This, my friends, is a straight-up review, which may not have been built in the typically Qwerky fashion, but definitely belongs here.
Eskwela.com is one of the first Web 2.0 applications developed by Filipinos for Filipinos. (Many people argue about the definition of Web 2.0, and many others wave it off as a mere buzzword, so discussing it further or trying to summarize it here in just a few words will not be effective. So let’s just move on and focus on the web application itself.)
Eskwela, which is Tagalog for “school” (derived from the Spanish word “escuela”), is a social networking (okay, another fuzzy, debatable buzzword) service that brings together students and alumni from a given school.
It’s an invite-only, alpha release and is currently limited to UP Diliman students and alumni, so this is quite an early peek into the system as I was fortunate enough to have gotten an invite.
Registration and School Email
Let’s start with that part. Lead developer LJ Regalado sent me an invite to my Yahoo! email and I promptly signed up. However, Eskwela required confirmation with my UP Webmail account, which is notoriously buggy at times. The confirmation never arrived in my Webmail inbox; nevertheless she sent me a direct link to my account.
The signup was definitely cumbersome, but one cannot blame Eskwela for that. Proving that someone comes from a certain school through a webmail account has already been used by the well-established Facebook.com. However, this approach may not be ideal for Philippine schools. The problem with UPD’s Webmail is one. What if there is no official webmail for a certain school? I think it is still difficult to assume otherwise given the drastically different living standards over here. So the tricky part is balancing the come-one, come-all stance and the potentially standoffish did-you-really-pass-the-UPCAT vibe. There may be a better way; they’re currently discussing this issue at the forums.
It doesn’t mean, however, that one is tied down to a possibly unreliable webmail forever; that’s only for confirmation purposes. One can add additional email addresses that are more convenient to access once he/she is already registered. The user can then login using any of those email accounts as long as they have already been validated through email.
Right off the bat, the user arrives at My Desk, which is a summary of recent friend requests, bulletin board posts, and statistics: number of friends, classes, photos, profile views, and “big mouth” posts. (My Big Mouth is the equivalent of Friendster’s testimonials. Unlike Friendster, though, it keeps track of the “big mouths” one has both made and received.)
Aside from the already familiar features found in most social networking sitesâ€”a list of friends, photo sharing and commenting, private messaging, bulletin board posts, and of course, the profileâ€”there are a couple of other features that take advantage of the school aspect of Eskwela:
The My Classes page is pretty straightforward: it allows you to add classes you’ve taken, classified according to academic year. The autocomplete search function makes adding a lot quicker, although I noticed not all of the classes for UPD were present (PE class codes, for example). Of course it would be a major task to document all those classes so I hope they have a system for doing that for all the schools that will be implemented into the system. Eskwela also skipped the “semestral” sub-classification, perhaps to make reconciling quarters, trimesters, and semesters a non-issue. Still, it would be a lot more interesting to meet your actual classmates: imagine a mini-reunion of sorts for a GE class or free elective with students you never once talked to for a whole semester.
Moving a step further from the My Friends feature, the Who’s Who page lists the Eskwela user statistics in a way that’s relevant to the person viewing it. First, there’s a table that breaks down one’s “school population” by gender. (Of course, that’s not the actual number of students in UP Diliman, silly!) Below it are six tabs that group one’s schoolmates by Classmates, Coursemates, Collegemates, Batchmates, Schoolmates, and Alumni. It’s a great way to find outâ€”you said itâ€”who’s who! Note that in UP Diliman’s case, the term “college” is used loosely since not all educational units are actually colleges (e.g. Asian Institute of Tourism).
It’s easy to wish for many more features in Eskwela such as groups/organizations/school papers (and related features!), blogging, and perhaps a full-fledged forum system. Heck, maybe even a live, web-based chat like Friendster Mobs. But I don’t want another Friendster/MySpace clone. Eskwela should continue to focus on the school aspect.
Look and Feel
Eskwela’s greatest strength is its simplicity and almost well-plannedness. (I say almost because it’s still in alpha.) It looks clean, uncluttered, and cheery.
Most of the links, however, need icons beside them to distinguish them from one another. In a user’s profile page, there are a number of things you can do, such as view his/her photos, request a big mouth, etc. But links to these actions are not easily distinguishable from one another and look quite like a paragraph under the user’s “mug shot”. It would definitely help to add icons that are quicker to describe such actions rather than phrases.
The site makes good use of AJAX, as in switching tabs in a person’s profile and Who’s Who list, scrolling through his/her photos, finding classes via autocomplete, and checking out the dozens of people in the network without leaving the same page.
Of course I’ll nitpick the name. Since we’re on Qwerky, the formula for this Web 2.0 Webapp Name is Foreign Word. Bastardized, if you’ll be “technical” about it. As I’ve mentioned above, Eskwela stands for “school” in the local vernacular but is derived from a foreign word.
I’m not too thrilled that they chose “eskwela” over “paaralan” but maybe it seemed a lot more catchy and a lot less “formal”. (Why do ordinary Philippine words always sound “deep” and “formal”? Is it because we are not as used to speaking in perfectly straight Filipino anymore?)
Eskwela is a brave new ventureâ€”in the Philippine web scene, that isâ€”and while it is not officially affiliated with any school, it has great potential in bringing the academic sphere together in a different, new, and fun context. It’s easy to use and simple and I hope it stays that way when it starts adding hopefully pioneering features that redefine the going-to-school experience. Perhaps like Peyups.com which has brought together UP students (even incoming ones), regardless of campus. Perhaps like Friendster, which has brought together Filipinos regardless of age or location.
Perhaps even moreâ€”how cool would it be to have the Dean of your college or the President of your university as your friend on Eskwela!