Who says that Facebook has to be the only social network around? Dabbut.com, a project created by computer science major Albert Nichols, a junior, provides a venue for members of the Tufts community to take control of their online interactions.
Dabbut users write comments about individual people and groups and then have these comments be voted as “true” or “false.” The website is currently largely aimed toward the student body of Tufts, Nichols said.
“What’s on Dabbut is decided by its users, so we hope that the entire community will contribute to the site, voice their opinion and make Tufts a more open accessible place for people to get information about things they are interested in,” Nichols said.
“The goal is to create a tool for people to find what they don’t know now,” Nichols said. “There are a lot of people at Tufts who know a lot about certain things, and there are a lot of things they don’t know about. Nine times out of 10 there is someone who does know what you don’t know about — we wanted to create something that allows them to share that with you and get some reward for it,” he said.
This reward is that the more “true” judgments a user generates, the more weight their opinion carries. It’s an incentive for users to contribute statements that will be seen as accurate by the Tufts population.
If someone’s comment is determined “false” by other Dabbut users, their vote will wield less power. Users are also able to “report as rude” in order to tackle the potential problem of cruel comments.
Along with the basic comments for individuals, users can tag their classmates on Dabbut as a part of a social group or organization — “athlete” or “Sig Nu” [Sigma Nu], for instance. These statements are then voted as true or false in the same manner, but you can navigate to the group itself by clicking on it and then see who else belongs to it.
“With the groups, you can see what people are part of certain groups,” Nichols said. “Say you’re someone at Tufts who’s interested in dance. One group you will find is TDC [Tufts Dance Collective]. You can see who is in that group and what else they are involved in. It’s a great tool because it lowers the threshold for getting involved with new things,” he said.
Dabbut was initially launched for just two days last spring, but Nichols chose to take it down quickly because it was during exams. He then spent much of his summer working on the website, and it was re−opened with a soft launch this October.
“We had a big response in the spring, and we wanted to do a soft launch this time because we made a lot of changes. We wanted to make sure everything worked … We’re trying to increase awareness, get a lot of people involved and then do a hard launch,” Nichols said.
As with any online forum, there is always the risk that the anonymity of the computer screen can encourage nasty comments that hurt feelings and damage reputations.
“I think it will be a lot harder to keep Dabbut from being offensive as it becomes more widely known,” junior Adrienne Dreyfus said. “I don’t think that even [Nichols] can prevent some people from being offended,” she said.
“Some people have been a little surprised by the website and were unsure of what it might turn into,” Nichols said. “There were a few people who have expressed concern with it turning [bad].”
Nichols said these concerns could stem from the fact that the pool of users is still relatively small and also as a result of the site’s structure. However, he added that this has yet to become a major issue with his site.
“To this day, we haven’t had a comment that has been reported as offensive, and it’s really up to the voters to keep that up … There are people who have expressed expectations that it will become something like the College ACB [the anonymous discussion site], but the people who use the website are the people that control it. The people get to vote, and the power structure is much like that of the Tufts community — it’s up to every single person,” he said.
“I think his idea is that if you get a mass opinion, you get an honest one,” Dreyfus said. “People take everything on the Internet as the honest truth, and that’s just not true. When you’re applying it to people, I think that people might just use it for the wrong reasons. Sometimes you don’t actually want to know an accurate portrayal of a person; at that point you can’t really choose to ignore things about people when in the real world you can,” she said.
Freshman Duncan Swain said that in the limited time he has spent on Dabbut, he found its active membership to largely consist of the same few people.
“It’s a lot more personal [than Facebook], and most of the people who comment on your page you know,” Swain said.
“Some of the stuff that is posted is just plain ridiculous, like inside jokes between friends,” he said.
Swain’s page includes comments such as “Lumberjack” and “Dunkin’ Donuts,” and he belongs to the group “Bookworm” as well as the default “Tufts.”
“It’s not very popular yet, I think it has a pretty limited audience so far. I’d recommend it to other people at Tufts — I think it’s funny, a fun time waster like so much of the Internet,” Swain said.