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Building An Uncensorable Course Guide At Yale 47

Former Googler and Foursquare employee Sean Haufler is now a student at Yale studying CS and Economics, but he hasn't put away his real-world software skills for academia. When two other Yale students named Harry Yu and Peter Xu were threatened with the school's punishment committee for designing a site that extends and improves the presentation of data from the school-controlled course selection guide (the Yale Bluebook [available only at Yale]), Haufler decided to create a similar site which he hopes will force the school's hand to either allow or deny this kind of data-mashing presentation. He acknowledges that there are legitimate questions about copyright, but Haufler's site treads lightly in a way that Yu and Xus did not: "Banned Bluebook never stores data on any servers. It never talks to any non-Yale servers. Moreover, since my software is smarter at caching data locally than the official Yale course website, I expect that students using this extension will consume less bandwidth over time than students without it. Don’t believe me? You can read the source code. No data ever leaves Yale’s control. Trademarks, copyright infringement, and data security are non-issues. It's 100% kosher." And if the school disagrees? "If Yale denies this right, I'll see you at the punishment committee." Of note: the Yale Bluebook site itself grew out of an independent student project, but was later acquired by the school. Update: 01/20 00:26 GMT by T : Correction: Unlike Yu and Xu, Haufler's approach is not a full-fledged separate site, but rather a Chrome extension that presents the data from Yale's own site differently, rather than at any point re-hosting it. Mea culpa.
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Building An Uncensorable Course Guide At Yale

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  • I almost read that as Harry Yu and Pother Yu.

  • Correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by MachDelta ( 704883 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @01:43PM (#46006119)

    It's not a replacement website, it's actually just a Chrome extension [] that appears to helpfully mangle the official website.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not a replacement website, it's actually just a Chrome extension [] that appears to helpfully mangle the official website.

      Now if only he could doing something similar to the /. beta or the mobile site!

  • The lesson is ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @01:58PM (#46006217) Homepage Journal

    Nobody likes a smartass. Not even at Yale.

    Seriously, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that making an improved X has a side effect of making original X look shit and everyone associated with creating it look stupid.

    Except, of course, if X is Coca Cola.

    • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @02:25PM (#46006427) Journal
      Indeed. My hunch is that his workaround of the Wu/Xu site's banishment will be met with great distaste.

      1st line Fta: I hope this doesn't get me kicked out of Yale".

      At least he's aware what his 15 minutes could cost.

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        At least he's aware what his 15 minutes could cost.

        He's only worried about being kicked out; when they can try for a willful copyright infringement suit, with statutory damages in excess of 100K per infringement?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, nobody likes a smartass, but when you're in the right, and it looks like this extension certainly is, the Internet changes the tide on that.

      Yale, despite its prestige, will suffer publically if they go about this the wrong way. I don't think I've ever heard the Yale be the butt of a joke, however this could quickly turn into, a 'hell, Yale can't even program a website right' situation.

      If they're administration is as smart as their school is to be belived, they'll handle this situation very differently.

  • The justification for banning the site was it "let students see the averaged evaluations far too easily". Is this what Yale thinks of its math education, that Yale students can't calculate an average unless their browser does it for them?

    • They have liberal arts at Yale, don't they? If so I'd suspect their liberal arts students aren't much better than anywhere else's at more-difficult-than-shopping stuff like that.

    • I am guessing that the motivation has more to do with a couple of profs complaining that their courses were not being taken, or their reputations were demeaned because the averages sucked.

      Certainly anybody can do the averages, but the time to gather the data and complete the calculation for every one of the courses a student would be considering is probably not something the average student will do. But if it is simply a click away, then all students will do it, and some professors will suffer as the ratin

  • Could someone contribute an executive summary? All I can gather is that Yale had its own "ratemyprofessor" implementation, it wasn't very accurate, and some students made a better one which was then blocked by Yale's network. Surely it's not really that simple? Where is Yale's statement on all of this as I'd love to know the rationale for blocking the site.

    • Could someone contribute an executive summary?

      Yale had it's own ratemyprofessor implementation, which only displayed each course's scores separately, never comparing them.

      Some students decided that it would be good to see the scores side-by-side, so they built a site that allowed comparisons of the data (by scraping the original site).

      Two years later, Yale decided that they didn't like the comparison site, and blocked its IP so it couldn't scrape the data.

      Although the reason for Yale not liking the site i

      • by dwater ( 72834 )

        > then they clearly have some agenda which is not about copyright

        you might make that assumption, but there is also the possibility that there is a separate (valid) issue with (the use of) the browser extension.

        • I think we're in agreement, where the issue you reference is the agenda I reference. There's every possibility that it's valid.

          I guess you could be suggesting that there's an issue with the browser extension which does not apply to the infringing site - admittedly, that is a possiblity.

          But if Yale goes after the browser extension, they have to give a reason for that. If it does not apply to site, then we simply repeat the process - create a method for browsing the Yale site in the manner we prefer, which do

  • Do most universities over-react as Yale did -- or did the guy possibly just choose the wrong school for someone that isn't content to wait around for someone else to do things for him?

    When Iwas a Berkeley undergrad in the late 90s, students creating new services or improving existing ones (without breaking rules against cheating or similar, of course) at Berkeley seemed far more likely to be praised than punished. That might be because the school still had mostof its Internet services handled by EECS majors hired for work-study jobs rather than paying outside companies to do the work (as is common now), or because it openly wanted students that felt driven to use their abilities/talents to improve the world around them. I have no idea whether Cal is still like that, however.

  • He'll be lucky if Yale's disciplinary board is the only kangaroo court he faces. If Yale is sufficiently annoyed they'll call in the Feds to go all Aaron Swartz on his ass.

  • If you want to see these metrics more broadly in higher education, submit comments as part of the federal government RFI on higher education metrics []. The response period closes soon!
  • Like they did before. All the professors told them it was a bad idea when the site was proposed. Someone should tell the people in charge of Yale that they have pretty smart professors. They would be more efficient and do a better job if they took their advice.

    Students evaluate classes and professors in extremely bias ways. Usually based on well they did in the class. Class was too hard for some entitled rich teenager? I can see the review now... "This class sucks!" Do you remember college? Put yourself in

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