow the site’s Twitter account, @WhoToFollowEDU.
I asked Mike via email to share a little bit more about this project. Here are my five questions and his replies:
1. FollowEDU is billed as “a searchable directory of Twitter users in higher ed.” Why do you think such a searchable directory is necessary?
Mike Petroff: The higher ed community on Twitter is incredibly collaborative, supportive and creative. I’ve found it to be a great resource for reaching out to thought-leaders on specific education topics.
Typically, I’ll use a variety of ways to try to expand my network on Twitter and find new users to follow: reading blogs, asking followers for advice, joining in on new hashtag chats, and following the backchannel of education conferences.
Directories like wefollow.com and twellow.com were helpful for broad categories, but I found that there was a lack of niche lists to search through. I found it difficult to browse through several categories within education and find users sharing good information.
2. What inspired you to create FollowEDU? How did it happen?
Mike Petroff: I have always had a passion to connect people, whether it be on Twitter or at conferences and events. While walking around Boston with Michael Fienen before the eduTweetup Boston 2011 event, we discussed the idea of a better version of Twitter’s “suggested users” list. It got me thinking about building a platform where Twitter users could attach their profile to specific interests within higher ed. The platform would then be sortable and searchable, helping new (and seasoned) Twitter users connect and network.
I reached out to a few friends and developers and eventually worked out a partnership with Stamats Catchfire to do the development work on FollowEDU. The team there was incredible to work with. I’m very fortunate to have their designers and developers join in and be part of the project. We’ll continue to work together to build new features into the site.
3. I see FollowEDU members can be listed by “rank.” How are these members ranked?
Mike Petroff: In the beta version of FollowEDU, we played around with the concept of ‘rank’ as a sorting option for our list pages. The concept is still under development and may be very basic for the launch. We have a variety of data points to point to and pull from, but it may take more time and data to create a realistic ranking for certain interest areas within higher ed.
4. We often hear a lot of flack about social media sites like Klout that use a ranking algorithm to rate users. How is the ranking mechanism on FollowEDU any different?
Mike Petroff: As we develop the site and add more features, we will look for data points in Twitter, Klout and other sources to help us develop a ranking system to show a user’s impact within a topic or interest in FollowEDU. Personally, I feel that a user’s Klout score should not be the sole factor in determining their resourcefulness or impact within a certain topic, so with FollowEDU I hope to include a variety of data.
5. Finally, what are your future plans for FollowEDU?
Mike Petroff: After launch, FollowEDU will continue to evolve with new features for users. There’s already an extensive list of features we’re exploring. I can’t give away too much just yet, but users can expect more Twitter integration throughout the site, a growing list of Interests to join, and other features that make finding (and creating) lists of influencers much easier.
My goal is to have FollowEDU continue to be a resource, directory and networking platform for the higher education community.