Freshman admissions website gets a facelift
Wiki opens new avenues for prospective students to learn about MIT
Potential members of the MIT Class of 2016 are surfing through a vastly different MIT Admissions website (http://www.mitadmissions.org). The site, launched in 2004, underwent its first major upgrade on July 11. The process involved simplifying access to links formerly hidden on the admissions site and launching the new MIT Wiki (http://www.mitadmissions.org/wiki), which can be edited by any user with an mit.edu email address.
“With our old website, there were two complaints. One was that we offered too much information and one was that we didn’t offer enough information,” MIT Admissions Counselor for Web Communications Chris Peterson cited as reasons for the changes.
MIT Admissions began thinking about resolving this paradox and redesigning its website as early as Feb. 2009. The sleek new site streamlines much of the application materials contained in the original twelve navigational buttons under five new tabs — Discover, Apply, Afford, Visit, and Follow. The remaining details about MIT student life and culture were moved to approximately 80–100 pages on the MIT Admissions Wiki.
According to Peterson, since the change, analytics suggest that people spend about 20 percent more time on the admissions site than they used to, and their daily site actions have gone up by about a factor of five. Additionally, bounce rate — the rate at which people leave a site after visiting just one page — has decreased significantly. However, a few of the many active site visitors to Peterson’s admissions site blog commented that they missed some of the comfort and color of the old site.
“It just made you happy to look at it,” said Lee Gross ’15 of the former brightness of the site.
The MIT Wiki is designed to be simple to use, and any MIT student can add or edit a page.
The brown sidebar includes features like the “Random Page” button, which lets users randomly access pages ranging from the housing lottery to the Hawaii Club of MIT and REX to the Roadkill Buffet. According to Peterson, there are currently around 184 accounts, about 30 of which belong to admissions staff and bloggers who began editing several pages. A Baker House graduate, MIT Admissions officer Matthew McGann ’00 added information from The Tech’s and Institute archives to the Baker House page partly as an example of what a “fully-built page would look like.”
Unlike the MIT Admissions site, which is driven by the sometimes poetic narratives of the blogs, the MIT Wiki is intended to be a facts-driven site influenced by students’ interest in spreading knowledge and accuracy. McGann believes that partly due to “good Google karma,” many students will be able to find articles about activities they are involved in and use the MIT Admissions Wiki to promote their student group, living group and other things that they care about at MIT.
“There are a number of student groups that, if you Google them, a Wiki page, whether it’s good or very basic comes up very highly in the page rankings,” he said.
As students contribute to the MIT Admissions Wiki pages, Peterson trusts that students will be well-intentioned and that they will monitor each other against inaccuracy and vandalism. The third layer of protection includes MIT Admissions student staffer Michelle E. Szucs ’14 (also a Tech copy editor) and former MIT Admissions blogger Mollie A. Woodworth ’06, who will both have the duty of quality control and conflict resolution similar to moderators on the original Wikipedia.org.
When students and staffers change page information, the Wiki can serve almost as a digital archive. Peterson said that the little changes users make on different pages are representative of an MIT experience.
“It’s really interesting because if you look at the edits done by any different person, you get a really cool composite cross-section of what the student is involved in at MIT.”