dakatrety.com: The Story
How a Weekend Project Almost Got Me Kicked out of School
They say that you’re most creative when you’re utterly bored. Well, a year ago I verified that saying! Like any other boring day at school, in a class about God knows what, I came up with an idea of a side project that would haunt me for the rest of the semester. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, diving deeper into my thoughts, digging for ideas. I hardly felt my presence in that classroom, as I was living in my own world, prototyping and sketching what I thought the app would look like.
This is the story of how this project was conceived, and received. It’s the story of how I almost got kicked out of school because of it!
The idea was simple: I wanted a web app that could tell me if a certain professor is competent enough as a teacher, to know if it’d be a good idea to take his class. The idea came as a result of frustration with a certain type of professor. The kind of professor who just can’t teach, but they do it anyway! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these guys are rock stars in their fields of study in terms of knowledge and research. They got a Ph.D. for God’s sake! But that doesn’t at all mean that they’re good teachers.
I wanted to get an idea of each professor’s performance as a teacher, from the student’s perspective. A student with actual experience who previously took a class with him. That’s how dakatrety.com was born! dakatrety.com is a web app for students to anonymously and publicly rate and grade their professors and teacher assistants so that fellow students could make a good judgement call on whether they should join their class or not. You can think of it as Yelp for my school! And for the curious few, “dakatrety” is Arabic for “My Professors.”
On a certain Friday, after I had a rough idea of the design and prototype of the app during that class the other day, I started coding hardcore. Day and night for 48 hours straight (okay, I got 3 of hours of sleep :). I was so excited I couldn’t stop coding. By the end of the weekend, the app was deployed and ready to go! I felt so relieved, yet so tired!
The Reception: The Good
The app looked awesome, but it was missing the most important asset for the whole thing to work: Data! Since the whole app was built around crowd sourcing the content, I had to do some guerrilla marketing. I shared my new baby with my friends and followers, announced the app on every Facebook group I could find related to my school and, finally, I set the browser home page in every computer in my school’s computer center to dakatrety.com. This last one got me huge results ;)
Within a couple of days, the app went viral around the campus! It got over 30,000+ hits, 500+ shares on Facebook, and 2,500+ ratings of 500+ professors and TAs in my school. The app even reached my school’s other campuses around Egypt!
It was a bit overwhelming, yet very exciting, to see everybody talking about it and trying to figure out who was behind the app, comparing me to Mark Zuckerberg and his Facemash, and Facebook. That was flattering! It was easy to figure out, though, because I didn’t try to hide my identity in any way, because I wasn’t running away from anyone. Until …
The Reception: The Bad
Turned out, I pissed some people off with this project. Lots of professors and TAs got really bad reviews! Their reputation was at stake! But to be fair, that was the whole point of the project, to figure out who was good and who was bad for the student’s sake. I do admit, however, that some students took advantage of the anonymity of their postings, and started F-bombing their teachers in all sorts of phrases (some were very creative, I must add!). This gave me an unintended responsibility to filter out all the profanity. It was really hard to keep track of them all!
A few days later, TAs and professors started fighting and threatening me to take it down. I received Facebook hate messages from certain TAs (no names! ;) saying something along the lines of “your future will be ruined if you don’t shut it down.” Some Computer Science TAs thought they were the shit, and they attempted to hack the site! They tried all sorts of XSS and SQL injection attacks, which was really funny because I wasn’t even using a SQL database, so haha.
Needless to say, the app was robust enough to handle all sorts of attacks. I even hooked it up with CloudFlare to defend against DDOS attacks, in case someone had a botnet army or something. On top of that I added an SSL layer, to … I dunno … encrypt review submissions and preserve privacy and anonymity. Overkill, I know! But I could be a perfectionist sometimes!
I ignored most haters and didn’t really take them seriously; I just kept on hunting down all the profanity to not get myself into trouble.
But then it got serious …
The Reception: The Worst
I received a call from the Head of Student Affairs. He said they wanted to talk. Of course I knew what they wanted to talk about! He said some professors were filing official complaints against me, and these complaints would go through (which means at least suspension) unless I shut down the site. Of course I defended myself and the project as much as I could, until we reached an unofficial settlement to keep the site, as long as I kept it clean and objective.
A few days later, I received another call from Student Affairs, saying that The Dean wanted to talk to me! Uh oh! I kept thinking … what have I gotten myself into?! I never intended for all of this to get this serious. It was getting political, and I felt like I was a tiny version of Aaron Swartz!
I met up with the Dean and, needless to say, he was very aggressive. It turned out that he received personal complaints against me. I kept my feet on the ground with defending arguments. Eventually we settled on the following: I keep on filtering and cleaning the site, but if he receives another complaint, that’s the deal breaker! I have to shut down, or … you know!
I honestly don’t know what happened next. I just kept on filtering out the content as much as I could, and never heard from them again. I guess they didn’t receive any more complaints, or they just gave up. I don’t know. But, honestly, even if I had gotten another complaint, I don’t think I would’ve shut it down. It’s my baby!
What’s ironic is that after all this mess, I stopped promoting and even maintaining the app as I started to shift my focus toward other projects. Even though this app has huge potential, maybe even to evolve into some sort of a scalable business model and expand to other universities, just like Facebook, I didn’t really feel that I was ready for this kind of journey yet.
My career as Software Developer was and still is my highest priority at this point. What I know for sure is this: I’ll keep working on my own projects, just for the heck of it. It’s my drug! It’s what I’m passionate about!
By the way, if you’re curious about the source code, it’s open source on Github! So you can deploy your own version for your own university ;) … The UI is in Arabic though :/