When Edward Snowden, released a plethora of documents relating to government spying I was appalled. Largely because, I didn’t know. It shocked me that a secret that big, and known by thousands took years to get out, and no one informed me. My first reaction was, “lets DDoS the government with FOIA requests,” it was a joke and sounds pretty silly at first. However, if even a million or so Americans started doing FOIA requests it would certainly take up a large portion of time (and money).
When I mentioned this half jokingly to friends and family, few even knew what a FOIA request was! This was the most disheartening spawn of the Snowden leaks to me, I realized that no one cared enough to even hold people accountable, or wanted to know what was happening to them.
Thus, I began a mission. I want(ed) to teach people about FOIA requests, how to use them, then and most importantly create an incentive to file and learn to file FOIA requests. After a year or so of fiddling with ideas, I finally settled on a project that can both provide useful information and create an incentive to learn about FOIA requests. I call it, Easy A.
Easy A, The Idea
Easy A is designed to provide insight about,
- The difficulty of a semester/course/instructor
- Forecast a GPA for a given user
- Provide resources to improve grades
In it’s current state (alpha version), Easy A can already complete goals one and two! Although, forecasting will be improved when users can input their entire grade history, currently it can only predict a single semester. Essentially, current products skirt the issue. Students just want to get A’s as easily as possible, so why not provide that? Introducing….
The idea is pretty simple. Easy A and its users will FOIA request universities, then provide an ascetically pleasing and easy to read graph, that helps users determine a course difficulty.
In addition, Easy A will provide a semester difficulty calculator. This will enable users to add a selection of courses, after which Easy A will generate an easy-to-read graph.
This has been an issue with many Facebook groups I am apart of, many fellow students will ask,
Are “class #1, class #2, and class #3” too difficult to take together?
Now, we have an actual (and statistically backed) answer!
They beauty of this system, is that a lot of people have this question, and there currently isn’t a good answer (besides Easy A). Every possible answer is a subjective one, based off one person. However, by doing a FOIA request, every public university is required to provide that information (sometimes at a fee). Meaning, 15+ million students at public universities have an incentive to learn about FOIA requests, and submit them!
Easy A, The Competition
In the market, the two major competitors to the Easy A project is Koofers and ratemyprofessor. The downside to ratemyprofessor is that it is entirely based off subject reviews, doesn’t have a large sample set, and is covered in advertisements. What ratemyprofessor does have is 15 years of development on Easy A, along with a huge user base, all the associated data, and is useful for private universities.
To combat this, Easy A will eventually have user input as well, and even recommend books, resources, and helpful suggestions. Further, Easy A has an advantage because it already provides a semester difficulty calculator, something ratemyprofessor.
Unfortunately, FOIA requesting can take very long time, and by the time all of the data has been gathered it is already almost out of date. Therefore, students will need to regularly FOIA request, and hopefully universities will keep their scripts to gather the information. Making the information easier/quicker to obtain and perhaps universities will eventually just post the data.
As it stands, both Easy A and ratemyprofessor have their advantages, and ratemyprofessor currently controls the market. Hopefully, Easy A can take a small slice of that and help improve grades in a way ratemyprofessor currently cannot.
Easy A, Business Model
Easy A is difficult to scale and has a small market. Submitting FOIA requests while relatively easy and quick to submit, take time to receive and input into the database. Universities also make it very difficult to get this data. I am hoping that Easy A can put pressure on universities to provide more information, but also push professors to teach.
Thus, Easy A will provide a free and premium service. The premium service will allow users to store previous grade/semester information, and have access to specific study materials (previous exams, quizes, etc.). The free service will have basic difficulty forecasting, access to previous grade distributions, and user comments. Anyone who provides a FOIA request will then receive a collection (5 – 10) of premium coupons they can share with friends to receive free premium service. This will incentive FOIA requests, and save us time and money.
My only goal with Easy A is to pay for FOIA requests, server time, and perhaps someone to work part-time eventually. There is little need to grow beyond that and ratemyprofessor only makes approximately $3 million a year in advertising. This market is relatively small, and the larger market is sharing notes, exams, and quizes. Hopefully this will be able to fund Easy A and keep it advertising free!
Please checkout Easy A, provide feedback, and share with friends! It has plenty of bugs at this point, so join my mailing list and I’ll notify you when it enters a stable state.
Feel free, email me if you would like to get involved, have suggestions, or would like to share FOIA request data 🙂