NDToday.com Clicks

Author: Ed Cohen

First came The Scholastic, then The Observer, now NDToday.com.

Started last fall by three juniors in O’Neill Hall, this nifty, irreverent interactive website has quickly become one of the campus’s most popular sources for information and entertainment, as well as a lively forum for debate on everything from the presence of the ROTC on campus to the proper term for carbonated beverages.

Among the site’s growing list of features:

— The E-dogbook. Not an on-line version of the Freshman Register but a campus version of love-connection-type sites like DateSite.com. You type in the e-mail address of someone you secretly admire. The object of your affection gets an anonymous e-mail from NDToday.com. The note says he/she has a secret admirer and asks the recipient to come to the site and enter a list of e-mail addresses of people the recipient admires. If there’s a match, both parties are automatically notified;

— The Voting Booth. A never-ending string of instant polls. The questions and multiple-choice answers are generated (by the dozens on some days) by visitors to the site. Example: “How do you feel about holding hands in public?” (Results: Love it, 26 percent; Hate it, 13 percent; Love to do it, hate to see it, 24 percent; Who cares? 33 percent; Only if you are under 30, 5 percent.) Another example: “Why the boy band craze?” (They’s so dang cute, 19 percent; They have an overwhelming amount of talent, 2 percent; I really like the lyrics, 7 percent; That’s all that’s on the radio — ever!, 34 percent; They’re all spawns of Satan sent here to torture us, 38 percent.)

— Instructor evaluations. Visitors who want to rate a professor start by answering a set of questions on several 10-point scales, including: “Toughness: 0 — Known to put students into mental institutions; 10 — Thinks B’s are ‘just too harsh.’”

— The mother of all campus directories. It allows you to identify someone even if all you know if their first name and dorm.

— A food guide. Search for restaurants by type, proximity to campus or price range. Read visitor-supplied reviews and ratings. Get driving directions that begin in the student parking lots.

NDToday.com is the creation of friends Frank Helgesen of Silver Bay, Minnesota, a business major, and Ohioans Andy Warzon of Cincinnati (engineering) and Nick Fellers of Columbus (pre-med). They say they envisioned the site as a place for Notre Dame students to interact and get information about what matters most to them.

The site debuted last September. In its first weeks it was attracting about 400 page views a day, they say. By late spring semester the volume had grown — entirely through word of mouth — to 30,000 page views a day, they say. And it’s not just students. Many faculty and administrators regularly visit, as do alumni from all over the country. (The creators know something of their visitors’ identities because of a log-in feature that lets viewers customize what they see and register to participate in discussions.)

The three have consciously kept the site independent of the University. It runs on a commercial server, not Notre Dame’s “nd.edu,” and even has its own post office box. The partners conduct all their NDToday.com business on cell phones.

With advertising revenues from the site, the founders say they’ve been able to add two employees: a photographer and a person to maintain the calendar of events. The enterprise — which they say they always intended to be not-for-profit and which is not for sale — was nearly breaking even by the end of the year.

However, its popularity has convinced them to go into the web-development business under the banner 3bstudios, named for the third-floor section of O’Neill Hall where Helgesen and Warzon lived last year (Fellers was on the fourth floor).

— Ed Cohen