Frank Helgesen, co-founder of the popular student-run Web site, comments on the site's history, while Scene explains what students find on the site
By EMILY HOWALD
What was once a dream for graduate Frank Helgesen is now a reality that is considered to be the third form of communication on campus.
In 1998, Helgesen initiated a Web page that had only a student search. Due to the popularity that his personal Web page received, he decided to make a Web site that would tell others what was happening on campus.
Helgesen began advertising and slowly developing a page that would appeal to all the students of Notre Dame/ Saint Mary's and would allow the students to share with each other what was going on around campus.
With the help of three of his friends, they created a way to unite the Notre Dame/ Saint Mary's community via the Internet, through what is now known as NDToday.com. In March of 2000 the site took off and gained notoriety through the use of message boards.
"I thought once there was somewhere to go, they are going to keep going there to see what was new," Helgesen said. "After the word got out, I hoped people would keep coming back and it would build up," Helgesen said.
Graduates Andy Warzon, Helgesen, Nick Fellers and senior Robert Pazornik are still very closely affiliated with the site. NDToday is owned and operated by Jephe, Inc. (formally 3bstudios) and all four founders have positions with the company.
Jephe Inc. funds the site through selective advertising because they don't feel that college students should have to pay for use of the Web sites. Companies sometimes hope for exposure through the site so they offer a certain amount of money to NDToday for each response or reaction that is received about the campaign. NDToday recently made nearly $175 from a project similar to this done by Kaplan.
The founders finance themselves by building other Web sites, and they all have other jobs as well. Each founder still spends approximately 10 to 15 hours a week on NDToday. Jephe, Inc. has also begun to franchise and will soon be creating Web sites for other colleges.
NDToday began with message boards where students post their opinions, the student search, which can locate any student's address and the voting booth, which polls random questions and posts the answers.
Now NDToday contains many applications that are designed to aid the Notre Dame/ Saint Mary's student. The content is usually produced by user input and the users are automatically linked to their desired locations within the site.
The site contains powerful programming, but there is also interaction from Notre Dame/ Saint Mary's students relative to the staff. The site is currently run by its NDToday president, junior Scott Palko, and sales manager, senior Robert Pazornik. There is also a general manager, sales representatives, a photographer and a food critic.
Although NDToday was founded and is run by Notre Dame/ Saint Mary's students, the site is not directly affiliated with either the University or College. NDToday is exclusively a production of Jephne Studios. The ideas expressed on the pages are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the opinions of Notre Dame nor the producers of the site.
NDToday has grown from a page with few links to a resourceful Internet application. With direct links to the most common Notre Dame home pages and sites created for the community, around the campus, around the town and more, the site appeals to many of the needs of students.
The most commonly used aspects of the site are the teacher evaluations, the message boards, the front page and the student search.
NDToday prides itself on "sharing info for when you need it," pertaining to the teacher evaluations.
"I think that the school before teacher evaluations and the school after evaluations are like night and day," Helgesen said.
He also believes that the evaluations are beneficial because they do not allow the school to get away with assigning bad teachers. According to Helgesen, there are hundreds of teachers who are subscribers to NDToday because they want to see what their competition is like and work to get good reviews.
"I used NDToday for teacher evaluations, and they really help me to determine which classes I wanted to take," freshman Bridget Samuelson said. "The difference between first semester and second semester is definitely noticeable, and I plan on using the evaluations for the next three years," Samuelson said.
The Message Board
There are 10 categories on the message board that enable students to post their opinions and questions in a place where they are viewed by whoever may want to look. The categories range from general chat, to the rant, the rave, the love board, sports and more.
People who want to post their messages have to be members of the Notre Dame/ Saint Mary's community and some messages are censored. The main purpose of the message board is to allow students to say nearly whatever they want about topics on their minds.
The Front Page
The front page shows the user all the options that NDToday offers. According to Helgesen, it is common for users to just check the front page to see if anything is going on.
The front page contains sections such as Today's Polls, Campus Events, Observer Headlines, Photo Gallery and all the links that the pages present.
"From time to time, I just check in on the front page to see if anything new is going on. It's quick and it's easy so I enjoy using it when I need to," freshman Sara Sheffield said.
The Student Search
This aspect of NDToday allows students to search the database and virtually do a reverse caller-ID. The information is a front-end to the database of Notre Dame.
All of the information that is on the student search is also on Notre Dame's homepage, but the availability is much more accommodating on NDToday.
"Everybody has access to a computer and it is easier to use because you never really lose your computer, but you lose your phone book all the time," freshman Mike Roaldi said. "There is more information and it is easier access too."
Many features of the Web page are only allowed to be used by students with an AFS ID password. The teacher evaluations are not available to any outside of the Notre Dame community because the University does not want the future careers of any teachers to be jeopardized by the evaluations.
The founders of the Web page try to maintain a close relationship with the University because they feel that the page is an important reference to the students and the founders don't want that privilege to be revoked.
NDToday is continuously expanding and is always open for new changes or recommendations.
The founders hope to start up a mini company that will be viewed as an unofficial club at the University. They hope to begin publishing articles and they want to come out with a new issue every two weeks.
For now, Helgesen said the site is looking for new ideas and more help. Ideally, new people will bring in fresh ideas that will benefit both the community and the Web site in general.
The founders will be sending out an e-mail to all the subscribers hoping to get a response from students who are interested. They don't care how much experience people have, they just want their input and involvement to better NDToday.
"Where we are right now is about 50 percent of where we could be and hope to be in the future," Helgesen said.
Helgesen encourages students to look into NDToday because of all the benefits that are available to the students. All the mediums can be published on the page because they are done so via the Internet, so there are more variations available.
"Come on, you are at ND!" Helgesen said. "This is what people are talking about and thinking; so why not check it out? It's made for you; and personally, we love what we've done for the people."
All Scene Stories for Friday, February 22, 2002