The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Plans unites campus, beats Facebook

While a number of colleges have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, Grinnell boasts its own social network. GrinnellPlans, a text-based social network, has grown from its origins on an old computer system into a part of Grinnell culture.

Plans originated on the College’s VAX computer system, which was retired in 2000. The system provided each user with a plan file, where they could record their work plans for public reference. It wasn’t long before these files gained a social dimension, and when the VAX system was shut down, it left a large gap for students.

Plans as we know it began with Rachel Heck ’01, who wrote Plans v0. Originally designed to accommodate just a few users, it was quickly overwhelmed by demand and reworked with the help of Andrew Kensler ’01 into Plans v1. Plans v2, the current iteration, was rolled out in 2002 after Heck turned control over to the current administrators.

Throughout the process, Plans’ focus has remained the same: providing a simple, text-based experience to its users.

As Sidonie Straughn-Morse ’08, speaking on behalf of the Plans administrators explains, “it differs from other social networking sites in its small size … and its focused functionality. This limited functionality actually opens up a lot of flexibility for how it’s used.”

Plans boasts quite a few current students, but doesn’t have extensive data on older users.

“There are around a thousand Plans accounts for users in classes 2012-2015,” Straughn-Morse said. “We started tracking users’ graduation year less than five years ago, so our data … isn’t perfect.”

As a whole, GrinnellPlans’ logs show around 2,500 active users, who are defined by Straughn-Morse as “users who have logged in within the past year.”

These include students, alumni, faculty and staff, who use the site anywhere from several times per day to once every few months.

“I just think it’s cool to have a space on the Internet that you have ownership of…and it’s ad-free,” said Ian Gold ’13. “Plans is like…controlled chaos.”

Plans rises above Facebook in other respects as well.

“It’s always going to be cool because of the whole exclusivity idea that first made Facebook cool, but it’s still exclusive, you know?” said Dylan Naylor ’13. Both students expressed an interest in adding Twitter-style hashtags to the site as a way to reference popular topics.

“Right now, debates are too personal,” Gold said. “You can only reference other people, so debates become too much about … attacking personal points.”

Recently, Plans’ staff and code have undergone a number of changes to keep the site operating smoothly. On the technical side, an automated password reset system was introduced to help users more easily retrieve their information, and the site’s code continues to be maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers.

“Plans is run by volunteers and our team changes regularly,” explained Straughn-Morse. “Recently, one of our Admins, Mona [Ghadirim ’11], stepped down. That’s a routine occurrence.” He also noted that Plans is looking to hire a new on-campus administrator in the near future.

Staffing changes aside, Plans has also taken steps to increase transparency. Administrators are now more carefully tracking the site’s operating costs, as well as donations from various users. In Notes, Plans’ discussion board, the Plans administrators have opened several discussions asking for community input. There, the conversation is alive and well.

“Personally, I love its flexibility—as I mentioned above, users can format their Plans as they choose and use it how it makes sense for them,” Straughn-Morse said.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *