Mobile app underway to report crowds on campus

By Sean Moreau
On November 30, 2012

  • Winnik put a nasty move on Pioneer goalie Peter Mannino to complete his penalty shot to put the ´Cats up 2-1.

You know the overwhelmingly tense and stressed feeling. You are at Holloway Commons between the hours of 12 and 1 p.m. Hoards of hungry college students zig-zag and meander through tables and chairs. You try to make your way through, dodging students and staff, to find a table, promptly eat your meal, and head to class.

What if you could avoid these crowds? Well, you might be able to very soon.

Four UNH seniors in the Whittemore School of Business and Economics are currently designing a mobile application that will tell users how crowded the dining halls, the gym at the Whittemore Center and the Dimond Library are at any point in time.

Andrew Fuller, Ryan Bell, Ryan Andrikowich and Chris Schwab, all information systems majors, have been collaborating on the application for a couple of weeks. Schwab came up with the idea for their E-Commerce class, where a project requires them to creating a mobile application and website for a product. The application will be forged on a developer site called appModi for smartphones like iPhones and Androids.

The idea was inspired from a Disney World application, called RideMax, where real-time "waiting" data for ride lines is generated through users updating how long they have been waiting in line. People then check specific rides to see the wait time. "We are doing our own spin on that to have people update how crowded a place looks," Fuller said. "The idea is for users to make the data."

The overall goal is to have people send short updates, such as "the gym is pretty crowded," or "there is a rush of people at Hoco."

The quartet has been advertising their idea on Facebook through surveys that students should take for feedback purposes. The group said that around 300 responses are sufficient to put their app data to the test.

The survey consists of 14 questions that take about five minutes to complete. Questions comprise age, gender, class standing, if one has a smartphone and what methods of social media one uses.

"Ninety-seven percent of people have responded saying they would use this application, so hopefully they buy into the idea of making their own status to help out everyone else, too," Fuller said.

The group will also look into adding other locations, such as the bars in downtown Durham. Although the application is still in the works, the vision is for users to pick which locations they want to track and see updates for.

Holloway Commons' busiest times on a weekly basis are between 12 and 1 p.m., when over 1,200 people are present on average. Tuesdays and Thursdays tend to be heavier during those timeframes, as students come all at once.

Deborah Scanlon, the area manager of Dining Services at Holloway Commons, said the dining hall is currently looking at a study to bring more seats into the building for customers.

"We're still in the very early planning stages, but we know that we have the good fortune to be able to have students that want to participate in our services, and we need to make sure the experience is upbeat and positive for them," Scanlon said.

Some of the volume that Dining Services faces is contingent upon class schedules. Evidently, Tuesdays and Thursdays are extremely busy around 12:30 p.m., when most students are off for the common exam period - what Scanlon calls the "witch hours."

Scanlon thinks that the WSBE students' application may better evenly distribute the crowds.

"I would support using it," Scanlon said. "(Students) text each other about what's going on, and I think we have a pretty good communication going currently between texting and social media as a whole."

The application will have to go through some serious testing before it can be considered handy for students. The definition of "crowded" may be different for some. "The flow of this business is similar to New England weather," Scanlon said. "We could be crazy for 15 minutes, and then things change differently."

Scanlon said Holloway Commons performs 15-minute "counts," where machines are sanitized, to keep track of when people are coming in to eat. "There are a lot of determining factors," Scanlon said. Campus events, curtailed operations and daylight savings time are just some facets that can affect crowd levels at dining halls.

"The biggest benefit our app provides is an essentially free logistics service for both the school and its students," Bell said. "If students know what areas of campus are crowded at any given time, they can plan their schedules more efficiently, spend more time doing what they want, and spend less time waiting in lines."

As far as drawbacks are concerned, Bell does not see anything significant with the concept of their application, except with its execution.

"As with any other form of social media, our app relies on user data," Bell said. "If we cannot get a large enough user base, or enough users to update their status, it will be difficult for us to consistently report accurate levels of crowdedness for different campus locations."

To counterbalance this issue, however, the group has been working tirelessly to understand the potential habits of users and preferences to make the application as beneficial and user friendly as possible.

"We need to embrace this enthusiasm," Scanlon said. "I think [the application] is cool."

"If this is a success for our class, we can make it public for UNH, even if it isn't 100 percent the way we want it to work," Fuller said.

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