New website created for tackling student questions

The site is based on social media platforms and is user-generated.

Kristoffer Tigue

University of Minnesota students may soon have one website to answer all of their campus related questions.

GopherAnswers.umn.edu is a new question-and-answer based website that launched in December to act as an all-encompassing information hub for anyone with an x500 University login I.D.

“We wanted to provide a platform for the University community so they can easily find information and communicate with one another and find answers and information to questions that they have,” said Anuradha Uduwage, a graduate student in computer science and engineering who led the website’s development.

Many University websites are overloaded with information, Uduwage said, making it difficult to find specific things. Students can get bogged down looking for topics like how to obtain a U-Pass or parking permit on the current University websites, he said, which aren’t that efficient for searching.

Right now, students looking for University-related information typically ask their friends on social media sites like Facebook, Uduwage said. He said he hopes GopherAnswers can act as a more reliable replacement.

Joseph Konstan, computer science and engineering professor and an adviser for GopherAnswers, said he’s seen too many social media sites where users steer the focus away from the main point of the site. But with the new site, students, faculty and officials can all participate and provide their expertise when needed.

The group hopes to develop a referral system within the site so that when someone is looking for certain information, people who may know the answer could receive alerts letting them know about the question.

“If somebody asks something where someone has an official answer, but they don’t even know where to get it, it would be nice for somebody who knows where to get that answer to be able to pop it out,” Konstan said.

Jody Stadler, a One Stop financial counselor, stumbled across GopherAnswers while browsing a University group on Reddit, the popular news and entertainment social media site. She became curious when she realized she could help answer financial questions on the site, something she already does with University students for her job.

“Students can send their email, their official requests to whatever office they’re trying to get answers from,” Stadler said. “But this is more of an informal way to do it. I think the formal questions frighten away a lot of people.”

Uduwage and Konstan belong to GroupLens, a University research group that also developed sites like movie recommendation site MovieLens and bike route recommendation site Cyclopath.

GroupLens started building GopherAnswers about two years ago as part of their research on the habits of social media users, Konstan said. Some of their research includes trying to learn what users find appealing on websites and what aspects turn them into super-users, he said, so the website contains many features common to social media sites today. The site also has social incentives to participate.

“You get points for participation and the questions that you answer and the questions that you ask,” Uduwage said. “It’s not just informative; it’s half the social aspect, too.”

Currently, the site only has about 40 users. Konstan said he feels confident those numbers will grow, but he knows social media can be difficult to predict.

“One question we’re often asked about this is, ‘Will people use it?’” Konstan said. “It’s a really hard question to address because I think we all know from social media that people will use it if other people use it.”