Planner creator petitions administration for support

A petition appeared Feb. 3 on Planner, a volunteer-run MIT class scheduling website, urging the MIT administration to better support the service.

The petition, which now has about 1,000 signatures, claims that “Planner has been developed and run almost entirely by a single developer ... without any real infrastructure support from MIT,” and that it “is in danger of falling into obsolescence and shutting down since the single alumnus cannot continue to solely guarantee Planner’s continued maintenance and development.”

Adin Schmahmann ’13, the creator and maintainer of Planner, responded to a thread about his petition on the ec-discuss mailing list clarifying the nature and purpose of his request. “I think Planner could definitely use some work, as do many of my users,” Schmahmann wrote.

In the body of the petition, Schmahmann claimed that Planner “is used by a significant portion of the community.” In his email he shared his belief that “if a project has shown to be of sufficient value to the MIT community then MIT resources ... should be dedicated to the project.”

Because it is unaffiliated with MIT, Planner must deal with unexpected changes to the MIT technical infrastructure which often render it unusable.

Schmahmann told The Tech in a phone interview last night that an update to the way the MIT system handles certificates “killed” Planner early yesterday morning, and he had to take time off from work to fix it. “If I’m busy … it means that [students who use Planner are] up the creek,” Schmahmann said.

Schmahmann reached out to various MIT departments, including IS&T and the Office of the Registrar, for help with his site, but was often redirected or ignored, leading him to create the petition. 

While his goal is mainly to obtain money from MIT with which he will pay students to maintain the site, Schmahmann noted that simple notifications from MIT regarding the state of the its technology would be helpful as well, and could prevent site failures like the one yesterday morning.

He said that dedicated student workers could significantly overhaul the architecture of Planner, giving it new features and making it more useful to students. “I haven’t made any meaningful changes to the codebase in years … I just haven’t had time.” He believes paid workers will ensure that Planner offers high quality service to its users.

Schmahmann referenced Picker and CourseRoad as two other successful student-run projects addressing course organization. Both have received help from MIT in the form of UROP funding, but do not receive official Institute support. Picker has been maintained by student UROPs, while CourseRoad was significantly expanded with UROP funding and is now run by SIPB. 

SIPB chose not to comment on the petition. The Tech has reached out to IS&T for comment.